Soldier's Diary: GIs Take Away Memories, Medals and Pride When Leaving 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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September 12

Yesterday, I signed over our equipment we're leaving behind to my replacements. For the most part, the new soldiers here have taken over operations. I, along with a few of my remaining soldiers, are ensuring there are no issues with the transition. But more and more it seems that we are simply getting in the way.

We are now into single-digit days, awaiting our exit from theater. With our departure date being so close, the feeling actually transcends into a physical reaction. The best way to describe it is to compare it to waiting to wake up to 10 Christmas mornings, 80 nights of Hannukah, or any other present-giving holiday factored by 10. I remember a similar feeling when I departed for mid-tour leave a couple of months back. By the time we are down in Kuwait, it will be difficult to sleep when we await our time to board the plane.

There is less and less for us to do while we wait for our transport out, hence there is little to write about over the next week or so. There will be more to document when we actually start to fly out, but for now I am going to stick with a couple of reflections. I wrote about what we leave on the battlefield in the last entry. I figure a good follow-up would be what we take back with us.

The soldiers in this unit take back awards that are just too numerous to count. Over the course of a year, you are looking at over 500 Bronze Stars, 3,000 commendations medals, and Combat Action/Combat Infantryman awards. Over 250 Purple Hearts were awarded, and a posthumous Silver Star. You can only look at the unit that came to South Baghdad nearly 12 months ago with complete awe.

We come back with a couple of black eyes, but nothing can ever take away from the long list of accomplishments we take home with us. For as long as I live, I will always be proud to tell people I served with the Strike Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division.

Along with awards, we will take with us our stories. Everyone who returns from here has them, some more exciting than others. They make for good conversation with some, but to a soldier, when you start off a story with 'When I was in Iraq,' you might as well start it off with 'One time, in band camp.'

Although we leave behind our youth, we will take with us the maturity and respect that comes along with spending a year in combat. We won't pull the Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson scheme from "Wedding Crashers," using Purple Hearts for free drinks, but I have been in bars and restaurants where people have offered me anything from a simple 'thanks' to a drink, simply for having figured me for a soldier based on the hair cut.

I have found that the overwhelming majority of Americans are very much appreciative of those who serve their nation. Yes, I understand the contradiction of discussing maturity and referencing "Wedding Crashers" and "American Pie" in the same entry.

We take with us our own views of Iraq. Many of us have captured the views and the moments on camera. Having been overseas three times over the past six years I have learned that somehow I can always find a way to be a tourist. Some of the views have been captured on camera, others are simply etched in memory. And although they are clear as a photograph now, here's to hoping they will turn into a Monet with the passing of time.

We take with us our own distinct views of the Iraqi people, much of which depends on the experience. For those who work hand-in-hand with the Iraqi army, they can look at the Iraqi people as brothers and sisters. But for others who may have lost a best friend to an IED, they may not have such a positive view of the land.

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