The time has come. My bags are packed and I am ready to roll. Tonight is my last night in my little hut here in Afghanistan. Tomorrow I move to the transient "on call" tents to await a flight out of Afghanistan.
We'll stop for a couple of days in the allied nation of Kyrgystan, where we will await a transcontinental flight. This will take a few days. Then onward to Fort Bragg to be processed out of active duty status. We'll be poked and prodded to ensure we haven't contracted any hideous diseases here, and of course we will all get to sit down with the mental health professionals to be checked for PTSD.
Then it's homeward bound, back to the glorious State of Arizona, to our families and our homes!
The final roll call for the 1/158th Bushmasters:
SSG Charles Browning, killed in action at Mehtar Lam, June 1, 2007
PFC Mykel Miller, killed in action at Qalat, September 6, 2007
SPC Joseph Gracia, severely wounded in action at Qalat, September 6, 2007
There have been many other less serious injuries, but SPC Gracia lost a leg to the IED that killed PFC Miller. Let us all wish this strong soldier a speedy recovery and return to a normal life.
The combined Second and Third Platoons, Delta Company, racked up the most impressive combat performance, with over 120 dead bad guys to their credit without taking a single casualty. Well done, Delta Raiders! These were also the soldiers who rescued the three US senators whose aircraft went down in the Afghan hinterlands.
We leave Afghanistan proud of our performance, and we have turned over the reins to the 3/103 AR, a capable National Guard unit from Pennsylvania. History will judge whether or not we made a difference in the security of the American people, and whether the sacrifices of SSG Browning, PFC Miller, and SPC Gracia were worthwhile.
I thank everyone at HGF for their tremendous support of our mission. There have been care packages, help with buying tactical equipment, and continuous words of encouragement. The HGF family has been there for the Bushmasters every step of the way, and mere words cannot express my appreciation for that.
I will be away from the forum for a week or two while I travel. I'll "see" you all when my boots are on the ground in the Promised Land.
You probably get sick of hearing it, but thank you for your service. Have a safe trip home. :smt023
It's spring time in the Rockies, a good time to return.
Keep your head down on the way to the plane.
SSG Charles Browning, killed in action at Mehtar Lam, June 1, 2007 :smt1099
PFC Mykel Miller, killed in action at Qalat, September 6, 2007 :smt1099
SPC Joseph Gracia, severely wounded in action at Qalat, September 6, :smt10992007
God be with you and your fellow troops on your way home.
Get home safe.
Have a safe trip home! :smt1099
Hey man I hope you get home safe. And thanks for all that you guys have done, and for those that must continue.
We will miss your postings while you are in transit.
Thank you for sharing your Afghanistan experience with us.
Safe travels and welcome home!
What they said +1 :smt1099
As always, thanks a million for your service to our Country. Get home safe, Mike. :smt1099:smt1099
As I have said before thanks be onto you and your great outfit for the freedoms we all enjoy. Stay safe.:smt1099
Excellent news, Mike. Thanks for the time and service you've given your country. We'll expect to hear from you soon.
Safe travel and readjustment to you
Glad to hear you are coming home. Have A Safe Trip
I offer my prayers for a safe and uneventful journey.
Safe travel! I imagine you've got your first culinary indulgence already planned? Pizza, grilled cow, smoked pig, PBR? All of the above?
Be well and be safe. Thanks for your service.
There are few things, in my experience, that make a person appreciate the good old USA like an Uncle Sam-sponsored stay in an under-developed country halfway around the world, even if people AREN'T shooting at you. :mrgreen:
If you can, I'd recommend taking some time to put your thoughts/impressions/feelings down in print while things are still fresh in your mind. You do have a way with words, Mike, so don't be shy. See if you can FILL that computer's hard drive. :)
And of course, :smt1099 , to you and your brothers in arms.
Mike Barham: Sir; thank you, and thanks to your team, Our prayers, thoughts have been with you and your 'mob'. [and I say that kindly].
Your personal views, your personal understanding, and willingness to share are and have been enjoyed.
Family comes first when you get home. A lot of catching up, a lot of hugs and kiss'es.
Thank the "Miss'ess'Mike Barham for us. Backbones to all soldiers are the wives and families. Share that our prayers have not left her the youngins nor the extended family.
When you have some time? follow up. God speed "Sir"
10 days later...
Welcome HOME, Mike!
That cold one by the pool is waiting any time you're out of the Arizona dry heat, and over this way in the Orlando wet heat... I might even let you shoot my "short trigger reset single action tack driving XD"... I'll tape the grip safety down for you, so it feels better...
Congrats, enjoy, thank you, and good luck!
Looking forward to posts from Mike in a Galco golf shirt...
Welcome back & I think you did a great job too.
Heroes! Every last one of you. As said before.. God speed and a safe return home to family, friends and a proud nation. Here's one North Carolina boy that's grateful for your service and with you mourn the losses and injuries of those brave men in the line of duty.
Regardless the affects on the shape of the world to come from this struggle, history will and should report that brave and courageous men and women risked their lives to help people they never met who lived in a dusty far away place under tyranny without bounds, and to make the world and our nation safer.. That'll be how it's told to my kids for sure.
:smt1099God bless you Sir for your service and welcome home!
Thanks to all for the good wishes! We've arrived at Fort Bragg now, and start our outprocessing tomorrow. Unfortunately, we're restricted to the base, so the culinary choices don't vary much from what we had in Afghanistan, though it is a bit fresher.
DJ Niner, I did some writing in a blog as I went along. It makes for dull reading, since I had little in the way of real adventure over there (for which I am thankful). But here's an excerpt from my latest entry. I've shortened it a bit here, for space considerations.
Everyone knows the Stephen King story Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, either from the written work or from the movie with the foreshortened title. It’s a truly great film – easily one of the best I’ve ever seen – and one that I watched several times while in Afghanistan because I could empathize deeply with the imprisonment of the main characters, Andy and Red. The final scenes, where Red, the narrator of the story, travels by bus and talks about his hopes spoke deeply to me, especially the part where he remarks, "I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams." The film ends with Red and Andy on a windswept beach somewhere along Mexico’s Pacific coast, and the water is indeed beautiful and as blue as anyone could ever imagine.
The deployment to Afghanistan has had its very significant downsides. It has also, I think, helped me grow significantly, has helped redeem me, not just as a soldier but as a human being.
While I spent only a year in Afghanistan – in contrast to the fictional Red’s forty years and Andy’s twenty at Shawshank – I still found myself dreaming of far-off lands, much as Red dreamed of the Mexican Pacific. I made mental plans to visit places I’d never dreamed of going before I found myself in such a harsh and hopeless land. While in my youth, I was a far more limited person with commensurately limited interests. I had no interest in seeing Europe or, hell, even California. I felt like I was so completely at odds, politically, with the people of other nations that I would only find discomfort in visiting their nations.
But I read while I was in Afghanistan. I read the real Under the Tuscan Sun, so different from the (enjoyable, nonetheless) Diane Lane film of the same name. People sent me travel books for my birthday: A Year in Provence and A Year in the World. While I didn’t read as much as I should have, by any measure, the reading I did accomplish has made me eager to see the vineyards and architecture of Italy, the pass at Thermopylae and the Acropolis of Greece, the verdant pastures and neighborhood pubs of Ireland, the flamenco dancers and bullfighters of Spain, perhaps even the sushi bars and electric neon skyline of Tokyo. I hope to again see the vineyards of Sonoma walking hand-in-hand with my wife, and I want to rest my eyes upon that blue Mexican Pacific of Red’s dreams – but I’d settle for another barefoot walk along the Sea of Cortez with my wife. I may never be able to touch all these things in reality, unless the exchange rate seriously improves, but I feel like a better person for simply wanting to see them in the flesh.
Closer to home, I hope to walk again in the streets of New York City, I hope to see Chicago in summertime, I hope to have a fine meal and fine wine on San Francisco Bay. I hope to go to Nashville and New Orleans and Portland and Washington DC. I hope I’m redeemed by that, or perhaps I can continue my redemption by seeing those places I’ve ignored, by getting to know them…at least a little.
As a jingoistic American, for years immersed in the various subcultures of right-wing fantasy and that peculiar view of history, I had no appreciation for other languages or cultures. This, despite being married to a woman who grew up overseas and who speaks a couple of languages. But as I slowly immersed myself in the culture and customs of Afghanistan, learning a fumbling method of communication with the locals and trying their foods (I recommend the boulani), I came to see that I had limited myself far too much by seeing America as the center of the world. I hope I can repair that. I hope my wife will teach me Italian before we visit that beautiful and historic peninsula. I hope my family and friends will want to try new foods and wines and beers and bourbons. I hope I can replicate an Afghan meal for them someday.
Part and parcel of the jingoistic view of American superiority goes the romanticism that infuses and informs far-right conservative thought in America. And yet now this seems to me an appreciation for an America that perhaps once was, but can never be again. Or perhaps it’s a fantastic yearning for an America that never was: one completely populated by rugged, self-sustaining, freedom-craving, pious individuals who worked and defended their own land, without want or need of anyone outside their family and perhaps their church. The right hates the progression of America, for conservatives are by their nature averse to almost all change. Rather than looking forward at the potential America has to become even greater than she is, the right looks only to return to a dead past that may have existed solely in the minds of idealistic writers.
One of the more comical aspects of the right is the constant comparison of present-day America to Rome in its decline. For example, inevitably, comparisons are made between the gladiators of the Roman arena and NFL football and such things, as if running a man through with a gladius is the same as tackling him. Much is made on the far right of the "bread and circuses" (loosely defined as social programs and TV) of modern America, social acceptance of homosexuality and other deviant lifestyles, and the lack of involvement of the average American in the nation’s political life. Pseudo-intellectual comparisons are drawn between the apathy of the American electorate and Nero fiddling while Rome burned.
My redemption in Afghanistan was one of appreciating America for what she is, not for what I imagined she could be, or imagined she once was, via an Emersonian Shot Heard ’Round the World fairy tale. America is good and great and offers a standard of living far beyond what is even imaginable in a place like Afghanistan. I hope that I never forget how easy and wonderful life as an American in America really is. I hope I always appreciate my life in America – and every day, not just on Thanksgiving. I know America isn’t perfect, and I realize that no institution created by humans can ever be perfect, but my redemption lies in moving away from a constant dissatisfaction with my country, accepting her as she is, and living in peace with the knowledge that I have done my part in trying to keep her safe and afloat. What comes in the future for America may be better and it may be worse, but America on her worst day is still leagues ahead of most nations on their best. My redemption lies in a loss of the bitterness that America is not exactly the way I want her to be, but still pretty damned good.
There was also familial redemption found here. When I was a young man, I was a soldier. For various reasons not germane to this essay, I left the military in 1993, and it was a long, slow crawl back into service. The first awakening came with a copy of Mark Bowden’s Blackhawk Down given to me by my father. I still think this was a plot on his part. I resolved at that time – it was the middle of 2000 – that I must return and continue repaying my country for all it's given me. Thus began that long, slow crawl. I’d spent a sedentary near-decade drinking beer and partying. I was fat and had to lose weight. I needed to get in shape or the Guard wouldn’t even take me back. I needed to be cleansed of the sin that had built up over almost ten years. I needed redemption. I craved it.
Then September of 2001 struck us all. I still hadn’t made much progress, but now things became more critical: my country needed me and I wasn’t ready. I redoubled my efforts and by March of 2002 returned to the fold. I hated the military in the 1990s. I still disliked it in 2002, and I dislike it to this day. I dislike most soldiers, whom I generally find to be crude, authoritarian ruffians. I recognize the necessity, obviously, of "strong men armed." George Orwell summed it up perfectly with his classic quote that, "We sleep peaceably in our beds only because rough men stand ready to visit violence upon those who would do us harm." Nonetheless, I feel neither comfortable nor at home in a shame-based system that rewards crass and authoritarian behavior, among rough men who are essentially the stereotypical "jocks" we all remember from junior high school.
Yet here I now sit, redeemed, holding the rank of sergeant and being a man of more-or-less adequate respect around the battalion. I will leave the Guard soon, and this time I will not return, for I do not generally care for the rigidity of military life or the type of man who is attracted to it. This deployment has been both punishment for the arrogance of my youth, and redemption for all the years I sat on my ass, getting fat, and expecting other people to do the hard work of preserving the Republic. But most importantly, I hope I have in this past year at last redeemed myself in the eyes of my father, who retired as a full colonel and is the greatest soldier I have ever known.
My military "career," such as it has been, has been punctuated by remarkable good fortune. I’ve avoided war for the most part, and the part of this war I attended kept me pretty well clear of danger most of the time. I reenlisted in the Connecticut Guard as an infantryman, but when I moved to Arizona, there were no infantry units to join, so I became a pogue (essentially, a soldier who does not actually fight). When my Arizona unit got the call, I was originally assigned to our Delta Company as an infantryman, but was swiftly reassigned to the headquarters logistics section, where, quite honestly, I did a better job than I’d have ever done as an infantryman. Delta Company saw by far the fiercest fighting of any unit in our battalion’s deployment, but I was insulated from it, and I remained alive…though for exactly what purpose remains uncertain. Were I a religious man, I’d think there was some higher power that looked out for me, keeping me alive, saving me for something, redeeming me. I know there’s no such power, but I’ve been so lucky that sometimes it seems like there is. And even sans a higher power, the power of redemption remains.
Finally, the biggest redemption still lies before me. That will be with my beloved wife and daughter. They asked for none of what I have put them through since June of 2006, and yet they have endured it with remarkable grace and patience. In them lies my final redemption, and I hope I can redeem myself in their eyes, as I finally have in my father’s. This will be another long, slow crawl, but the last year has taught me a patience and an endurance I’d heretofore never known. I hope to meet and overcome this final challenge of once again becoming the husband and father who has been absent for so long.
And so, as Shawshank’s Red remarked, "I find I’m so excited I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it’s the excitement only a free man can feel, a free man at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain. I hope I can make it across the border. I hope to see my friend and shake his hand. I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams. I…hope."
At long last, this is Bagram Station, signing off…with hope.
Well, welcome to North Carolina! :smt023
Originally Posted by Mike Barham