Soldier's Diary: We Leave Youth, Futures Behind When We Leave Iraq

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.

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8 September

Our first group of soldiers was sent down to Kuwait today. It was the first bulk group to head back to Fort Campbell, Ky. We still have a couple of weeks left, but it was a good feeling sending them home.

My first sergeant and my roommate were both part of the crew that flew out tonight. A number of us came down to see them off, telling them to keep the beers cold for when we meet them back at Fort Campbell.

A memorial service was conducted tonight for our soldier who was killed last week. Hopefully it will be the last we attend on this deployment. Attending this ceremony got me thinking about some of the things we leave behind.

We leave behind youth. I look in the mirror, and I look at my friends and fellow soldiers over here, you don't see the same people who came to South Baghdad 12 months ago. You see soldiers who have spent an entire year working 12 to 20 hours a day, often in the hot sun and dusty air. The stress alone over the past year is enough to last any normal person a lifetime.

If you ever find yourself walking around Fort Campbell, Fort Bragg, or any other military instillation, you can look at the younger soldiers — some just barely out of high school, and see them as kids. Many soldiers will return after a year in combat, be offered a drink and then refuse simply because they are not old enough. Don't let that fool you. Soldiers who have spent a year in this environment are adult men and women. To refer to them as 'kids' is simply wrong. If you can spend a week in Vegas in one night, then you can spend a lifetime in Iraq over the course of a year.

Call it irony, call it poetic justice, or any other literature term you can come up with, but any feeling of youth will be left behind in a place affectionately known as 'the sandbox.'

We have lived up to our creed of never leaving a comrade behind. Left on the battlefield is the future. While we have lived up to our creed, and are leaving nobody behind, we leave behind 55 futures on the battlefield.

Stephen Ambrose once wrote that the greatest casualty of a war is what could have been.

Of our 55 soldiers, some were brothers, some were fathers, and all were someone's son. Some were married, some had kids, while others never had the chance. In 20 or 30 years, they could have been four-star generals, doctors, lawyers, vets, policeman, teachers — you can put all the professions out in the world into an iPod and hit 'shuffle' — these soldiers we lost could have achieved anything. We will never know. We leave behind the future of 55 soldiers, and we will never get them back.

On a lighter note, we also leave behind equipment and supplies to our replacements. Most of the weekend was spent with my counterpart inventorying what we call TPE, or theater provided equipment. This is the equipment we were given to use when we arrived in Baghdad, and when we depart, we leave it to our follow-on unit. It ranges from weapons to office equipment, night vision devices and HMMWVs, to printers and laptop computers. Essentially, anything that can help them accomplish their mission.

The office supplies, specifically the printers, are always a funny story. We took some over here, but quickly learned that plugging a 110-volt into a 220 is simply a bad idea. Hence, taking back the 220s we purchased would make no sense either.

The lesson learned here: When you travel overseas, clearly label the voltage on anything that may be plugged in.

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