"Troop extensions"

These words flashed across the TV screen as I was getting ready for work one recent morning.  It was just some copy that came up there, rather matter of factly, and it was followed by the name of a U.S. Army Cavalry unit that has now had its deployment tour extended in Iraq at least twice.   Its current time in country is approaching fourteen months.  It is not alone.  Virtually every unit there now will be affected, I am sure.  Total U.S. troop strength will soon reach the 150,000 man level in anticipation of security needs for the upcoming elections in January. 

This news is tough to handle for our folks over there and for many back here in the States as well.  It means postponed reunions, events, parties, marriages, dates, quiet time together, seeing recently born kids for the first time and a lot more. It comes at a tough time for them as well because there was still an outside chance that some might be home for Christmas or shortly thereafter. They can forget it now. It'll be more humping the streets, more IED's, more blood, more friends killed or evacuated due to serious wounds and yet another opportunity for 'personal character building' as the First Sergeant likes to put it.

As this news flashed across my TV screen, unit leaders over there were calling their troops together to give them the news. They would put a good face on it, one that masked their own level of disappointment, as they explained the situation to their people. This is what leadership as defined, taught and demonstrated in our military is all about. It's what young officers and NCOs with families of their own must now fall back on as they lead their men out of the funk of disappointment and back into the fog of war. 

Picture them as they get the word. They'll be in some sort of unit formation, probably informal, gathered around their respective unit commanders.  Among them will be those just back from close combat in some shattered building down some nameless alley now littered with empty shell casings, unexploded ordinance, rocks and blood stains. Maybe they had gone in not knowing exactly what or who would be there, but positive that whatever it was wouldn't be good. 

A fire team forcibly entered an unsearched room by kicking the door open.  Inside was some guy, a terrorist, surrounded by grenades or maybe an AK—47 with a thirty round magazine in it ready to be emptied into the first 'infidel' coming into the room. 

The point man is first in and goes down immediately, taking 5—8 rounds from a full auto burst hitting him in the face and throat. His team responds and kills the bad guy, but not soon enough to save him.  Young men with perspiring faces, hearts racing,  ears temporarily deafened by high powered rounds going off in an enclosed space, adrenaline pumping, scared but brave and determined beyond words take a moment to assess what happened and what lies ahead for them.  The first guy in is lying on his back, legs spread wide apart, not breathing. Blood everywhere...dust, powder smells and smoke permeate the eerie silence.  A gloved hand cradling an M—4, its barrel too hot to the touch, shakes a bit, involuntarily.  Young, trained eyes peer warily into the room at the dead terrorist...he's toast.

Quickly, but gently and respectfully, they check for any vitals on the young American and prepare to move his lifeless corpse outside for tagging and evacuation. The attached Corpsman or Medic stoically attends to the details. Several helmeted figures, bereft of any emotion right now, just stare at him mesmerized by the savagery of it all.  The dead American is virtually unrecognizable from the young man he was a few moments ago. He could have been any one of them. They know this.

All that happened yesterday. Today, they learn that there will be more of the same, probably for at least another three months beyond their expected rotation date.  Each man and each woman affected by all this must now reach down into a place deep inside them that will keep this news in perspective.  Sure, there will be the traditional time for bitching, moaning and complaining. Hell, that goes with the territory, and they know that. Some feel bad because a loved one back home will once again be terribly disappointed by this change in their plans over which they have no control. A young son or daughter will have to be told and held as they cry at hearing the news.

The cynics among us will say that this is what they signed up for, so what's the big deal?  Others will say they had it tougher when they were in the service. Both will be wrong...very wrong. These men and women are far more than these one dimension analyses suggest. In my view, they are the vanguard of an entirely new generation of Americans. They volunteered when voluntarism was not in vogue.  They went willingly into harm's way when some of their stateside counterparts bitched about the fact their cable connection was down for a day. They dealt with death and personal deprivation when many of us turned a deaf ear to the needs of others, especially if it meant inconvenience and a small sacrifice on our part. They accepted responsibility for events greater than themselves and soldiered on despite the loss of very, very close comrades.  They accepted the fact that they had to cover with their blood the shortcomings of the reconstituted Iraqi military or law enforcement organizations that were ill prepared to handle their new duties or just flat cut and ran when the s*** hit the fan.  Each time they were called to do just a little more, they answered the call and delivered results deemed spectacular by any measure.

They are becoming the new standard by which we should evaluate ourselves and our young people, their peers. Perhaps it is time that many in our great nation shrug off the assumption that life is filled with situational conflicts and there is nothing really worth the fight any more. These young warriors are leading the way in this re evaluation of our culture, outlook and attitudes. They will come home and settle back into more normal lives. They will go back to school, raise families, start new businesses, and run for elected office. They will have forever etched in their memories precisely what war can achieve and, more importantly, what it can't achieve. They will put these experiences to good use. They will be the reason we will regain the global respect some think we have lost. Their selfless service will put to rest once and for all the notion that we are a soft, irresolute nation of over indulgers.

Pay attention to them and watch them carefully. They are teaching us all something by what they are willing to sacrifice, especially when they receive the news of more 'troop extensions'.

Semper Fidelis,

Dave St. John
Capt. USMCR
Vietnam Veteran
Chu Lai, RVN
1966—'67

These words flashed across the TV screen as I was getting ready for work one recent morning.  It was just some copy that came up there, rather matter of factly, and it was followed by the name of a U.S. Army Cavalry unit that has now had its deployment tour extended in Iraq at least twice.   Its current time in country is approaching fourteen months.  It is not alone.  Virtually every unit there now will be affected, I am sure.  Total U.S. troop strength will soon reach the 150,000 man level in anticipation of security needs for the upcoming elections in January. 

This news is tough to handle for our folks over there and for many back here in the States as well.  It means postponed reunions, events, parties, marriages, dates, quiet time together, seeing recently born kids for the first time and a lot more. It comes at a tough time for them as well because there was still an outside chance that some might be home for Christmas or shortly thereafter. They can forget it now. It'll be more humping the streets, more IED's, more blood, more friends killed or evacuated due to serious wounds and yet another opportunity for 'personal character building' as the First Sergeant likes to put it.

As this news flashed across my TV screen, unit leaders over there were calling their troops together to give them the news. They would put a good face on it, one that masked their own level of disappointment, as they explained the situation to their people. This is what leadership as defined, taught and demonstrated in our military is all about. It's what young officers and NCOs with families of their own must now fall back on as they lead their men out of the funk of disappointment and back into the fog of war. 

Picture them as they get the word. They'll be in some sort of unit formation, probably informal, gathered around their respective unit commanders.  Among them will be those just back from close combat in some shattered building down some nameless alley now littered with empty shell casings, unexploded ordinance, rocks and blood stains. Maybe they had gone in not knowing exactly what or who would be there, but positive that whatever it was wouldn't be good. 

A fire team forcibly entered an unsearched room by kicking the door open.  Inside was some guy, a terrorist, surrounded by grenades or maybe an AK—47 with a thirty round magazine in it ready to be emptied into the first 'infidel' coming into the room. 

The point man is first in and goes down immediately, taking 5—8 rounds from a full auto burst hitting him in the face and throat. His team responds and kills the bad guy, but not soon enough to save him.  Young men with perspiring faces, hearts racing,  ears temporarily deafened by high powered rounds going off in an enclosed space, adrenaline pumping, scared but brave and determined beyond words take a moment to assess what happened and what lies ahead for them.  The first guy in is lying on his back, legs spread wide apart, not breathing. Blood everywhere...dust, powder smells and smoke permeate the eerie silence.  A gloved hand cradling an M—4, its barrel too hot to the touch, shakes a bit, involuntarily.  Young, trained eyes peer warily into the room at the dead terrorist...he's toast.

Quickly, but gently and respectfully, they check for any vitals on the young American and prepare to move his lifeless corpse outside for tagging and evacuation. The attached Corpsman or Medic stoically attends to the details. Several helmeted figures, bereft of any emotion right now, just stare at him mesmerized by the savagery of it all.  The dead American is virtually unrecognizable from the young man he was a few moments ago. He could have been any one of them. They know this.

All that happened yesterday. Today, they learn that there will be more of the same, probably for at least another three months beyond their expected rotation date.  Each man and each woman affected by all this must now reach down into a place deep inside them that will keep this news in perspective.  Sure, there will be the traditional time for bitching, moaning and complaining. Hell, that goes with the territory, and they know that. Some feel bad because a loved one back home will once again be terribly disappointed by this change in their plans over which they have no control. A young son or daughter will have to be told and held as they cry at hearing the news.

The cynics among us will say that this is what they signed up for, so what's the big deal?  Others will say they had it tougher when they were in the service. Both will be wrong...very wrong. These men and women are far more than these one dimension analyses suggest. In my view, they are the vanguard of an entirely new generation of Americans. They volunteered when voluntarism was not in vogue.  They went willingly into harm's way when some of their stateside counterparts bitched about the fact their cable connection was down for a day. They dealt with death and personal deprivation when many of us turned a deaf ear to the needs of others, especially if it meant inconvenience and a small sacrifice on our part. They accepted responsibility for events greater than themselves and soldiered on despite the loss of very, very close comrades.  They accepted the fact that they had to cover with their blood the shortcomings of the reconstituted Iraqi military or law enforcement organizations that were ill prepared to handle their new duties or just flat cut and ran when the s*** hit the fan.  Each time they were called to do just a little more, they answered the call and delivered results deemed spectacular by any measure.

They are becoming the new standard by which we should evaluate ourselves and our young people, their peers. Perhaps it is time that many in our great nation shrug off the assumption that life is filled with situational conflicts and there is nothing really worth the fight any more. These young warriors are leading the way in this re evaluation of our culture, outlook and attitudes. They will come home and settle back into more normal lives. They will go back to school, raise families, start new businesses, and run for elected office. They will have forever etched in their memories precisely what war can achieve and, more importantly, what it can't achieve. They will put these experiences to good use. They will be the reason we will regain the global respect some think we have lost. Their selfless service will put to rest once and for all the notion that we are a soft, irresolute nation of over indulgers.

Pay attention to them and watch them carefully. They are teaching us all something by what they are willing to sacrifice, especially when they receive the news of more 'troop extensions'.

Semper Fidelis,

Dave St. John
Capt. USMCR
Vietnam Veteran
Chu Lai, RVN
1966—'67