This one letter from a soldier in Iraq seems more insightful and is far more interesting for me to read than the typical news reports on the war.  Sure, it’s just one man’s perspective, but it’s not meant to be a thorough and unbiased assessment of the situation over there.  I think it would be valuable to have more opinions like his.  It’s really not that long, and I believe it’s worth it. 

You can read it over on Time’s website, or just scroll down…

Written last month, this straightforward account of life in Iraq
by a Marine officer was initially sent just to a small group of family
and friends. His honest but wry narration and unusually frank
dissection of the mission contrasts sharply with the story presented by
both sides of the Iraq war debate, the Pentagon spin masters and fierce
critics. Perhaps inevitably, the ‘Letter from Iraq’ moved quickly
beyond the small group of acquantainaces and hit the inboxes of retired
generals, officers in the Pentagon, and staffers on Capitol Hill.
TIME’s Sally B. Donnelly first received a copy three weeks ago but only
this week was able to track down the author and verify the document’s
authenticity. The author wishes to remain anonymous but has allowed us
to publish it here — with a few judicious omissions.

All: I haven’t written very much from Iraq. There’s really not much to
write about. More exactly, there’s not much I can write about because
practically everything I do, read or hear is classified military
information or is depressing to the point that I’d rather just forget
about it, never mind write about it. The gaps in between all of that
are filled with the pure tedium of daily life in an armed camp. So it’s
a bit of a struggle to think of anything to put into a letter that’s
worth reading. Worse, this place just consumes you. I work 18-20-hour
days, every day. The quest to draw a clear picture of what the
insurgents are up to never ends. Problems and frictions crop up faster
than solutions. Every challenge demands a response. It’s like this
every day. Before I know it, I can’t see straight, because it’s 0400
and I’ve been at work for 20 hours straight, somehow missing dinner
again in the process. And once again I haven’t written to anyone. It
starts all over again four hours later. It’s not really like Ground Hog
Day, it’s more like a level from Dante’s Inferno.

Rather than attempting to sum up the last seven months, I
figured I’d just hit the record setting highlights of 2006 in Iraq.
These are among the events and experiences I’ll remember best.

Worst Case of D�j� Vu — I thought I was familiar with the
feeling of d�j� vu until I arrived back here in Fallujah in February.
The moment I stepped off of the helicopter, just as dawn broke, and saw
the camp just as I had left it ten months before — that was d�j� vu.
Kind of unnerving. It was as if I had never left. Same work area, same
busted desk, same chair, same computer, same room, same creaky rack,
same . . . everything. Same everything for the next year. It was like
entering a parallel universe. Home wasn’t 10,000 miles away, it was a
different lifetime.

Most Surreal Moment — Watching Marines arrive at my detention
facility and unload a truck load of flex-cuffed midgets. 26 to be
exact. We had put the word out earlier in the day to the Marines in
Fallujah that we were looking for Bad Guy X, who was described as a
midget. Little did I know that Fallujah was home to a small community
of midgets, who banded together for support since they were considered
as social outcasts. The Marines were anxious to get back to the midget
colony to bring in the rest of the midget suspects, but I called off
the search, figuring Bad Guy X was long gone on his short legs after
seeing his companions rounded up by the giant infidels.

Most Profound Man in Iraq — an unidentified farmer in a fairly
remote area who, after being asked by Reconnaissance Marines if he had
seen any foreign fighters in the area replied “Yes, you.”

Worst City in al-Anbar Province — Ramadi, hands down. The
provincial capital of 400,000 people. Lots and lots of insurgents
killed in there since we arrived in February. Every day is a nasty gun
battle. They blast us with giant bombs in the road, snipers, mortars
and small arms. We blast them with tanks, attack helicopters,
artillery, our snipers (much better than theirs), and every weapon that
an infantryman can carry. Every day. Incredibly, I rarely see Ramadi in
the news. We have as many attacks out here in the west as Baghdad. Yet,
Baghdad has 7 million people, we have just 1.2 million. Per capita,
al-Anbar province is the most violent place in Iraq by several orders
of magnitude. I suppose it was no accident that the Marines were
assigned this area in 2003.

Bravest Guy in al-Anbar Province — Any Explosive Ordnance
Disposal Technician (EOD Tech). How’d you like a job that required you
to defuse bombs in a hole in the middle of the road that very likely
are booby-trapped or connected by wire to a bad guy who’s just waiting
for you to get close to the bomb before he clicks the detonator? Every
day. Sanitation workers in New York City get paid more than these guys.
Talk about courage and commitment.

Second Bravest Guy in al-Anbar Province — It’s a 20,000 way tie
among all these Marines and Soldiers who venture out on the highways
and through the towns of al-Anbar every day, not knowing if it will be
their last — and for a couple of them, it will be.

Worst E-Mail Message — “The Walking Blood Bank is Activated. We
need blood type A+ stat.” I always head down to the surgical unit as
soon as I get these messages, but I never give blood — there’s always
about 80 Marines in line, night or day.

Biggest Surprise — Iraqi Police. All local guys. I never
figured that we’d get a police force established in the cities in
al-Anbar. I estimated that insurgents would kill the first few, scaring
off the rest. Well, insurgents did kill the first few, but the cops
kept on coming. The insurgents continue to target the police, killing
them in their homes and on the streets, but the cops won’t give up.
Absolutely incredible tenacity. The insurgents know that the police are
far better at finding them than we are — and they are finding them.
Now, if we could just get them out of the habit of beating prisoners to
a pulp . . .
Greatest Vindication — Stocking up on outrageous
quantities of Diet Coke from the chow hall in spite of the derision
from my men on such hoarding, then having a 122mm rocket blast apart
the giant shipping container that held all of the soda for the chow
hall. Yep, you can’t buy experience.

Biggest Mystery — How some people can gain weight out here. I’m down to 165 lbs. Who has time to eat?

Second Biggest Mystery — if there’s no atheists in foxholes, then why aren’t there more people at Mass every Sunday?

Favorite Iraqi TV Show — Oprah. I have no idea. They all have satellite TV.

Coolest Insurgent Act — Stealing almost $7 million from the main
bank in Ramadi in broad daylight, then, upon exiting, waving to the
Marines in the combat outpost right next to the bank, who had no clue
of what was going on. The Marines waved back. Too cool.

Most Memorable Scene — In the middle of the night, on a dusty
airfield, watching the better part of a battalion of Marines packed up
and ready to go home after over six months in al-Anbar, the relief
etched in their young faces even in the moonlight. Then watching these
same Marines exchange glances with a similar number of grunts loaded
down with gear file past — their replacements. Nothing was said.
Nothing needed to be said.

Highest Unit Re-enlistment Rate — Any outfit that has been in
Iraq recently. All the danger, all the hardship, all the time away from
home, all the horror, all the frustrations with the fight here — all
are outweighed by the desire for young men to be part of a band of
brothers who will die for one another. They found what they were
looking for when they enlisted out of high school. Man for man, they
now have more combat experience than any Marines in the history of our
Corps.

Most Surprising Thing I Don’t Miss — Beer. Perhaps being half-stunned by lack of sleep makes up for it.

Worst Smell — Porta-johns in 120 degree heat — and that’s 120 degrees outside of the porta-john.

Highest Temperature — I don’t know exactly, but it was in the porta-johns. Needed to re-hydrate after each trip to the loo.

Biggest Hassle — High-ranking visitors. More disruptive to work
than a rocket attack. VIPs demand briefs and “battlefield” tours (we
take them to quiet sections of Fallujah, which is plenty scary for
them). Our briefs and commentary seem to have no affect on their
preconceived notions of what’s going on in Iraq. Their trips allow them
to say that they’ve been to Fallujah, which gives them an unfortunate
degree of credibility in perpetuating their fantasies about the
insurgency here.
Biggest Outrage — Practically anything said by talking
heads on TV about the war in Iraq, not that I get to watch much TV.
Their thoughts are consistently both grossly simplistic and politically
slanted. Biggest Offender: Bill O’Reilly.

Best Intel Work — Finding Jill Carroll’s kidnappers — all of
them. I was mighty proud of my guys that day. I figured we’d all get
the Christian Science Monitor for free after this, but none have showed
up yet.

Saddest Moment — Having an infantry battalion commander hand me
the dog tags of one of my Marines who had just been killed while on a
mission with his unit. Hit by a 60mm mortar. He was a great Marine. I
felt crushed for a long time afterward. His picture now hangs at the
entrance to our section area. We’ll carry it home with us when we leave
in February.

Best Chuck Norris Moment — 13 May. Bad Guys arrived at the
government center in a small town to kidnap the mayor, since they have
a problem with any form of government that does not include regular
beheadings and women wearing burqahs. There were seven of them. As they
brought the mayor out to put him in a pick-up truck to take him off to
be beheaded (on video, as usual), one of the Bad Guys put down his
machinegun so that he could tie the mayor’s hands. The mayor took the
opportunity to pick up the machinegun and drill five of the Bad Guys.
The other two ran away. One of the dead Bad Guys was on our top twenty
wanted list. Like they say, you can’t fight City Hall.

Worst Sound — That crack-boom off in the distance that means an
IED or mine just went off. You just wonder who got it, hoping that it
was a near miss rather than a direct hit. Hear it practically every
day.

Second Worst Sound — Our artillery firing without warning. The
howitzers are pretty close to where I work. Believe me, outgoing sounds
a lot like incoming when our guns are firing right over our heads.
They’d about knock the fillings out of your teeth.

Only Thing Better in Iraq Than in the U.S. — Sunsets. Spectacular. It’s from all the dust in the air.

Proudest Moment — It’s a tie every day, watching our Marines
produce phenomenal intelligence products that go pretty far in teasing
apart Bad Guy operations in al-Anbar. Every night Marines and Soldiers
are kicking in doors and grabbing Bad Guys based on intelligence
developed by our guys. We rarely lose a Marine during these raids, they
are so well-informed of the objective. A bunch of kids right out of
high school shouldn’t be able to work so well, but they do.

Happiest Moment — Well, it wasn’t in Iraq. There are no truly
happy moments here. It was back in California when I was able to hold
my family again while home on leave during July.

Most Common Thought — Home. Always thinking of home, of my
great wife and the kids. Wondering how everyone else is getting along.
Regretting that I don’t write more. Yep, always thinking of home.

I hope you all are doing well. If you want to do something for
me, kiss a cop, flush a toilet, and drink a beer. I’ll try to write
again before too long — I promise.

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13 Responses to “”

  1. I have no idea what they’re going through.

  2. pretty incredible.

  3. That’s great that you posted this. Alterfire’s brother has just finished his 4 1/2 year stint with the Marines. While he was in Iraq, he could never tell us about what he did there….but he was one of those EOD techs. The stories he can now tell will make you want to change your pants.

  4. thank you for posting this.

  5. a good reminder…thanks

  6. we dont really know what’s going on… and I feel so sorry for the people who are over there and the things they wont ever be able to share with their family.  Thanks for posting the letter.

  7. Anonymous Says:

    powerful.

  8. Steven — have you heard of this:
    http://www.milliondollarhomepage.com/
    ???  I thought you might be intrigued!

  9. Yeah, I’d heard of that Million Dollar Homepage. Like everything else–if only I’d thought of it first!

  10. Hmmm…interesting letter.  It’s fascinating to get different perspectives.  War has so many devastating aspects.  I have a few friends who have served in Iraq.  Their views were definitely a little different from the views in this soldier’s letter.  They said that although there were many things that they saw that were upsetting, part of them actually enjoyed being there.  It’s crazy to think isn’t it?  I agree though, I get tired of seeing the news’ perspective on a lot of things.  There is definitely a great deal of political bias and personal agenda that seems to taint the true picture of what is actually occurring.  People always want things to be in black and white, but life is rarely that simple.  Personal accounts with no particular motive are actually refreshing and they respark my interest in the true issues at stake.  Hmm, if only we could get views like that more often.

  11. Hmmm…maybe he sounds negative, but I’m not sure he’s that different from your friends. He might feel similarly to them in many ways (after all, he is running on a constant 4 hours of sleep).

  12. Well, this is true.  You make a good point.  I can hardly imagine what that would be like.  I definitely enjoyed reading that soldier’s perspective.

  13. This was very moving, sometimes it is hard to remeber that solidiers are people.
    Loved the City hall quote.

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