12/23/2005

Paul Rieckhoff: Christmas in Iraq: Troops Share Their Stories - both the worst and the best one I have ever had.

Two years ago, I spent Christmas in Baghdad with the men of my infantry platoon. That Christmas was both the worst and the best one I have ever had.

On Christmas Eve 2003, my men and I executed a massive “cordon and search” operation just north of the city. We trekked in line under the cover of darkness with “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer” booming loudly from the top of the PsyOps trucks. It was surreal. As we moved toward our target block, the Brigade Sergeant Major rode ahead of us in an un-armored Humvee. An IED (improvised explosive device) detonated to the right side of his vehicle--about 100 meters in front of my platoon. The ground shook, and the Sergeant Major was killed. I’ll be thinking about that this Christmas when people complain about the inconvenience of the transit strike.

It was also Christmas Eve 2003 that we crammed the entire platoon of 38 men into a tiny room inside our FOB (forward operating base) to “celebrate.” Our platoon sergeant, SFC Jensen, gave every soldier a surprise gift package that his wife had sent from back home. Every single guy got a CD, some candy and some other goodies. It was a nice piece of home that helped us try to forget where we were. My dad sent a bottle of whisky that we shared as soldiers, and as friends. Each man got only one swallow, but it was damn good. We choked back tears, shared jokes and kept each other sane. With our families 7,000 miles away, we were all we had. That Christmas, we shared a bond that only soldiers can truly understand.

That is my holiday memory. I asked a few of our vets from IAVA (http://www.iava.org/index.php) to share theirs. Here they are:

Paul Rieckhoff: Christmas in Iraq: Troops Share Their Stories - Yahoo! News

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