14 Apr 2004 But, Mostly, He Talked About the Children
I want to share a letter I sent earlier this evening to Kirby Wilbur, a host on KVI in Seattle.
Thanks to Kirby’s effort to spread the word about the need for care packages and notes of support for troops whose deployments have been extended, notes have been streaming in from individuals and families, telling us about the care packages they’ve assembled. And at least three businesses in the Seattle area that I know of (thanks to Kirby) are accepting contributions of items for the troops, which the businesses will then ship to Iraq. (If you live in the Seattle area and want to know the names of these businesses, drop me an email or listen to/call Kirby’s show on 570 AM 5-9 AM weekdays.)
Regardless of where you live, if you are willing to consider sending a care package or a note, click here for information about suggested items and an address for shipping.
Special note to bloggers, journalists and talk show hosts: Please consider sharing the information about the need for care packages for men whose deployments were extended after their personal possessions were shipped home. (In many cases, these are the same men we see fighting on the news each night.) No link to this website is required — you are welcome to use any of the the info here or in this blog about care packages without attribution.
Here’s the note to Kirby, which really is a “thank you” to everyone who is participating in this project.
I’ve been sitting here trying to figure out how to express in words just how much difference the care packages and letters of support you and your listeners are sending are having and will have on the soldiers who are, as I write this, in pretty much constant action in Iraq. I don’t know that it is going to be possible to communicate this adequately but I will try.
I should first mention that I don’t have special expertise on what it is like to be a soldier in combat, nor have I ever been in Iraq. But what I have done is read e-mails written by a soldier while mortar shells literally were being lobbed at his building and he stayed at his terminal instead of running for cover in order to express his feelings about the notes of support and care packages because the best time to get a computer terminal is during an attack — no one else wants it then, you see.
The men of the 16th Engineer Battalion and the 1st Armored Division of which they are a part have for the most part been deployed in Iraq for a year now. I’ve written to you and your listeners before about what many of these men feel about having their deployments unexpectedly extended at least another four months when they expected to be reunited with their wives and in many cases their children right about now. But there are other things that have been written to me that I hadn’t shared: for example, how very strongly the soldiers in general care about what Americans back home are thinking. I have literally been told of soldiers crying when one of their fellow soldiers returned from R&R in the U.S. and reported that the American people are really behind them and that many people here “get it” in terms of the fact that what they are doing in Iraq is genuinely in the pursuit of good. Plain, old-fashioned goodness in a way that transcends politics, at least the domestic U.S. variety. In such an atmosphere, you can imagine how much notes of support, or care packages of any size, mean to soldiers and Marines.
There also is another factor that has been related to me in regard to the 16th Engineer Battalion, but I can’t believe it would not apply equally to many other units that have been serving in Iraq for quite a while now. That factor is the children of Iraq. We think of ourselves as somewhat “adopting” a soldier when we send care packages to them. Well, in many ways the local children in Iraq adopted our soldiers long before we licked our first stamp on any box or letter. Our soldiers are beloved by those children. We can imagine what a unit of American soldiers can mean to a child, but the local kids also have become surrogates for the soldiers’ own children. In many instances, a true bond has been formed.
Well, along with the news of the extended deployment comes the reality that many of our soldiers and Marines are on the move. We’ll see the where and when on the news, but no news channel is likely to show soldiers saying goodbye — in most cases, forever — to little Iraqi children they have come to love.
But I don’t want to give the impression that the tone of the e-mail communications I have seen is negative. In some ways, it is some of the most uplifting writing I have ever read, because these men truly believe in what they are doing. We know intellectually that the soldiers and Marines were deployed to Iraq to keep Americans safe from terrorists, and that improving the lives of ordinary Iraqis was not the reason Americans went to war. But that doesn’t mean that strong bonds aren’t being formed with ordinary Iraqis. Not all Iraqis, by a long shot, are bad guys. Our men truly want to leave them a functioning society where ordinary Iraqis can be safe and prosper in addition to creating a world where Americans can safely board airplanes. And they, meaning our men, want to know that the American people are with them on this.
Today an e-mail written by a soldier within the last 24 hours was read to me by one of his family members. He talked about what it was like to kill bad guys. He talked about how proud he was of his fellow soldiers for being careful to safeguard civilians even when snipers were shooting at them from within crowds, even if it meant not firing back. He talked about how much he wished he had some soap. But mostly, he talked about the children he had come to love in Iraq.
Sitting here in the U.S., we can’t do much, at least directly, for those children. We can’t fire back at the snipers hiding in crowds. But we can send notes of support. And soap.
So please know that the notes of support and care packages mean a lot. Probably more than I, a mere intermediary, have been able to properly say.
Thanks again to you and your listeners,