BAGHDAD – 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.
There was a pretty big MWR [morale, welfare and recreation] event on FOB [forward operating base] Striker today. Every month or so, the USO brings in some comedians or celebrities to put on a short show for the soldiers and follow up with an autograph session. Toby Keith was the entertainment today. I am not a big country music fan, and, as such, did not attend, but it was a good time to give some of the soldiers who could make it some time off. The show was short, about six songs in a half-hour; but at mid-afternoon when the temperature is reaching 105 degrees, that's probably all you can get in.
Over the past six years, I have seen a number of USO shows, from the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders and a professional wrestling tour in Korea, to meeting Roger Clemens and Conan O'Brian back in Kuwait prior to this war kicking off. Two of my most treasured pictures in my photo albums at home are shots of me along with the Honkey Tonk Man and another of Wayne Newton serving me Thanksgiving dinner.
You would think only one side of the political spectrum would be coming over here to support the troops, but that is just not the case. During this tour, we have had Charlie Daniels visit, and a couple months prior, Al Franken was telling his jokes.
Political opinions are irrelevant. If you make a trip to Baghdad to entertain soldiers, you have convinced me that you support them. I have said it before: Soldiers have jobs to do, we all have our political views and we express them in the voting booth. I often make the joke that before accepting any care packages, I always check the label to see the political affiliations of whoever sent it. Naturally it's a joke; political choices do not affect the quality of the candy, baby wipes, books or foot powder we get in the mail.
I finished my work for the day about an hour ago and talked with 1st Sgt. Driben about the first two weeks of command. It has been interesting, to say the least. I have put effort into getting out and talking with the soldiers assigned in my company, but there is more to do. I still do not have the feel for everyone in the company and I won't be satisfied until I know everyone's name just by looking at them.
The first two weeks I have also found that dealing with soldier issues can consume an enormous amount of time. Going from staff to a company is a change, I sometimes find myself back in the office, ready to do up some PowerPoint slides or another Excel spreadsheet, then remind myself to get out with the soldiers.
I called it a night and went back to the trailer at 2200. At 2300, just as I was falling asleep, a soldier was knocking on my door. He told me that the battalion commander wanted to see me ASAP.
I threw on my uniform and went back over to the office to talk with the boss. He informed me that one of our soldiers would have to depart on what we call "emergency leave."
It's tough enough for any soldier over here to be away from their family for the duration of the deployment. Family emergencies are nothing new to us, and the law of averages would tell you that with the number of troops over here, someone will be in a situation where concerns at home outweigh the mission here. Sometimes it's a custody battle, a car accident or a court date; or a stomach punch of a death in the family. I have never been in the situation of having to take emergency leave, so I cannot put myself in these situations and pretend to understand the feelings that come with it. I can only envy the strength of our soldiers and their ability to deal with these types of situations while serving in combat.
The next step was getting our soldier home. All the emergency leave paperwork has been signed, and we are putting him on the first available flight. Anytime something like this occurs, it's a good reminder of what our most important asset is … it's our soldiers.
You can look at the military in two ways. There is always the view that the Army is a large, unforgiving bureaucracy. To an extent it is: There are many levels of command and at times getting things done can take up what seems like an endless amount of time.
The other side is that the military is made up of individuals, all who care about each other, who look after each other, and will go to the end of the Earth and back for each other. Any memoir you read, be it from WWII, Vietnam or Korea, you will find that it is the fellow soldiers that make the memories. "Band of Brothers" is not a great piece describing the battles being fought; it's a great literature describing the human element of war; how soldiers react to situations and help each other out. I will continue to make this point — the pins on the map are more than just pins on a map depicting unit positions; they are individual soldiers. Each of those soldiers has a story, a family and friends. What separates us from any other job is the second family that is created.