Archive for the 'Iraq' Category


A Day Long Awaited

Yesterday, Sunday that is, was a momentous day for the Smith clan and me. My son, Brendan, graduated from high school. This is, of course, a big day in any family, yet the day held special savor for me. You see, for a long time I was afraid I would never see this day at all.

My son was, to put it mildly, a rather difficult teenager. He combined a headstrong nature with questionable judgment in a way which often led to maddening results. We quarreled often. On many occasions, he required the sort of forgiveness only a father is capable of mustering.

The day he told me he was joining the army I was, to say the least, skeptical. This was a kid who had trouble finding enough initiative to make his own bed, and now he was proposing to subject himself to the rigors of boot camp. Yeah, right. I kept my mouth shut and just assumed this was a phase he was going through.

I was very, very, wrong.

He really did it. He signed up for the Army’s “split option” program and went through boot camp in the Summer of 2004, between his Junior and Senior years. I was thrilled. I thought if anybody could instill in him the discipline he so sorely lacked, it would be a big, nasty drill sergeant.

I was partly right. He did come back a different person. A little more poised, a little more disciplined, but only a little. Some seeds had been planted down in Fort Jackson, but they would need time to grow. But I noticed how he spoke fondly of the Army, even of boot camp.  I remember him once showing his uniform to one of his friends.  For some reason, he put on the beret.  I will never forget how for just a moment he suddenly stood up straighter, and there was a light in his eyes that I had never seen there before.  Then he took of the beret and he was once again my goofball teenage son.  But for just a second, it was as though that beret had transformed him.  Clearly, in the Army he had finally found something to take seriously, to take pride in.

When he dropped out of high school I was furious. I told him, what kind of a dumb-ass quits school in the second semester of his senior year? His company commander was none too pleased, either. Under ordinary circumstances he could have been discharged, but two things saved him: his company commander liked him, and by now we were entrenched in the quagmire known as Iraq.

From March of 2006 until March of 2007, my son saw things no teenager, no human, should ever have to witness. He once found the severed head of the company translator, an Iraqi who had chosen to throw his lot in with the Americans, nailed to a fence post as a warning to others who might have been thinking the same thing. He saw Iraqi children thrown in front of trucks by insurgents, and once had to wash a truck that had been splattered with a child’s entrails when the bomb in the child’s backpack was detonated. He saw a man riddled with bullets until his body looked like Swiss cheese. The “gunman” was only six years old.

I’m glad I did not know exactly what was going on over there. He always kept his calls home short and very general, and I bless him for that. I was worried sick about him as it was. Had I known exactly what he was going through I might never have slept at all. I now smile at the over protective parents who have a fit because their child was an hour past their curfew. They have no idea what real anxiety is.

But in spite of it all he came back, in one piece, and reasonably well adjusted considering all he had gone through. He enjoyed talking about his experiences overseas in general, but steadfastly refused to talk about the actual combat, a trait I have noticed in other combat veterans I have known.

And there were noticeable changes. In some ways, he was still the same cheerful kid with the puckish sense of humor I had always known, but there was something different. He had become more thoughtful, more introspective, while at the same time far more aware of the world around him. To my astonishment, when I was going through my divorce it was Brendan who often had insightful things to say on the nature of that relationship and its subsequent breakdown, and he simply would not have been capable of that even two years ago. One day, as we were talking, I suddenly realized that I was talking to another man.

One of the first things he did upon his return was enroll in night school, thereby completing the requirements for his diploma. And yesterday, January 13th, he was, at the ripe old age of twenty one, the oldest of about twenty kids who had realized that going through life without a high school diploma wasn’t such a hot idea after all. I take my hat off to each and very one of those kids.

It was a fairly brief commencement, but just before the principal called his name, he paused and said that he wanted to say a word or two about Brendan. From where I was sitting, I could seem Brendan cringe as the principal told the audience how Brendan had spent a year in Iraq, and had come home to complete his education, but I think he was pleased as well. When he handed him his diploma, no yelled louder than I did.

Later that day, we celebrated in a way that has become a tradition with us: we smoked a cigar together. I told him straight out that I sometimes had wondered if I would ever see this day, but that it was worth waiting for. He overcame many obstacles, many self-created, to achieve what he did. He has evolved from a typical dumb ass teenager into a thoughtful, intelligent young man

I am proud to be his father, and yesterday I told him so.



“I am Iraqi”

Last Sunday, the Iraqi national soccer team defeated–astounded is more like it–Saudi Arabia by a score of 1-0, giving the people of this war torn country something it doesn’t get very often: something to smile about.

But this is more than just a victory in a sporting event. It’s a victory for all those, especially the people who have to live there, who decry the sectarianism which is rending this country apart. Midfielder Nashaat Akram said “This is a gift to the united Iraqi people, to the different spectrums of the Iraqi people.” Laborer Muhammed Hussein said, “They (the players) showed us what the real Iraq is and how we can work hard to be something. These players are what the Iraqis are”.

It is reported that t-shirts encouraging an end to sectarianism with the slogan “I am Iraqi” have sold out everywhere.

Of course, this is still Iraq, so it comes as no surprise that the day was also somewhat marred by sporadic bloodshed. Police shot some asshole attempting to drive a car bomb into a crowd in the south Baghdad neighborhood of Sadiya. Luckily the car exploded and no one but the suicide bomber was killed, which I guess made it a good day for everyone, including the suicide bomber.

Earlier in the day police stopped two Saudi Arabian nationals attempting to detonate cars packed with explosives in the eastern neighborhood of Zayuna. And I thought Yankees fans were sore losers.

But let’s focus on the good stuff for a minute:

In the northern Kurdish city of Irbil soccer fans waved the Iraqi flag, while dancing the debka, a traditional Kurdish dance, arm in arm in the middle of the street or atop moving cars, while In Kirkuk, a northern oil city known for its melange of ethnicities, Sirwan Rasheed, 55, a Kurd, said he erected flags in the team’s honor with friends of various sects and ethnicities — Sunnis and Shiites , Turkmen and Christians. Sounds kind of like Boston in October of 2004.

What’s important here is the example being set by this soccer team. The team’s leaders include both Sunni and Shiite Muslims, who work well together and talk publicly about overcoming sectarianism. People, especially young people, look up to sports heros, and the Iraqis are no exception. At a time when sectarian tensions between Shiites and Sunnis have worsened in the Iraqi government and on the streets, the soccer team, known as the Lions of the Two Rivers, may have some part in helping Iraqis understand the benefits of putting aside sectarian hatred and working together to make their country a decent place to live. Sports heroes are role models, and Iraq certainly needs a few of those.

The strife in Iraq, and the rest of the world, for that matter, will never end until the people living there decide for themselves to choose peace over war, to choose understanding over hatred, to choose life over death. Can a handful of athletes, who seemingly have already made those decisions, be a catalyst to peace?

I believe they can. After all, I’m a Red Sox fan. I’ve already seen one miracle.

(In the interest of full disclosure, I borrowed liberally from this article for this post.)



Thank you everyone!

I just want to thank everyone for the wonderful outpouring of support and good will that has been shown towards my son.  I am genuinely overwhelmed by the kindness everyone has shown him here.

In the short time I have been posting on WordPress, I feel like I have made some new friends, in the truest sense of the word, even though I have never met them in person (with the exception of Smoke & Mirror’s Michael Murphy–I have to look at his ugly mug every day.)  😉  I look forward to the kind words that await me whenever I toss something up here, and it’s interesting how each person’s personality comes through even in this somewhat impersonal medium (a tribute to their skill with words).

I cannot help but think how this country has learned at least one lesson from Vietnam.  I have some friends who are Vietnam vets who tell me some real horror stories about how they were treated when they returned.  More than one has told me how that were actually spit upon by those who opposed the war.  Irrespective of how one may feel about the Vietnam war, this country’s treatment of its veterans represents a shameful chapter in this nation’s history.

At least now people have learned to treat the veterans with the respect they have earned, regardless of their views on this war.  When I was picking my son up at the airport, more than one person would come up to him and shake his hand.  I don’t think I have ever been prouder of him than I was at that moment.

So to all who were kind enough to leave comments, my sincerest and most heartfelt thank you to you all.



My son is coming home.

I was awakened Monday morning by the phone.  I recognized my son’s voice on the other end. He has been serving in Iraq for the past year, and a phone call at an ungodly hour was nothing very unusual. But even in my groggy state, I sensed something different. There was no static on the line, and none of that annoying 3 second lag that usually marked our conversations. Before I had a chance to ponder this further, he set me straight: “Pops! (yes, that’s really what he calls me) I’m in Atlanta! I’m home!”

Well, this woke me up in a hurry. After over a year of worrying about him every waking minute, I can now sleep a little easier.  And while I realize that my suffering is nothing compared to what he’s gone through, I must say that a year of non-stop worrying has taken its toll. My hair, already prematurely gray, is quite a few shades whiter than it was a year ago. I have gained at least 30 pounds because I have the unhealthy habit of dealing with depression by eating.  Frito’s Corn Chips have been my friend.  If you own stock in the Frito-Lay company, I have been your friend.   

Sleep has not come easy the past year.  Some nights I would become obsessed with the idea that I would get a phone call in the middle of the night from someone in the Army who was not my son.  Thankfully, that call never came.  But I have developed a dependency on sleeping pills that I wonder if I will ever overcome.  

The irony of it all is that he left home for Iraq last March 20th, my birthday, and it looks as though he will return home on my birthday.

But now he is back stateside, and I wonder what he will be like. I know he has seen things that I have only seen in movies. I know he will be different. The little boy I played Nintendo with is gone forever. 

I spoke with him by phone for about an hour last night.  I was struck by the difference in his voice. The reckless teenager I used to quarrel with is also gone forever.  I know he has now become a man in every sense of the word.  There was a confidence and even a calmness in his voice that I had never heard before, strange perhaps in someone who had just spent a year in a war zone.  He told me to pick out a new pipe for my birthday.  “Make it a good one”, he said, “It’s also your Father’s Day present.”

Many people have asked me why I didn’t write more about this during his time in Iraq.  The truth is I often started to write something, only to have the thoughts go dead inside me.  For some reason I simply could not confront this issue head on, let alone write something worthwhile.  The idea that he might come home in a flag draped casket would overwhelm me, and the another potential post went into the recycle bin.

But now he is coming home.    When I see him I will tell him how proud of him I am.  I feel like an enormous weight has been lifted off my shoulders. I no longer have that constant knot in my stomach. 

Maybe it’s because I’m eating less Fritos.


taking up a glowing cinder with the tongs and lighting with it the long cherry-wood pipe which was wont to replace his clay when he was in a disputatious rather than a meditative mood" ~ Dr. John H. Watson ************************
visitor stats
Click to see full version by
Click here if you want to learn the truth about second hand smoke
A Boston University Physician exposes the fallacies of the anti-smoking movement.

My Guests

  • 227,058 visitors
Murder of Ravens' RSS feed

What they’re reading

Everything you want to know about the movies of today and yesterday. One of my favorite websites. If you love classical music, you have to visit this site.
January 2020
« Jun    

Thoughts from the Past

Creating Order from Chaos