Monday, May 27, 2013

For Us the Living

Nothing sours one’s appreciation of a significant patriotic holiday like working full time with veterans.  Having done just that for three years through the ebb and flow of cynicism and burnout has led to such bold pronouncements as, “the happiest, healthiest veteran is the one you can’t find” and “most veterans will serve honorably and go back to being the losers they already were.”  Even the more intelligent remarks, like, “war doesn’t break people; life does, and some of the broken people make their way into the military,” still suggests a diminished opinion of military service itself, servicemembers and veterans.  It can also contagiously extend to holidays.

Every year people endure countless articles, sermons and ceremonies about how veterans are heroes and we should honor them always and remember the fallen and so forth.  Then awash in flag-waving fervor, sincere members of the public seek out veterans and wish us a Happy Memorial Day.  In my darker moments, I will remind them that Veterans Day in November is my day and Memorial Day in May is for the dead veterans and – therefore – they’re wishing me a happy Dead Veterans Day, but better that than Happy Barbeque to Kick Off the Summer Day, I suppose.  They usually leave at this point.  I am jaded, possibly.

I think part of the problem is that the pendulum has swung too far for me.  In the past, I (like many veterans) used Memorial Day as an opportunity to go around acting somber and feeling sorry for myself under the guise of grieving the fallen (a number get completely drunk and claim it somehow honors the dead).  Insofar as my mood garnered me the attention or the respectful distance I sought, I’d say it was successful.  Little of it had anything to do with the fallen.  I was selfish.  Now, though, I vacillate between pragmatism and cynicism.

I served in a different generation of warrior than my forebears.  And as much as its modern participants will argue that war is still hell and totally awful, they forget that military doctrine and practice have shifted considerably.  These days, a man going down is a catastrophe and usually – perhaps always – halts whatever mission they were undertaking.  Seventy years ago, men going down was just as awful, but absolutely routine.  Men go to war and, invariably, fewer of them come home.  We forget that.  Of course they lost comrades.  Today, I wonder if we consider it a notable exception. 

For the record, I did serve in a war, and I did lose friends.  But I temper my grief with the knowledge that every last one of us volunteered – many of us with the express purpose of going to war.  Some of them I deeply respected and a few I considered friends.  Every single one of them left behind families.  I miss them, and I grieve for their families.  But as for us, we volunteered.  And then, I superimpose that knowledge onto Memorial Day itself.

War, though, didn’t always look like this.  War involved citizens who were mostly called up by their nation, who served honorably even though they most certainly did not volunteer and – oftentimes – ran headlong into imminent danger because it was the honorable thing to do.  Not because they wanted a taste of the action.  They charged because their country asked them to. 

And with men falling all around them, they were painfully aware of their own mortality.  Think, as an example, that the capture of Iwo Jima cost the lives of just under 7,000 Marines and Soldiers.  In comparison, the Global War on Terror has claimed less than that in its decade-long entirety.  These days, we mostly expect to come home.  Back then, heaven only knew.  And for over 400,000, they did not.  They’re buried throughout most of the free world – free largely because of their sacrifice.

The more sensitive among us will hang a US flag today and think quite highly of ourselves for our show of seasonal patriotism.  I’ve displayed a flag too, actually.  But I think our debt extends beyond a flag, a Mass, a short ceremony, or a stupid barbeque.

I believe it’s a familial responsibility.  If I find admirable the men who set aside their innate sense of self and pushed forward while their buddies dropped and the dying screamed, then it is my duty to demonstrate character of the same sort.  It begins with honoring those who have already exhibited it, and continues with ensuring that our own sons see us do it.  It continues with raising them to possess the same honor as those who came before us, and culminates with praying to God that they never have cause to exercise it.  Even fear of losing them shouldn’t dissuade us. 

If theirs is hallowed ground and the dead brave men, then let us raise more of them, and let them know what honor is.  That should they one day walk among the fallen, they will do so as equals.

Copyright © Ben Shaw, 2013

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Companion to Honor

*Originally published on Words For Warriors.

Doc was singing when I first met him, if I remember correctly. He was always singing. I'd just arrived in my new unit's office and was removing the porn I'd found on the government computer. I'd been in the Marines for about 3.5 years, and Doc had been in the Navy for about the same. He came crashing in singing some unknown R&B piece, tossed down his backpack, and looked around at the new faces.

“Who the hell are you guys?”

We were the new instructors sent to the unit, we explained, and introduced ourselves. He shook our hands briefly and cordially, welcomed us, and returned to rummaging in his pack. A moment later, he had wandered off. I learned later that he was always like this; he never sat still.

Part of it was a continual desire to improve himself. When he wasn't buried in a medical text for his job, he was studying for college classes, which he took online and at a local college. In fact, he'd nearly finished his Bachelor's degree before he came off of active duty. While some might describe him as a flake, it's more accurate to say that he was involved in a myriad of occupational, academic, and social activities and he had to organize his time carefully. His cellphone voicemail greeting even indicated this:

“This is Doc. Leave a clear, concise, grammatically correct message at the tone.” If you didn't, he wouldn't call you back. He might not have called you back anyway. He was busy.

Despite being constantly stretched thin, Doc never allowed it to diminish his attitude. Without exception, he was cheerful, 100% present, and ready at a moment's notice to throw in a humorous remark that would send us all into gales of laughter. At times, he seemed too funny to know his job, but it was a misassumption.

When he taught his medical classes, it was evident that he not only knew his profession, but knew more than most anybody of his rank or position, and excelled at explaining it to others. After seeing him instruct, we never doubted his medical knowledge again. But even his teaching was hilarious to watch. Flamboyant, to say the least.

While extremely intelligent and articulate, Doc tended to stutter; both in private conversation and in front of an audience. You could tell that he knew exactly what he was trying to say, but that his mouth had a hard time articulating the words. He'd stumble over a phrase, stutter a couple times, get visibly irritated, then spit it out with force. He grew even more annoyed when we all buried our faces in our hands and tried not to laugh (unsuccessfully). He never let it slow him down, and he would invariably get us back somehow. My “punishment” one day was driving several miles around Camp Lejeune, North Carolina with a rainbow-colored “Gay Pride” vanity license plate taped to my back bumper. When I found it, I pulled it off in horror.

In 2007, Doc was on a small team of dozen Marines and Sailors sent to Iraq to train Iraqi soldiers, police, and army recruits. It was his second tour doing this, so many of us looked up to him for guidance, advice on working with a radically-different culture, and the subtle nuances of instruction. He stuttered in those classrooms, too. Regardless, the Iraqi students always listened with rapt attention. They even liked it when he sang, which seemed to be a baseline activity whenever he wasn't speaking.

On the firing ranges, surrounded by hundreds of recruits who spoke not a word of English, Doc commanded their attention, their respect, and their friendship, working with them individually to perfect their marksmanship, congratulating them when they shot superbly, and providing encouragement when they needed to improve. He had a knack for getting along with people. Whereas most of us focus on differences and disagreements, Doc searched for reasons to like them. Aside from the stuttering, he'd have made a fine spokesman for any organization.

With our team being as small as it was in Iraq, it was easy for work responsibilities and even chores to totally overwhelm us. Doc, however, always pitched in where he could. While technically just our senior medical guy, he routinely instructed in infantry tactics (which he knew thoroughly), foreign weapons, marksmanship, and a host of other classes that were presumably far outside his area of expertise. If some of us had projects that kept us working late, he never turned down our requests for assistance. For a time, he even awoke early to go running with me – in the cold, in the dark, with the shrieks of hyenas occasionally disrupting the quiet. He'd still go work out later, too. Frankly, the only time he stopped moving was to eat, which for us was always an event.

Marines usually grab some sort of slop, pretend it's food, swallow it, and go back to work (or sleep). Our team, however, “broke bread.” It was the only period of the day when we were all in one location and not consumed with responsibilities. Doc was always the life of the party. Knowing that I disliked people who chewed with their mouths open, he'd sit right across from me and do just that. Then somebody would slap him in the head with a hotdog and he'd start yelling. Then our laughter would drown out the yelling. More than once we were nearly kicked out of chow halls. Only our commanding officer's senior rank prevented it happening.

Our commander said this about Doc's personality: “He was always ready to speak confidently on matters which, in his own mind, he had resolved in full.”

Far more than a coworker, Doc was a son to those older than him, and a brother to his peers. Each of us, on multiple occasions, confided in him, sought his advice, or even vented. Despite being on the move constantly, he would stop, give you his undivided attention, and help you. If people were his calling, loving them was his gift. He was the glue that bound us all together.

During that tour in 2007, insurgents detonated a carbomb directly outside of our base, with disastrous results.  The wounded and dead were immediately evacuated onto base where Doc was among the first responders to begin medical treatment. Surrounded by dozens of wounded, screaming Iraqis, including children, women and the elderly, he moved swiftly to help those he could, assigned others to assist him, and created order in an absolutely devastating situation. More than 40 were killed that day and perhaps 60 others injured. I am firmly convinced that many of the injured survived entirely because of Doc's skilled, methodical care. Barking orders, speaking through interpreters, and moving patients, he never stuttered. There was work to be done.

Doc finished his service to his brothers and his country in 2008, but maintained contact with nearly all of us. We weren't professional responsibilities in his mind, but friends – our relationships cemented in a single oath, tragedy, and key involvement in an historic war.

Whenever I was in his area, he'd offer me a free place to sleep, feed me, and introduce me to his neighbors and friends. Whatever he had, he offered freely. I know many others kept in contact with him, too. Occasionally he'd drive long hours to visit some of us. Yet even then, he was constantly busy.

Soon after leaving the Navy, Doc finished his degree and began not only working full time, but also studying for a graduate degree. When that was done, he began studying to become a Physician's Assistant (PA). He not only enjoyed medicine, but he had a genuine desire to help people. His whole attitude was one of giving.

I visited Doc a few months back, staying at his place for free, as usual. Another friend, between jobs and apartments, was also visiting long-term. Doc, always benevolent, had seen the need and simply taken him in. Since he was getting ready to start in PA school, Doc had moved to a smaller apartment, taken steps to save his money, and prepare for the financial strain of his additional schooling. But he'd figured it all out. He remained enthusiastic about his studies, confident he could manage the money, and looked forward to starting in the fall.

Three weeks ago, under circumstances that none of us will ever fully grasp, Doc took his own life. A man who had invested his life in giving to others, who would drop anything to come to the aid of hundreds of friends and brothers, refused to let us help him – something we would have done without hesitation. His death leaves a void in all of our lives.

His memorial service – one of at at least three – was this past weekend. Marines, Soldiers and Sailors, some active, some former and some retired, men accustomed to burying friends, wept as we honored yet another who fell too young. He was supposed to grow old and do great things. We often forget that while national service brings the highest of honor, its close companion is immeasurable grief.

The roughly 5,500 combat dead of Iraq and Afghanistan frequently and rightfully command national attention, extensive news coverage and hometown memorials, but we ignore the more than 20,000 who have fallen to inner wars with demons the likes of which the living cannot comprehend.

I have a mental image of the ranks with whom I've served since 2003. There are now more holes than I can count. Some 46 dead and more than 200 wounded one tour alone, six dead and a dozen wounded another, a dozen more since I left the Marines, and still another dozen dead from self-inflicted wounds in the past three years alone. They have been replaced with little marble crosses in cemeteries around the country, or urns, or inconspicuous granite markers and weathered miniature flags. Their memorials are wholly insufficient.

Nearly 600,000 men and women have given their lives for this country, and an untold number more have taken their own lives soon after serving (at a rate of 17-20 a day). To lower a flag to half mast on Memorial Day morning (til noon) seems almost a mockery of all that they have offered and all that has been taken from them. But I don't know what else to do, besides grieve for an untold number of companions. Will you have a barbeque this weekend and celebrate the beginning of summer, or will you remember the journey of sacrifice, honor and grief that brought us where we are?

Godspeed, Doc, and may we see you in the morning.

Copyright © 2010, Ben Shaw, All Rights Reserved

Friday, May 28, 2010

"I Remember"

Originally published on Words for Warriors

I’m not really sure that I like hearing people thank me for my military service.  It always sounds strange, if nothing else.  What do you say when a stranger walks up to you and says, “thank you for fighting for my freedom?”  Do you say you’re welcome?  It seems silly.

I don’t doubt the sincerity of these remarks in the least.  People want to acknowledge veterans, which I certainly appreciate, but there has to be a better way to do it.  Saying, “thank you for my freedom” is clunky, however genuine, and my response, a hesitant, “you’re welcome” seems equally out-of-place.  Thankful for what?  That you have no idea?

There are things that should be better known about veterans.  Frankly, I don’t think I’ve heard anybody talk about them before, which could be part of the problem.  First, while we all enjoy hearing somebody acknowledge our service, part of us is thinking, “you have no idea what you’re thanking me for.”  Another part of us is somewhat embarrassed, since not one of us, when under fire, running for cover, or rushing to the aid of a fallen comrade is thinking about our country, patriotism, or freedom.  We’re thinking about the guys next to us or the guy on the ground and praying to God that they all live to come home.  We’re also praying for our own safety.

Yet another part of us feels that we don’t deserve the thanks, even though we enjoy it.  The ones who deserve it never lived long enough to hear it.  You may say, “thank you,” but we’re thinking “no, thank THEM – even though they can’t hear you now.”  You thank us, but in our heart of hearts, not one of us – the living – believe we’ve done nearly enough.

We deployed as cohesive units, dysfunctional little families sent out into strange places where we endured a myriad of attacks and lost some of our friends and comrades.  Though we all know that war invariably sends home fewer than arrived, we view the holes in the ranks with a degree of personal failure.  None of us did enough.

Then we get angry at people for being ignorant and trying to approach us with gratitude we don’t feel we deserve.  Some of us accuse you of being condescending, though I don’t think any of you are.  You just don’t know what else to say, and we don’t have a clue what to say in return.  Point at some graves and say “thank them?”  It seems disrespectful – not only to you, but also to the many we’ve seen broken and fallen.

There are demons in all of us saying, “If you have all you limbs, you didn’t do enough.  If you had bullets left, you didn’t shoot enough.  If you got out before the war was ended and won, you didn’t serve enough.  If you lived, you didn’t sacrifice enough, so you don’t deserve any thanks.”  Some people call it survivor’s guilt.  I just call it reality.  The veteran experience is one of intense pride but marred with equally intense grief.  We made it, but others did not, so we must not have given it our fullest.  “Thank you” is hard to hear, and harder still to answer.

How about saying this: “I remember.”  That solemn statement is enough.  We don’t expect you to fully understand what a war is like, which is fine.  We served so you don’t have to know – ever.  But we do want you to remember.  Remember that there are only two days in the year when veterans, both living and dead receive any unified recognition for their service and sacrifices.  Remember that if you put up a flag, you really shouldn’t take it down when the “holiday” is over.  Remember that there are thousands of families that feel the pang of a missing loved one every day; not just Memorial Day and Veterans’ Day. 

Remember that there are men and women who did things and will never be the same.  Remember that there are generations of broken bodies and hearts who will forever be convinced that they should have done more.  Remember that the living veterans will never forget the faces of the dead – and wonder why some survived and others did not.  Remember that this country and the freedoms we all enjoy aren’t innate; they were purchased at high cost.  We didn’t purchase them, not really, but we fought alongside those who did.  And we remember them more than anybody.  They’ll haunt us until we join them…

Copyright © 2010, Ben Shaw, All Rights Reserved

Monday, May 17, 2010

The First Week Home

If you are just coming out of a combat zone (specifically from combat arms), you are about to encounter a wave of emotions, thoughts and dreams for which we are all unprepared.  Some of them will make perfect sense considering the environment you just left, but most will bother you. A few may even scare you.  While virtually none of the generalizations listed below help overcome these sensations, perhaps knowing about them in advance will help eliminate confusion or the feeling that you’ve lost control.  At the very least, take some comfort knowing that you’re not the only one who has encountered this.  Millions before you have, and future generations will as well. The first few days are definitely the most chaotic.

When you reach the states and finally reacquaint with your loved ones, your overwhelming emotion will be one of relief.  You’ll be thrilled that you survived the combat experience, and equally thrilled that you’ve been reunited with your family.  They’ll be excited to update you on events back home and you’ll be eager to listen.  No doubt, there will be things you want to tell them, too.  More than anything, you’re just glad to be home.  Unfortunately, this elation won’t last.  When the initial enthusiasm has begun to wane (within a few hours), other thoughts are going to invade.

The first thought will be fleeting.  At some point – most likely less than 24 hours after you return home – you’ll briefly consider just grabbing your bags (which are probably still packed), and heading back again.  Your new surroundings are too unfamiliar.  And besides, you probably have friends still in the line of fire, and you’ll want to help them; or at least maintain some sort of solidarity by at least being in the same theater of operations.  You’ll feel like you’re no longer contributing to the effort, and you’ll feel guilty.  No veteran comes home believing that he or she did enough.  You’ll think that maybe you can do more if you go back.

Despite all the better food, the safety, the family, and routine, you will still feel like a stranger or visitor in your own country.  Just how normal everything appears will bother you, even frustrate you, since on the other side of the world, US citizens are still fighting for their lives.  Your heart, your mind, and even your dreams are probably still back there, too.  You’ll probably watch the news very closely – just to keep up with how your area of operations has changed since you left it.  Even though it’s a relief to be out of harm’s way, you’ll be convinced that you’re missing out in the next firefight.  You’ll feel adrift.

You may also feel trapped.  After months or years of fast-paced living and lots of dangerous situations, the calm and predictability of home is frightening.  Our natural impulse when we feel trapped is to run – in this case back to something with which you’re now quite familiar: a combat zone.  With embarrassment, you’ll discover that you miss the violence, you feel naked and vulnerable without a gun, and you’ll be afraid that home may never again actually feel like home. You’ll be convinced that part of you, perhaps forever, is trapped in a combat zone, ducking fire, firing back, and waiting for the next attack.  You will be restless.

In between bouts of feeling trapped, you will be overcome with boredom.  The momentary excitement of seeing your loved ones fades quickly, and before you know it you’re desperately looking for something to occupy your time – and all of your senses.  Combat, after all, demands all of you.  “Coming down” from combat is like coming down from a hard drug.  You’ll be irritable, uneasy, and you’ll start substituting various things to make up for the void that leaving combat created.  Just how this looks is very unique to the individual.

Some of you will have an impulse to drink entirely too much.  The easy excuse is that you need to make up for lost drinking time.  If you really think about it, though, you won’t be able to rationally explain it.  You just need to drink.  A lot.  And you won’t know when to stop.  Chances are you’ll pass out first.  Others among you will drink to deliberately calm your nerves – which will definitely be on edge.  A few of you will experience a general feeling of numbness, about your surroundings, relationships, and maybe life in general.

A number of you will want to feel pain for some reason – something that engages their senses. You might want to run out and get tattoos or piercings. You might go out looking for a fight.  More likely than not, you’ll find one.  For a few of you, there is an inexplicable urge to engage in a number of risky behaviors: get drunk, get in fights, and get laid.  Sex will strike you as a very appealing drug.  You may be startled with how powerful the desires are to do this, and choose to carefully limit how often you go out, who you go with, and what you do.  Many of you will restrict yourselves to simply drinking – entirely too much.

Many of you may give in to the impulses for reckless behavior.  After a night or two of this, you’ll probably have it all out of your system, so to speak.  You’ll be embarrassed with what you did or how you acted, and you’ll have little interest in repeating those mistakes.  Be aware that they will probably resurface after a time and you’ll have to decide to give in or resist.  Some of you may carefully control yourselves and stay out of trouble.  The urges to be self-destructive will still be there for quite some time, and you’ll have to battle them daily.  You might find yourself wondering if you should just give in to it, go all out for a little while and get it over with.  Regardless of if you give in or not, you’ll be bothered that you have such a strong desire to be so irresponsible.  Your self-esteem, which is already shaky, may take a severe blow.  You’ll be angry with yourself.

You’ll have a hard time controlling your temper, and it will frighten you.  Loud noises will startle you and you’ll get irrationally angry.  You won’t put it to words, but you’ll be embarrassed that people saw you in a moment of weakness.  They saw you afraid.  You’ll get angry that they observed a crack in your composure.  You’ll also be angry with how much of their lives and daily routines seem devoted to unimportant, useless activities.  Some of you will drink to appear more patient.  You may also feel other impulses, like a need to spend money, or eat entirely too much.  Even work out too hard just to “feel the burn.”  Each of us “substitutes” differently, but it always comes from the same place: an overpowering impulse to do something rash.  Consider these withdrawal symptoms.

People will ask you questions about “what’s it like” that you can’t easily answer.  You might try, but become immediately angry when you think about the number of harrowing situations you experienced and how people repeatedly failed to perform at their best (including yourself).  You may be angry at the injustices of war itself.  Or, you may simply get angry at the people (you will consider them very ignorant) who ask stupid questions.  Do not be surprised if you find yourself avoiding situations where you might be asked questions you have difficulty answering.

Because of your recent experiences, there will probably be times where you DO want to talk to people.  You will try to put your emotions to words, but they will come out as one of two things: anger or grief.  In some cases you may be able to fully articulate what you mean, but people receive it poorly – either with horror, or just awkward silence.  They will be largely unable to relate.  After a few attempts, you’ll give up in frustration.  You’ll be furious that you can’t explain yourself to your own satisfaction, exasperated that you have things to say that people aren’t going to understand, and that after repeated tries, it’s all still stuck on the tip of your tongue.  You’ll start feeling sorry for yourself – misunderstood, a victim, a survivor, etc.  You will begin to think about all the grief you’ve experienced over the past deployment but never dealt with properly.  You may retreat at some point to simply cry.

There will be a nagging sensation with a number of you that you haven’t done enough; that you’ve abandoned the war or your brothers and sisters still fighting it.  You’ll think about the friends you have who came home maimed – or the friends who never came home at all.  If you’ve escaped injury yourself, you’ll be simultaneously thankful and guilty about it.  It is commonly called survivor’s guilt.

You may find many of your dreams startlingly violent.  In some, you will be killing people.  In others, you may die.  You may also have dreams where you are in a horrible situation and it’s entirely your fault.  Some of the dreams will be familiar – the people, the situations, but they will probably play out differently than they did in reality.  Your mind may create a more appealing outcome, or imagine an even a more terrible one.  You will sleep lightly and likely be easily awakened. You will frequently be tired and cranky.

Part of you will be so afraid of “normal” life that it’ll seem too daunting to face head-on.  To your total surprise, you will briefly think about suicide – or at least about death.  The thought will startle you so much that you go to great lengths and efforts to deliberately never think of it again.  Most of you will be successful, but for a few it will creep back again and terrify you.  Tragically, a few of you may act on it.

In general, you will be inundated with emotions you’ve probably never before encountered.  You will be unsure what to do with them.  Give in?  Resist them?  Give up talking?  Try to talk? Pretend there’s nothing wrong?  The answers to these questions are entirely up to the individual. Nor is there anything that can make it all simply go away.  You’ve just been through hell.  You KNEW it was hell, but you grew accustomed to it, and you’re going to miss certain aspects of it for awhile.  The familiarity of home is now totally unfamiliar, your loved ones are strangers, and you have just experienced a series of situations that the human mind always has difficulty processing.  Everybody processes differently, at any rate.

Unfortunately, I don’t have any solutions, but at least take some comfort in knowing that every combatant goes through this upon return to “normal” life.  What I do know, however, is this: time has a curious way of mending things.  Almost imperceptibly, a great deal of the impulses, irrational ideas, and self-destructive tendencies fade.  One day you’ll discover that you just don’t think about it anymore.  You may ALWAYS think about some things, but it becomes controllable and even predictable.  What you do with it is entirely up to you.  Know this, though: you are not alone, and there are millions of veterans in the United States who would gladly go through this with you.  Somebody did for me, and that has made all the difference.

Copyright © 2010, Ben Shaw, All Rights Reserved

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Some Guys in Need

Due to their isolation Soldiers on COP Charkh are always in great need of supplies – from food to hand tools to cigarettes and dip. I know that many of you balk at the idea of condoning or supporting somebody's “bad habit,” but I will remind you that Afghanistan is more hazardous to their health than any tobacco product. If smoking or dipping helps them stay awake for extremely long missions and countless hours on perimeter security, I think it'd be wrong of us to not support them. For my part, I'll send them whatever they need – and whatever I can afford.

I am absolutely certain that the troops would be appreciative of anything you wish to send. Given this, I am posting not only a needs list and an address where you may mail any supplies, but also some e-mail addresses where you can confirm that the address is still valid (since returned packages have been a problem in the past). As it stands, this unit will be on COP Charkh for quite some time longer (e-mail me for the specifics) – so our support would be invaluable to them. I recommend that you post what you intend to ship in the “comments” section of this blog post so as to avoid too much overlap in what is sent. For example, while they could use a couple decent hand saws, they don't need fifty of them.

1. "Top" brand Ramen Noodles (lots)
2. "Cup O' Noodles" (lots)
3. Chef Boyardee canned meals (lots)
4. Doritos (some)
5. Hershey's with almonds (a few)
6. Cigarettes: Newports, Marlboro Menthols, Marlboro Lights, Camel Crush
7. Dip: Copenhagen Long Cut/Snuff, Skoal Wintergreen
8. Coffee creamer (a fair amount)
9. Baby Wipes (ALWAYS a necessity)
10.Dozens of P-Mags - specialty M-16/M-4 magazines that have superior performance to issued products (I realize these are expensive)
Click here for an example (OD green is the preferred color)
(Please note that these cannot be shipped overseas directly from the supplier. Must be shipped by you.)
11. TWO hand saws, click here for an example.
12. A FEW boxes of cement-coated framing and sheathing nails.
13. TWO standard claw hammers.
14. A FEW Stanley brand utility knives
15. SOME Kool Aid

Send packages to:

SSG Jason Patrick
B Troop 1-91 CAV (Recon) 173rd Airborne
FOB Altimur
APO AE 09364

(This is the correct address; not an error)

Packages may also be addressed to: SSG John Vlasis, same address.

E-mail point of contact (to confirm address, or inquire about additional supplies):

SPC Rusty Smith:

If you have any questions, just write them in the "comments" section of this blog and I'll answer to the best of my abilities.  You may also e-mail me at

Thank you all for supporting these guys!