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Postcards from Tradocia

closure

I thought this would be a lot easier to write, that all of my feelings about our triumphant departure from Iraq would come pouring out onto the virtual page in a fully-formed stream. In truth, it’s not so simple; many might call me foolish for saying so, but my feelings about leaving are actually somewhat conflicted.

It’s not as if I want to stay here – far from it. But inevitably, after eighteen months of deployment, some good things developed, and indeed there are some things that I’ll miss when I’m gone.

Dealing with other people has made this journey hell, but it’s also the only thing that’s made it tolerable. The bonds I’ve forged here aren’t quite “Band of Brothers”-like friendships, forged in the hellstorm of battle; they’re really only analogous in that they were forged in the battle against the common foe of boredom. I really never experienced the true crucible of battle, where my life depends on the man next to me and vice versa; for that I’m thankful but also oddly disappointed. I can’t speak for everyone, but I think that many (myself included) wonder how they’ll respond when the shit hits the fan, and I know that I was, in a strange way, anxious to find out. However, I remain untested, even in the one place that I was sure would present the greatest trial. Therefore, I can’t count myself as a true member of the “warrior brotherhood;” I remain on the periphery, empathetic but not fully understanding.

It brings me back to the guilt of a REMF – the haunting feeling that I didn’t do enough, that had I been somewhere else at a particular time that I could’ve made a difference, changed an outcome somehow. Could my rifle or some skill I possess have been used to save someone’s life?

In February I posted a partial quote from the novel Gates of Fire. It captures perfectly my feelings on the subject:

What unknowable mercy has spared us this day? What clemency of the divine has turned the enemy’s spear one handbreadth from our throat and driven it fatally into the breast of the beloved comrade at our side? Why are we still here above the earth, we who are no better, no braver, who reverenced heaven no more than these our brothers whom the gods have dispatched to hell?

Of course such thinking is as futile as it is endless – the “what ifs” and “should haves” can drive one insane. It’s pointless, too, because I had my own job to do as a “fobbit.” Our mission seemed so pointless sometimes, and yet when one looks at the big picture, our role was really quite important. Imagine if the entire company spontaneously vanished from Iraq, vehicles and all: The 256th BCT at Liberty and several important outlying FOBs in the Baghdad AO would have no communications (aside from regular radios). Remove all the signal assets from the AO, and then you’d have no communications whatsoever – no SIPRNET, no NIPRNET, no phones. Certainly, our job is boring, and in micro scale it is often pointless – hey, thank the lord we’re here so the supply sergeant has his own phone in his room! But in aggregate, the contributions of our company really are extensive, and quite difficult to measure, since working comms are an assumption, not a bonus.

Strangely, though, our company’s excellence (at least in the realm of signal operations) has been the best-kept secret of this deployment, and it’s really too bad that it wasn’t publicized further by the command. Despite that weird unwillingness to discuss our peformance, based on my own observations and discussions with others more knowledgeable than myself, we may well be the best signal unit in the United States Army. Through a combination of skill, intelligence, good equipment, and a fair helping of luck, our uptime was well over 95% (closer to 99%, probably), with tens of thousands of calls processed every month – and that’s not to mention the data traffic. This is with equipment dating from the mid-80’s that existed before anyone even thought of using the stuff to transmit anything other than voice traffic.

Maybe it’s fitting, then, that this is the last ride of the 134th Signal Battalion. Ours was the first whole-company activation of the battalion since World War II, and proved to be the last – the battalion colors were retired last month as part of the 34th Infantry Division’s reorganization into Units of Action. Now, along with all the other changes in our lives to which we must return, we don’t even have our parent unit anymore. Voce Retonanti, we hardly knew ye.

Some people say that they can’t wait to forget everything that happened on this deployment. For me, it’s quite the opposite: I want to remember everything, good and bad – hence this blog. Like it or not, we are a part of history, and while this wasn’t the “fight of our lives” like I thought it might be, it has been an experience nonetheless, an experience from which I’ve learned much.

To those who have read my random dispatches: thanks for inflating my ego. I never imagined that many beyond my family and friends would find this to be of any interest, but apparently I’m producing a product for which there is some audience.

To all of those who wrote and sent packages: thanks for the support. It’s an honor to have served with such kind and generous people back home supporting me and everyone else here.

To B Company: some of you I hate, some of you I love, and to some I am merely indifferent, but to paraphrase, “they may be sons-of-bitches, but they’re our sons-of-bitches.”

To all the soldiers of Operation Iraqi Freedom, past, present and future, especially the milbloggers: keep fighting the good fight. Everybody has a job to do, and we all know what has to be done. Shoot straight, stay low, and drive fast.

To all of my family, particularly my parents and grandparents: your love and support was so appreciated. Thanks for being there for me, always.

And last, but not least, to my incredible wife, the redoubtable Mrs. Melobi: it’s been one hell of a year but you’ve made it so much easier. Thanks for taking care of me (and being my secretary!), even from afar. We’ve been married a year and have yet to live together, but I’m coming home at last. Wait for me just a little longer.

This is my last post from Iraq. Next time I write might be Kuwait, or our demob station, or it might not be until I’m home again. In any case, stay tuned – I still have more pictures to post and a few more stories to tell. After that, who knows – it’ll probably be cat stories and flower pictures or some such boring shit.

Gates of Fire is about the ancient Spartans, but the narrative of soldiering is oddly resonant (perhaps because the author is a former Marine). I was saving the second part of the quote above for the end:

What else can a man feel at that moment than the most grave and profound thanksgiving to the gods who, for reasons unknowable, have spared his life this day? Tomorrow their whim may alter. Next week, next year. But this day the sun still shines upon him, he feels its warmth upon his shoulders, he beholds about him the faces of his comrades whom he loves and he rejoices in their deliverance and his own.

Indeed.

22 Comments

  1. Farewells are hard to write. That was a good one. Safe and easy journey home, mate.

  2. Just a little longer.

  3. I spent 29 years in the military. I did Desert Storm and a few other things. I never fired a shot in anger, and the only ones fired at me were the myriad of scuds in Dhaharan during the ‘storm. Yet, I, too, felt the age-old dilemna of the soldier: train to be the best. Wonder how I’d perform. But hope to hell you never had to do so.

    Thanks for your service and those of your unit. From experience I know it’ll never be something you will regret, but you will be proud.

  4. I’ve enjoyed reading you posts and I’ll keep checking back for more. Good luck in the future.

  5. We’re proud of you and are waiting for you with open arms. Much love, Grandma and grandpa

  6. Geez,Alex, you got me crying like alittle girl. We are so proud of you in so many ways. You are a wonderful son. I jusy want to hold you and never let you go. Love, mom

  7. It looks like all of us have been watching for this last post. It was one of your best and certainly my favorite!

  8. What a great post. Thank you for your service to our wonderful country. I’ve followed your story in Iraq and have been mighty impressed. Your writing skills are great. I have a nephew deployed in Baghdad in C Company. He just recently experienced a roadside bomb with his Bradley. He’s fine–and can’t wait to get home. It’s his second deployment and a life changing experience to say the least. Enjoy your family and only the best to you and your future. Gratefully, Jane

  9. Alex,
    It has been a great pleasure to read your blog, even if I disagreed with some of your political views. Which really doesn’t matter in the long view. What does matter is that you are coming home, that you made it through safely, even though you didn’t see any direct action, and that you have an excellent someone to come home to. Thank you for your service and for sharing your experience over there. The inside view gives us all, regardless of what we think about the politics of the war, a way to understand it from the soldier’s point of view, the most important view of all in any war.
    Peace, brother.
    Seth

  10. Alex,
    Not a dry eye in the house. You can still get a good laugh in there too! I was thinking the whole time about the people in New Orleans, and how I was trying to reach some friends for acouple days. Communication is the key to any organization and to be assured of loved ones. I finally reached my friends, not of course in New Orleans. The stories of people who are staying at homes waiting for loved ones to return, because there is no phone. The magnitude of that event will become apparent when you return home, but I doubt you could currently find a person her who doesnt value the power of being able to connect.
    We are in utter chaos without it.
    Im so happy to see your last entry, your your entrance home. We have so missed you.
    love, kelly

  11. Fair winds brother, 18 months is a long long time of hanging with someone more then you would a spouse, some things will be hard to let go of. Glad to see that you made it to the far side safe and sound.

  12. Wow, I am always blown away by your writing talents. I’m touched by all the sentiment in this last entry.

    I am so relieved to have you coming home to MN. Now we can hang out!!!

  13. Hey,

    Well, I think you have contributed much. If that makes a difference. Without the cogs in the wheels of the Military, the gears grind to a halt. Being a cog might not be as exciting and
    as frighting as being a rifleman but without you they couldn’t have completed their missions.

    I can tell you, exciting and frighting is not all its cracked up to be. I want to leave you with something that I think every American should read and try to understand.

    http://www.ejectejecteject.com/archives/000129.html

    The truths in it should be written in stone and placed for all to see.

    By the way, you definitely are Grey.

    Papa Ray
    West Texas
    USA

  14. What a bittersweet post, Delobious. I’ve enjoyed following your words since I found your blog. I’m a bit disappointed that I did not find yours sooner. I’ll keep coming through. You’re an honorable dude and I appreciate your service. I’m finding out that no matter what your job is not many are willing to serve. And your job is/was just as important an another’s. Everyone’s got their place in the big scheme of things. I sincerely hope that you don’t feel anything less.

    I’m also glad to hear that you’ve had a group of supportive people throughout your deployment and it’s great that you’ll finally be getting back to your wife and family after demob. Be well my pal.

  15. Well said and well done.

    Love, Dad

  16. … just a little longer.

  17. Well back.

  18. Welcome Back.

  19. Have a good trip home. Thank you for all you’ve done there in Iraq and thank you for blogging. You’re the best of us & I’m proud of you.

  20. Well done.

    Welcome home. I enjoyed reading your blog.

    Gates Of Fire rules.

  21. Alex,
    Thank you for your service and sacrifice. I recognize some of the feelings about leaving Iraq that you wrote about. You have made a difference both through your job in Iraq and through this blog.

    Thanks.
    Jonathan

  22. Well, Numbah One, its finished. And my God, this internet business is amazingly fast! I’m overwhelmed by the simple sweetness of life in the technologically advanced concept of infrastructure. BTW, did you ever check on the 1ST CAV SSI business?

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