Monday, May 22, 2006


A School Field Trip

I took a day off from work to go on a field trip with Little Manly. It started first thing this morning, and involved a visit to a pre-Revolutionary farm in our area, the Mabee Farm in Rotterdam Junction, New York.

Settled first by a Dutch colonist, and purchased by a man named Mabee early in the 18th century, the farm has been owned, lived in or rented by Mabee family descendents until given to a historical society in 2003. Quite a remarkable home, right along the Mohawk River.

We happened to catch some stragglers today from some Revolutionary War re-enactors who held a camp this past weekend at the farm. They were part of the field trip today, and explained the intricacies of fife and drum drills, communications, and message formats. (I never knew the Executive Officer had his own fife and drum call to summon him when needed.) These gentlemen also explained how New York Militias were organized locally during early "wilderness" settlement days. Which turned out to be handy later in the day, as I'll explain.

As regular readers know, Little Manly is quite the history and military buff, and his teacher explained today that his 4th grade class always has him explain wars, geography and such items when subjects come up, and are always amazed when he can point out the battlefields of Europe or the Islands in the Pacific.

He's been after me since my return from Iraq to come into his class and give a presentation, so I offered to do one today after our return from the farm. The teacher needed to kill about an hour at the end of the day, so she enthusiastically took me up on the offer.

I took an evening, copied some photos off onto CD, brought a couple of Desert Camouflage Uniform (DCU) hats (boonie, garrison), a map of Iraq, my end of tour award, a unit coin, and figured I'd pretty much wing it from the photos.

It went easier than I thought. The palaces in Tikrit were a big hit, as were stories of our mess hall, our too-sumptious menus, and of course, Ice Cream. (Kids are always amazed when you can take something foreign and find a way to make it something they can relate to. (After one detour about food and the Morale Welfare and Recreation (MWR) facilities, I heard a couple of kids say, "I want to go to Iraq." They're kids, but still, I heard many of my young soldiers says much the same thing when they first toured the base.

I had a chance to describe our twice extended 8 months of mobilization training in Arctic Fort Drum, prior to our deployment in January 2005, then described our 550 mile convoy into Iraq, around Baghdad, Samarra, and into Tikrit (minus the nervous parts), and had a lot of opportunity to talk about life on the Forward Operating Base (FOB).

They asked the usual questions, was I ever scared, did I drive a HUMVEE, did I get to shoot anybody. I explained that I was nervous a couple of times, but the Army takes a lot of trouble to make us as safe as possible, I explained how we prepared for evacuation and vehicle recovery before convoys (again, no scary parts), and how the hardest thing was to be away from Little Manly and Mrs. Dadmanly. I was asked to tell a few camel spider stories.

One girl asked, "what will happen if we lose the war?"

What a great question. I replied, that's a difficult question to answer.

For one thing, in a very real sense, we won the war already. We got rid of Saddam Hussein, his sons, and their brutal government. We helped Iraqis write their own constitution and elect their own government.

Sure, there's still some violence, it can still be dangerous, but not even as dangerous as 5 or 6 other places in the world, like Columbia. But it's a start, the Iraqi people have a chance.

I explained that "winning the war" against violence is the war that the Iraqi people are fighting, and fighting bravely. To win that war, the Iraqis will need to support their government and not give up on democracy. If they can elect the next government, and the old people leave and the new people come in, and it works, and they make things more peaceful, that that will be winning.

I added that the Iraqi people really deserve this chance, after 30-40 years of the brutal Saddam, his brutal sons, millions of people killed in violence, in their war with Iran, the Iraqi people deserve this chance for peace and freedom. We helped, we can continue to help, but it's their chance, for their future.

If they can keep their democracy, it will have been worth it.

This afternoon ended with something really special.

At they end of my presentation, all the kids in this class wanted to tell me all the people they knew who were Veterans. It started when I mentioned something about having any family members or neighbors who were Vets. Everybody in the class seemed to have a Dad, a Grandpa, a Great Grandpa or a neighbor who was in Vietnam, or World War II. One girl said her cousin's husband was going to Iraq in June.

I asked her if they were having a party for him. She said yes. I said, that's good, you can give him a hug and tell him goodbye, and wish him well. I said, it meant a lot for me to know people were praying for me. Every family does this differently, I said, but however your family does so, you should offer to do for him. It will mean a lot.

I told the kids that they should ask their Veterans about their experiences. They won't tell you scary or upsetting things, but probably funny, interesting stories. It will mean a lot that you ask. If they don't want to talk, don't press them, respect that that is their decision. But if they want to, it will mean a lot that they ask.

I was really amazed. In this small community, military service is still viewed with reverence and respect. Maybe because its a small, working class town. Maybe because they are all about 10 years old.

But I think it's because so many of their families served, when their country called.

Makes you kind of have hope. For them. For the future maybe they'll help ensure.

Links: Mudville Gazette, Threats Watch, Blogotional

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