Soldier's Diary: Making Peace With a Comrade's Death in a Personal Way

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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.

6 August

Another Sunday passed and another week done. The front page of the Stars and Stripes today focused on the extension of the 172nd Striker Brigade for four months. It's very noticeable here, as more and more you see soldiers from their brigade, not to mention the numerous Striker vehicles rolling around Baghdad.

We do not expect to be extended as they were, but the underlying feeling is anything can happen. We are soldiers, we took an oath, if that call comes, we will execute. There really is no major effect on us, seeing the 172nd here, but it does make you a little more hesitant to make the flight reservations on for the time you expect to get home.

7 August

As close as we are to completing this tour, we are a long way from finishing the job. We received a painful reminder that we are by no means done here.

My first sergeant knocked on my door at about 23:30 late last night. He broke the news to me that we had lost three more soldiers to an IED [improvised explosive device]. I've already described a couple of times what we go through when these things happen, so it seems pointless to go through them again. Needless to say, the memorial ceremony will be later in the week.

The eerie aspect of this one centered on the fact that yesterday afternoon we had started to take up collections for the memorial that will be built at Fort Campbell, Ky., upon our return.

There are already a number of memorials in the vicinity and on Fort Campbell. A chilling scene is the 248 pear trees that commemorate the 248 soldiers who were killed in a plane crash back in 1985 returning from a peacekeeping mission; it's known as the Gander Memorial. Near our brigade headquarters at Fort Campbell there is a memorial built to remember those we lost in OIF I [Operation Iraqi Freedom I]. We will build something similar upon return, albeit with many more names engraved on the stone.

Those who have a part in the mission, as well as those in HQ who have a part in helping the unit that was hit, have time and time again displayed amazing resolve in their actions. From the RTO in the TOC [Tactical Operations Center] calling in the reports to the drivers and gunners of the other vehicles on the mission, knowing and understanding how they react can only leave you in absolute awe. Whether it's ensuring the MEDEVAC birds get called or reserving the stage where the memorial will be held, the soldiers involved have become experts on what to do.

Personal reactions when you hear the news of these events differ from soldier to soldier. Those in the unit — and those who knew the soldiers well — will tend to take it hard, often times needing a day or two away from the job to talk it over with their buddies. Others will hold off, but take the time to talk with one of the chaplains assigned to the brigade.

The common denominator always seems to be talking about the incidents. Toward the end of World War II, soldiers were taken back to the United States on large ships, the trip often lasting weeks on end. It was effective, since the soldiers were able to talk about their experiences with those who shared the same.

My thoughts are that with today's technology, the American soldier has greater access and communications ability with family and friends back in the U.S. than ever before. If the enemy we face has the advantage of being able to go home to a family every night, then we have mitigated this disadvantage to a great extent. Internet is available to most soldiers, as are phones to call back to the States. Upon completion of missions, you can always find soldiers in the call center or in an office talking on a phone to their loved ones.

When we redeploy, or take our mid-tour leave, soldiers can get back to the States in short amount of time — less than 48 hours. If given a choice, I think the majority of soldiers would take the short trip home over a long drawn out transition time.

We conduct memorial ceremonies, we have monuments to our fallen and we can provide instant communications to our families at home. Each can represent a moment of closure in some form, but in the end, each soldier will reflect on their own personal experiences with which to make their peace.

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