Clarksville, Tenn. – Editor's note: U.S. Army Capt. Dan Sukman just finished serving a one-year deployment to Iraq. For previous entries and his bio, see the Soldier's Diary archives.
• 'Soldier's Diary' Readers Respond to Captain Dan
Yesterday afternoon we finished our reintegration with an awards ceremony for the company. We tried to make it fast, as that was the only event that stood in the way of block leave. Leave started this morning, and for most of my soldiers, it is the first day off in many months. For those who took mid-tour leave from Iraq in December, it's the first day off this year. Just another in the long list of sacrifices that has been made. I am truly in awe every time I look at the soldiers in my company, in my battalion and in my brigade.
For the most part, the reintegration period has been fairly painless. We come in to work each day; however, the day has typically lasted anywhere from two to three hours. Most of that time has been sitting through briefings covering topics such as how to recognize depression, symptoms of suicide and how to reassimilate with the family.
Today we conducted our medical part of the redeployment. This included a TB test, surveys asking if we are having nightmares or feel depressed, and a blood drawing to test for HIV. For well over 90 percent of us, most of this process has been a check-the-block-and-get-the-signature event. The briefings are very general in nature; I think we all recognize that everyone will cope with the return in their own way.
The return has been different for every soldier. Some returned to their wives and kids who lived in the Fort Campbell area, others returned to a barracks room or to an empty apartment or house, having to wait until leave to see their family. Others return to an empty house, their spouse unable to make the sacrifice over the course of the year. It's tragic, but more common than you think.
My house was ready for my return. Having some good friends who were able to turn on the water and electricity for my arrival made the transition to home much easier. Following the couple of hours at work each day, I have been putting furniture back in its place, putting pictures and paintings back up on the wall and restocking the bar and fridge.
Similar to a number of other soldiers, I have been relying on a friend to drive me to and from work. Prior to deployment, a number of us had family come down and drive the car back to look after it, as well as keep the oil fresh. My brother has been looking after mine up in New York. I intend to pick it up when I depart for leave in a couple of days.
Leave will start following the reintegration. We get 30 days off if we choose to take it, and of course, if we have the leave days saved up. I will be flying to see the family in New York, just in time to go with my brother to see the Mets at Shea Stadium. That will be followed by a week in Europe, then back to New York to pick up the car and some other personal items for the long drive back to Clarksville, Ky.
I want to thank a number of people for having made this column possible.
First to my editors: If you believe a newsperson, be it in print or in broadcast, should be inquisitive and always ready with a question, Jane, Liza and Steve epitomized the inquisitive concept. I am a soldier, not a writer, but with their constant thoughts and questions I was always ready with some material. I am truly indebted to the three of you.
To the soldiers of the 502nd Infantry Regiment who came to South Baghdad and spent probably the toughest year of their lives giving everything they had to the mission, and in some cases, giving all: It is very difficult to understand what we experienced, and the story has only begun to be told. In one of the last chapters of the book "Fiasco," about three pages are dedicated to our brigade; the book was published before we finished the job.
The soldiers and their families sacrificed so much over the past year. They were asked to live in some awful conditions, have less personal space than a convicted felon, drive on arguably some of the most dangerous roads on the planet, all while not being able to get home to their loved ones each night. For many, they were lucky if they could send an e-mail once a week or get on a phone at 2 a.m. Their body said "sleep," their heart said "call home."
I used the word "awe" in my first paragraph, and I'll use it again and again ... we know this was not our last deployment. Our mission is to fight and win America's wars. We will return from leave and start our training for the next time around, be it Iraq, Afghanistan or some other place most people could never find on a map. Either way, we'll be ready.
A final thought before I head out on leave.
Writing this column has taught me a great deal. A working relationship with the press is critical for not just the military but for the nation. I am truly convinced that the press is the Fourth Estate.
The grand architects of this nation were onto something when they wrote and approved the First Amendment. If sunlight is truly the best disinfectant, getting the truth out can never be a bad course of action. The press may not always be favorable, and at many times seems to only focus on the negative, but keeping us honest and our moral compass on course is truly a noble cause.
Having written this column, I am convinced that a free press is truly the answer to the age-old question: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? ("Who will guard the guards?")