Monday, January 9, 2012

Refections on hating Christmas

This is a piece shared by my great friend Raub Nash whom I served with in "Deuce Four" 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry in Mosul, Iraq.
He makes a great point when he speaks about reflecting "I see it as a cathartic view into how people need, and should, reflect on everything that happens to them that they did not control." I encourage people to think back about some times when you served write it down and send it to me. Respond and tell us what you think;

Reflections on hating Christmas
By Raub Nash
Last year in Graduate School I was inundated with the idea of reflection and how it is the key to successful development. For 30 years I pretty much took every day for what it was worth and I rarely looked back on what I did or, more importantly, what events happened to me that I could not control. As I prepared to take over my new job as a leader developer at West Point, I felt as though I should at least try out what I would be preaching – it was scary.

A lot of things have happened in my short career, as I no doubt know is the same for all Soldiers in this time of a two-front war. What scared me was how little I knew how these events have changed me –both for good and bad.

As we come out of the traditional Christmas leave period, I was forced into a realization that, I hope, will make future Decembers better for me and those I spend the time with. For the longest time, or since about 2004, I have never really been in the uplifting mood that a father and husband should be in around this time. The old me would say that it was because I was raised on little extravagance, especially with respect to Christmas and gifts in general. After one evening of some rather disturbing and violent actions on my part – no one was hurt, just a sliding glass door, a scotch glass, cooler, and a shirt – I had to look in the mirror and try to understand why and where that person came from.

I was forced to think about several things on the journey to the realization of what caused my actions and what consistently causes my less than uplifting spirit over this time every year. The first event that came to mind was December 21st, 2004. It was a pristine day in Mosul, Iraq. Clear skies and mild temperatures made it quite bearable. I was a young 2ndLieutenant Platoon Leader in 1/24 IN. We had been in Mosul for only about 2 months. I finally had some sort of routine, without which I am a mess, and normalcy was setting in – normalcy does not mean complacency. Our platoon had already had our share of the“baptism-by-fire” incidents and we were operating as a cohesive unit for the first time. A routine patrol day started out with the usual events; drive up to our platoon area, search houses/garages/offices, chase some people that ran from our patrol and drive back.

By the time we returned to the FOB it was time for lunch. So, we dropped our gear and headed on the long walk to our chow hall. Before we headed out, our commander and a few other officers asked my Platoon Sergeant and me to go with them to get lunch. We declined so we could help close up our vehicles and let our Soldiers get to chow before us. The routine was almost always the same: clear your weapon and wash your hands outside, get a tray and choose main or short order line, get some salad and dessert in the middle of the chow hall, sit down to eat and talk about whatever, and finally clean up and leave. This day however would deviate drastically from the routine.

About the time I sat down, I noticed that I was the first one in our group of 4 that would sit together. I took a quick look around and quickly saw the other 3 heading over. I followed this with obligatory wave of the hand to let them see where I sat and for them to join me. No sooner did my Platoon Sergeant sit down in front of me than a flash of light and a loud boom shocked our world. I did what I think, especially regarding the fact that normalcy also included the occasional mortar attack, most everyone did – I jumped up, looked for those by me and we ran to a bunker just outside the door. I won’t write anymore about what happened next. It is an image and an event that I still want to keep buried somewhat. The result of the event was that I had my first experience with the loss of a comrade. My commander, CPT Bill Jacobsen, and our NBC NCO, SSG Robert Johnson, were killed while they ate lunch on the safety of their own FOB. They were not the only ones that died that day, but they were the ones I knew.

8 days later, our Platoon responded to an event that would also change me. A suicide car bomber drove a dump truck full of explosives precariously close to an outpost and detonated the device. PFC Oscar Sanchez was killed in the blast, but what most people don’t know is that he probably saved his entire platoon mates lives. If that truck made it another 100 feet or so, the entire building would have most certainly collapsed. This event I recall not because of the incident in itself, but of my actions during this. I was forced several times to place my Platoon Sergeant and the squad with him in danger. When I say forced, I really mean it. I did not like the orders I was getting, but a leader understands that sometimes orders must be followed and that people can get hurt following them. What scares me about this incident is how happy it made me to see things get destroyed while in this firefight. It was eerie how I could feel great joy as we engaged suspected – yes, suspected – targets with heavy machine guns and strafes from F-16s and, the now retired, F-14. I don’t know why I felt as though I did, but I suspect it was because I was in the young stages of burying my emotional destruction that came from the chow hall bombing.

Fast forward to December 20th, 2007. I am a young Company Commander in the 101st and we were finishing up an operation that my Soldiers dubbed “Operation Shitty Christmas”. This was one of those times that, much like the outpost bombing, I really did not agree or understand the intent of what we were trying to accomplish. But, the orders were legal, ethical, and moral and I was given ample time to object and add my spin on the operation – so, we executed it. After about 5 days in the middle of nowhere during an unusual cold spell, we trudged away at the invisible goal trying to find a non-existent enemy. This day was just like the others – except that we had finished our mission and were moving back to our base. One of my platoons was tasked with following a route clearance team on an untraveled route to open it for further use by our sister company. I chose to move with my main effort, getting all of our equipment safely back to our company patrol base, and I chose not go with my boss’ main effort. Well, these choices never end up good.

When I first showed up to Fort Campbell and found out which company I would be afforded the opportunity to command, I was given the green light to go and start poking around. The first person I met was SPC Leon. He was youthful looking but had an air of experience that just emanated from him. I was immediately drawn to Wesley. I can remember always looking for him at formations, during PT, and while out at training. As I got to know the Soldiers in the company, I quickly found out that Wesley was a consummate warrior. I knew I liked this kid and I knew that I could always count on him. He was in the patrol that went with the route clearance team, probably located in the order of march where my vehicle should have been, when his vehicle was hit with an IED. This event took both of his legs and cut me to the core. I was already not very good with empathy, and this event made me separate myself from my feelings more than ever which resulted in the desire to never get close to another Soldier. Terrible decision on my part. Even though Wesley hasn’t slowed down accomplishing more than most people, it doesn’t take away the deep feeling that it should have been my vehicle, an MRAP and not a HMMWV, that got hit.

Three pretty major events in my life that happened close to Christmas. No wonder I am a scrooge. This story is much more to me than a revelation of why I hate the Christmas season. I see it as a cathartic view into how people need, and should, reflect on everything that happens to them that they did not control. I wish that more people would partake in this venture and critically look at their actions and reactions to these types of events. I know now why I feel the way I do and this fact will allow me to accomplish my ultimate goal – being a great dad. There is no greater joy for me than to see my sons smile and see them do new things. It would be shame if my failure to change my attitude based on events I had no control over affected my children in a way that would have them dread the Christmas season as I do. I will let you know how I do next year.

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