Captain Dan Responds to Your Mail

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.

April 30, 2006

Nothing really exciting to write about over the past couple of days, so I figured I would spend some time answering in detail some of the e-mails I have gotten.

A huge number continue to ask if I think a civil war has broken out. For example, Steve S. wrote on March 17:

"Reading the news (traditional and non-traditional media) it seems Iraq is either in a civil war or going in that direction. I would like to know from someone like you who is there in the middle of all this, is the situation that bad?"

I have chosen to reserve judgment for the next 150 years. If in 150 years I return to Iraq and everyone in Baghdad is dressing up and reenacting all the violence that is occurring today, as a hobby, I guess you can then call it a civil war.

Dave R. from Albuquerque, N.M., wrote:

"I have enjoyed reading your stories on the Fox News Web page. Your comments about the generals who are now talking in public appears to be very accurate. But that's not why I write ...

I am sorry to take you to task, but it is obvious to anyone who knows baseball that the Astros and NOT the Mets will win it all this year."

I had no idea Astros fans would be reading my Diary. I appreciate your support — the Astros look good this year, but with Pedro off to such a great start, and the Mets' batting order being the most lethal since "Stand By Me" and "Top Gun" were in the theaters, no other team stands a chance.

This e-mail from Jose C. was a response to another e-mail I received that was published on the Web site.

"Tim does not understand what the good Captain is trying to get at when it comes to morale. Any soldier will tell you that they would rather be home with family. That is a no-brainer. Joe [soldiers] continues to train and continues to patrol because they know that it can save the life of their buddy or themselves. I’ve always said that Joe knows more than they are credited for. They will find time for a little break when the opportunity is given to them. But they also know when they have to sacrifice that little break to help fellow soldiers fix that vehicle, or go out and pick up that extra patrol because a buddy got injured. It’s a matter of doing the right thing and Joe does it right."

Jose is exactly right, and hit on the point I tried to make. If you ask anyone where they would rather be, on patrol in the desert or back at home with the wife and kids, or if they would rather be sleeping than standing guard in 120-degree weather, there is no argument to be made. But soldiers are out here and we are happy to do our job. Try living with yourself if you chose to sleep and the guy who replaced you on the patrol got blown up.

From John T. in Alaska:

"A diary can be more then just a dry, dull narrative of your personal daily routine without compromising OPSEC or becoming political. There's so much information that the American public doesn't hear, and they have a great interest in satisfying their curiosity. What an incredible opportunity to do research on the human condition [in] one of the most dynamic environments on earth."

John wrote a great e-mail, and that was the last paragraph. He refers to OPSEC, which I think is something I need to explain. OPSEC is one of our many acronyms and is short for Operational Security. OPSEC is a large influence in what I write, and if you have been following my columns you will notice I never talk about any upcoming operations or the results of operations recently conducted.

The other point John hit was political. As I explained in my column about the retired generals, as an active officer I cannot and will not get involved in a political debate in my writings. I will write about my view on how something may affect life over here, but the time for me to express a political view is in a voting booth.

Daphne K. from Wisconsin wrote:

"I have been following your story and today I looked at the uniform you wear. I noticed [in] one of the pictures the flag on your right sleeve, the stripes [are] not facing toward your heart. I work with the Cub Scouts and that is how we were trained to have our patches on. Is there a reason you do not have them facing in?"

Good question. I have a friend who was approached in a post office while in uniform and lectured by a WWII vet on the proper display of the flag. It does seem incorrect, but there is an explanation.

The flag is worn so that the star field faces forward, or to the flag’s own right. When worn in this manner, the flag is facing to the observer’s right, and gives the effect of the flag flying in the breeze as the wearer moves forward. The flag is worn on the right shoulder because in the military, the "place of honor" is to a military member's right.

Sgt. 1st Class Dana M. wrote from Afghanistan:

"As Iraq kicked off it seemed like everyone forgot about the war still going on here in Afghanistan. We still have Americans and coalition forces here getting wounded and killed. We have had over a dozen bombings and attempted bombings in my area here in the last week. But when I try to find them on the news I have to search for it — everything is back-page news coming out of here, even though we are still having the same types of attacks as in Iraq. Seems like sometimes this place and the soldiers here have been forgotten about."

I agree wholeheartedly. My theory is that for the most part, everyone considers Afghanistan a military success, and something that did not take a lot of time to accomplish when compared with the time it is taking to get the government here set up.

I would also say that there is less controversy over how we ran the war in Afghanistan. Anyone who wants to criticize Germany or France for not being our allies ought to talk to the German or French soldier serving with us there. On the same end, it is hard to say we are fighting the war alone when in both environments you have soldiers from all different nations. I would challenge anyone to tell one of those Soldiers they are not helping in the War on Terror.

What people at home don’t see is the same sacrifices are being made by soldiers in Kabul and Kandahar that are being made in Baghdad and Mosul. To families at home, the soldiers are still away, missing their kids' graduation or their 10th anniversaries, be it in Afghanistan, Iraq, Bosnia, Kosovo or Korea.

Natalya R. wrote:

"After going to war, many people have different views of life than they had before going to war. Before your entrance to war took place, what were your thoughts and feelings about this world? What were your inner/moral feelings about life? Have your thoughts and feelings changed about 'this world' ever since?"

Good questions, and here I go:

Before this deployment, and really prior to joining the military, my thoughts on the world were a little self-centered, and the moral thoughts focused on small things that concerned myself. Deploying with the military, you can see how other people in the world live and realize how good you have it when you are back at home.

Next time you are at an airport and the line at the ticket counter is long and going nowhere, look around for the person who is least concerned. He or she probably has had time in the military.

Little inane things just don’t bother me anymore. At any given time I know somewhere, someone is worse off than me. While I sit at this computer, another soldier is out on patrol or standing guard at a checkpoint hoping the next car that pulls up doesn’t explode. If the service or food at a restaurant is not spectacular, I really don’t care. I used to care a lot about sports — still do. But if the Mets don't make the playoffs, it's not impacting my life.

On another level, which I think you are alluding to, I speak only for myself and how this environment has changed me. Being over here, and every day seeing reports on violence going on here — murders, kidnappings, bombings — life sometimes loses its value.

We just had another memorial ceremony tonight — simple, professional and gut-wrenching. What I did not mention in my last entry was that after it is over, it is back to work, like doctors going to the next patient on rounds. We have two more ceremonies over the next week.

So how has that made life lose value? I still very much value the lives of those I serve with and those I defend, no less than I had before. To me, the lives with lesser value are that of our enemy. I once believed all life had the same value, but if we have to kill a number of terrorists to save one soldier or civilian, it is all worth it. The lives of terrorists mean nothing to me.

That being said, let me try to end this with some humor. Matt W. wrote:

"Your headline had me on the floor laughing. My buddy and I have had a conspiracy theory about Tuesdays for a long time now. WE HATE THEM. After spending some time looking at it and realizing that so many bad days at work just happened to be Tuesdays, we decided that Tuesday is a living creature with an immense inferiority complex. Kind of like the little guy with big muscles trying to pick a fight at the bar.

We came up with the following. Monday, as you said, is often spent sharing stories of glorious weekend activities and is actually a vacation day many times a year, a reason to celebrate Monday. Wednesday is Hump Day, not only is it fun to say but it gives us all a second wind as the light at the end of the tunnel (Friday) can be seen. Thursday always comes with a sigh of relief as you only have one day left. People spend Thursday planning for the weekend and in some cases start the weekend nightlife early and indulge in some celebration.

Friday is an obvious one (unless maybe you're too hungover from Thursday). So what does Tuesday have? Nothing! No redeeming features. Therefore, as we have stated, Tuesday is the sibling that just gets picked on all the time and will of course redirect all that anger onto us unsuspecting workers of the world. My buddy Nick and I take this so seriously that we really try not to piss Tuesday off by talking smack about it. I am actually very afraid as I type this to you as I fear retaliation next Tuesday!!!"

One of the funniest e-mails I have ever gotten. But let me remind you of Fat Tuesday ... the one exception to the rule.

E-mail Captain Dan at Click here to read his bio.