Thursday, June 09, 2005


Grief and Anger

I have struggled in my mind with how to tell two stories that I think need telling. One is tragic, the other outrageous.

Grief Comes Home

Our FOB had a very tragic loss last Tuesday night. At just after 10:00 p.m., a very short barrage of 4 rockets came in, all clustered in a tight area within the FOB. Less knowledgeable soldiers suggest that the rockets were “walked in,” which is a term describing the gunnery procedure of adjusting fire slightly with each fire so as to “walk the rounds in” to the desired target. The rocket attacks we sustain here generally do not include such a precise targeting capability, and I personally believe the attack was “effective” from the enemy’s point of view only by tragic accident.

One of the 4 rockets flew over buildings and berms, past all manner of potential obstructions and barricades, right down into a very small opening to strike the window of one of the living quarters. It's like the Death Star target in the original Star Wars. And this for an unguided munition.

The blast sent a hail of glass cascading through the rooms adjacent to the window, within which two of the Division officers happened to be playing chess. We spend a great deal of effort boarding up windows and eliminating any plate glass from our living and working areas. I do not know why this particular window was left exposed, although it was small, down within a very recessed area, and part of a very ornate structure.

The men were medically evacuated (MEDEVAC) to the next FOB over with more extensive medical facilities, but both Soldiers died of their wounds. One died of injuries relating to flying glass, the other from shrapnel.

The senior officer of the two had just managed to convince his friend to transfer into theater. The new officer had only been in country 5 days, and the two of them evidently decided to play chess as another dust storm started up last night, though not as bad as the previous night.

I think a lot of people are still in shock. This hits pretty close to home, and underscores for everyone how random death and injury can be in this environment. One of the men leaves behind three small children and a wife. I’m not sure about the other, but if he has family, this must be a heavy blow given his willingness to volunteer to join his friend.

There is no explaining the will of God in this circumstance, at least, not in the sense of what His will would be for this man’s death. Many of my men remark that, “when it’s your time it’s your time.” That’s what many of us say. But I wonder what really goes on in our hearts when we say that.

I am, if not numb, somehow buffered from any feelings at all about this event. I think what it would have been like if my Commander, my partner in all things in running this Company, were to be struck down in this way while we’re here. I wonder what the officers' soldiers are thinking or feeling. But I’m not concerned for myself, I don’t feel fear, I don’t have any sense of dread or even anger. Maybe this is God’s providence, but I’m not so sure. I think it more likely it’s a defense mechanism, something more primal, something unique to a combat environment, though perhaps permitted by God as a helping effect.

By all means, if such a practice has meaning for you, pray about the health and well-being of our Soldiers, for peace and comfort for the grieving survivors of these men, and for direction for me and the other leaders to model appropriate grief, while at the same time offer encouragement. Such a meaningful word, as I think on it. En-courage. To create or establish or generate courage, which after all is really a confidence of purpose.

"Do You Know How Crazy Things Were Here?"

The second story has no meaning but for the first. (This story originally appeared at Debate Space, my joint blog with The Liberal Avenger, who just happened to ask a question about internet censorship on military bases just as the blackout was lifted at our FOB.

As is the practice here in Iraq, the Command shuts down phone and internet connections for 24-48 hours, long enough for the Military to contact affected families.

Let me tell you why that is so important.

One of the idiots here who doesn't understand the very good reasons for the blackout, placed an anonymous call just before the blackout was imposed, saying 4 soldiers of our Division were killed, maybe more injured.

An equally idiotic (no, make that even more idiotic) news editor or reporter called Mrs. Dadmanly at home, told her about the anonymous tip, and asked her if she had heard any news? The reporters involved apparently contacted several family members.

Needless to say, with the rest of us on blackout, my wife was a basket case, as were many other family members and friends. Since the news (based on this anonymous tip) was immediately reported on local news and amplified by CNN, the military authorities in our Rear Detachment were forced to send out an email confirming that soldiers were injured, but that no further information could be made available until families had been notified. Which just scared and upset more families and friends of Soldiers in our Division, because (thanks to HIPAA restrictions), the Army can't reveal any medical information without patient consent.

My wife had to wait until the blackout was lifted to find out if I had been injured. Or if others in my unit had been hurt or killed.

During the blackout Soldiers in our unit had no idea the attack had been reported back home. When the blackout was lifted, I quickly emailed my wife at work, sending a bland "How are you today? I'm fine," just in case she hadn;t heard anything, but letting her know I was okay if she had.

Her first response was, "Do You Know How Crazy Things Were Here?!"

Friends and family were frantic. Reports were all over the place, and there were all these calls from the press. Neighborhood new press. Neighbors from in town. Emails and calls. No solid information, no "Your Soldier is safe and sound," but more like "You will be contacted if your Soldier has been injured."

I said the second story was one of outrage, and I guess that's what I consider these calls to family members, outrageous. The likelihood of them knowing anything substantive is remote. That a reporter might thereby elicit footage or recordings or juicy quotes full of fear, hysteria, grief, or anger would be quite probable. And who does that serve? It's like those horrible pseudo-reality shows that try to generate raw emotional reactions from participants. And on the "use discretion" side of their considerations, what would be the likelihood that these family members don't know anything, and they're first hearing fearful news from the reporter intruding on their privacy?

Freedom of the press is a right that bears an attendant responsibility. Sometimes that responsibility is gravely important.

It isn't exactly "First, do no harm," but that wouldn't be a bad place to start. Some news can wait a day or two. Unless of course you're the unfortunate family that gets the personal visit to your home. The rest of you can wait.

(Posted as Luncheon Covered Dish at Basil's Blog.)

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Subscribe to Posts [Atom]