Today I am sad. I am angry. I am tired. I am frustrated. I am furious. I am weeping. I am petrified. You see, my brother-in-law serves in the 172nd. I cannot begin to express to you the amazing feeling that washed over me when he was able to visit home back in the Spring....the happiness that rushes over you when you can throw your arms around that loved one and know that he is still safe.....more importantly, still alive. I had so many questions for him....so much I wanted to know.
Now, I don't want to put words in his mouth, and pretend that he is against this war, because he is not. He loves his country, he loves being a soldier, and he truly believes that what he is doing is the right thing....that ultimately the attempt to bring peace and democracy to that region of the world is a righteous goal. Even being staunchly anti-war, I cannot say that I disagree with him on that statement. We exchanged views and tried to explain our positions to each other....me being a bit more timid, as I recognized that he was home on a leave, and would have to go back. To do so, he would have to believe in what he was doing...I knew that.
But there was something that I recognized immediately. He had no clue what was really happening in Iraq...or here for that matter. He knew what was going on around him...in his immediate vicinity. Things that he could see and hear with his own senses. But he had no idea what was going on in the rest of the country. He wasn't up to speed on the news in places like Baghdad or the attacks and deaths in the Al-Anbar province. His information regarding the war was so limited, even though he had spent six months there. He came home within days of the attack on the Golden Mosque, and yet never heard a word about it. He didn't know how many soldiers had been killed over there, and frankly, didn't want to know.....he had seen a few of those deaths happen with his own eyes.
He spent two weeks here at home, all the time anxious to get back to his buddies in harm's way. Not anxious to go back to Iraq, but ever the soldier, anxious to again be part of that band of brothers.
Last week, I received what was to be the final email of his deployment. A notice to all of us that he would be home in the coming weeks, and that his internet access would be cut off until then. He was looking forward to being home....requesting a lot of tickets to baseball games to go see his home team play. You could feel the excitement flowing through the electronic message. HE WAS COMING HOME....FOR GOOD!! He had survived his (second) year-long deployment in Iraq, and we would once again be able to hug him, and laugh with him, and be a complete family again.....bittersweet knowing that over 2,500 families were not able to share in that kind of joy, but instead suffered through the burial of a loved one's life lost in a reckless war.
Monday night, as I munched my dinner an watched my nightly Situation Room roundup after being stuck at work all day, Wolf brought the war to my doorstep again. "This just in" and they went to Jamie McIntyre for the story:
"Well Wolf, Pentagon officials are telling CNN that General George Casey, as he's trying to figure out how to get more troops for Baghdad in the short- term, is considering delaying the departure of at least one unit, a striker unit. That's the wheeled mobile vehicle that they use. The 172nd based out of Alaska could be extended beyond their one year, but because the Pentagon takes that so seriously, it would be have to be approved personally by Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. No final decision and no recommendation has come on that, just one of the options under consideration, delaying the departure of some troops for a short time -- Wolf."
The words "172nd based out of Alaska" hung in the air like a thick cloud, trying to permeate my brain. My husband and I looked at one another....no words, just open-mouthed shock.
He's not coming home next week.
Then the second part of that cloud began to make it's way into my brain.
Will he come home at all?
Will we be one of those 2,500+ families?
It took another 20 hours of the sheer hell of not knowing what was going on before the Pentagon confirmed the report, that yes, the entire 172nd Brigade would have their tours extended by up to 4 months. Another four months of 120 degree heat. Another four months of dodging bullets and IED's. Another four months of combat living conditions. Another four months of hell, only this time, all signs point to them heading into Dante's inferno itself, Baghdad. Four more months of worry. Four more months of care packages. Four more months of refreshing my email screen waiting for another message. Another Thanksgiving in a war. Another Christmas in the desert.
I've been in touch with several other 172nd families....all of them as distraught as ours. All of us doing the same thing....trying to distract our minds from the fear of reality, after all there are plane tickets to cancel and Welcome parties to be put on hold, even a few weddings that will be postponed. There are care packages to make, as we haven't been able to send anything since the mail cut-off date in June, and are now anxiously awaiting a new address to send our support in a box to our beloved family members. There are heartbroken wives and husbands, confused children, worried moms, frustrated dads and distraught siblings all trying to quell their fear of what comes next.
My question to Mr. Rumsfeld is, Where is the rest of our military, sir? These men are being extended not by a couple of days or weeks, but 4 months! That is 1/3 of a full combat deployment! If more troops are needed to quell the violence in Iraq, then why not deploy fresh units? Why grab these men, moments from stepping on that plane home, and send them back into the enemy's lair....after many had followed the orders that they were given to SEND THEIR GEAR HOME ALREADY. Many soldiers are now having to buy new gear, as families do not even yet have an address to send their things back to them.
Did our troops lose communication home during this time prior to the final approval? Why did our Stryker families learn of this in the media blurb instead of directly from our government? Why did it take nearly a full day before the Pentagon would confirm this report, even to the troops and families?
What kind of plan is this, and where is the OUTRAGE?
I feel used by my government. I feel that the Pentagon let this leak out, waited to gauge the public response while troops and their families suffered while waiting to hear whether this measure was approved or not. When they realized that there would be no public outcry, they went ahead with the extension, and Rummy signed their orders.
I beg of any of you who want to show your support of our troops, to call everyone you can and ask these questions. Call your congressmen. Call the media. Tell them that this was handled with complete disrespect and utter disgrace. These men have sacrificed the past year of their lives, and they spent days waiting to know if they would be coming home as planned, or heading into the heart of the battle. That is not supporting the morale of these men...it is driving them to the breaking point.
Today I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore!!