Editor's note: U.S. Army Capt. Dan Sukman is serving a one-year deployment to Iraq. For previous entries and his bio, see the Soldier's Diary archives.

16 June 2006

I received an e-mail the other day from my soldier, whom I will call Specialist "Helmet." We sent Helmet on emergency leave recently to attend his brother's funeral.

SPC Helmet's brother was stationed at Fort Hood, and deployed with an Infantry Battalion, part of the 4th Infantry Division that was placed under operational control of our brigade. SPC Helmet and his brother had not seen each other in nearly two years; they had planned on meeting up sometime but the meeting never came. We broke the news to SPC Helmet that his brother had been killed by an IED in a baited ambush. I would say it was difficult to break that kind of news to someone, but it was easy compared to the job of receiving it.

SPC Helmet made it back to the funeral, and to his surprise, he and his family were greeted at the funeral by protesters from the [Westboro Baptist] "church" in Kansas. Approximately 15 or 20 protesters actually showed up.

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I cannot picture or imagine going through that situation. Serving in a foreign land, trying to spread freedom and democracy, having a brother doing the same, and sacrificing everything for the cause — going back to bury your brother and having "members of a church" show up to protest in order to make a political statement.

After the funeral, here's what SPC Helmet wrote to me:

Hey sir, it's "Helmet." I just wanted to drop you an e-mail and I thought this would be the easiest way to do it. Well I buried my brother last week and you know me, if I can prevent someone from doing work that I can well do myself I will, so I handled everything.

One thing that took me a bit by surprise were protesters! Yes, that myopic group of imbeciles from that Baptist Church in Kansas showed up at my little brother's funeral.

They had the antigay signs that had absolutely nothing to do with Bobby. So I had the Patriot Guard show up just to stand in front of them with American flags (they are all Vietnam vets on Harleys). Over 600 of them lined the streets of my hometown at the service.

Now I know you're from New York, sir, but try and picture a small Arkansan community, deeply rooted in God, a place where the embrace of patriotism has lost no potency, and have that town lose one of its sons fighting to spread democracy to another nation. Then throw in 15 to 20 protesters that think God is setting IEDs off to kill soldiers for an America that tolerates homosexuality. If you think that might be a newsworthy event, you'd be correct. I had to deal with every local news network in the state. Thankfully, it went down pretty calmly but you guys have no idea how close I was to seriously committing murder, in front of 50 police officers that might have just watched as I did it.

One of these f***ers actually stepped on the American flag, sir.

Well, other than that, it has been the hardest two weeks of my life trying to come to the realization that I'll never see my little brother again. And knowing that I probably would be of no use to you guys over there but still wanting to fulfill my commitment to the Army. I'll stay at Ft. Campbell and wait for you guys to get back. I'm actually going to try and do a 4187 to work the road but I'll still be waiting for my boys in the 502nd to return.

Tell everyone I said hey and get someone to send my stuff back would you?

Astonishingly, SPC Helmet

Now, I am not an expert on the Bible, or a deeply religious person, and I don't know what Jesus would do in every situation. I do know that he would not show up to a funeral to make a political statement, nor would he celebrate someone's death and a family's pain.

I think the 600 Patriot Guard members who showed up for SPC Helmet's brother's service tell the story. The protesters from the "church" in Kansas made a lot of headlines initially, but their numbers are dwarfed by the actual numbers of Americans who support the service members serving both at home and abroad.

14 June 2006

I went down to Mahamdiyah today to see some of the soldiers in my company, as well as to inventory some of my equipment that is down there. It is about a 20-minute drive from my FOB [forward operating base], and like every convoy I have been on to date, there were no issues getting down there.

From my company, I have approximately 20 soldiers who are working on a military transition team. These soldiers have worked every day for the past nine months building and training the Iraqi Army in South Baghdad. They have come a long way over the past nine months; but their Iraqi Army counterparts are as strong as they have ever been. I'm not blowing smoke when I say this, but to keep things in perspective, there is still more work ahead, more challenges to overcome, and more problems to be solved.

They will never be on par with our Army; you can turn an ugly duckling into a swan but you can't turn a Yugo into a Porsche.

13 June 2006

We finished off today's work smoking some cigars over by our trailers. My roommate Alex and a couple of officers from the brigade staff sat around puffing away talking about the past nine months. Today was a significant day for us, as we have fewer than 100 days left to go here. We are now into double digits. We still have a ton of hard work ahead of us, but it is a milestone that has passed.

Our discussion went back and forth between talking about what we have done here, and what we will do when we get back. We are all taking some leave when we return, most of us will be spending time with family, taking vacation to Europe or the Bahamas, and some are content on just doing nothing. Speaking from experience, some of the most relaxing times I have had is doing nothing and having nothing on my schedule; and as Lawrence from "Office Space" once said, "You don't need a million dollars to do nothing."

The odd part about the conversation is how we all mentioned that after leave, we will be getting right back to work. For most of us that means preparing for the next deployment; be it over here or in Afghanistan. Some soldiers will move on to another unit or post, but for the most part we expect to be coming back over here.

It is the time in-between deployments that matters the most. Soldiers will be returning home and have to catch up on the last year of their children's lives, we will try to find time to see families over Thanksgiving, and throughout the Christmas holiday season. It will be another year or so balancing work with family and hobbies, and yes, training up and preparing for the inevitable deployment.

E-mail Captain Dan at soldiersdiary@gmail.com. Click here to read his bio.