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.
Today is Sunday, the last weekend of May, and what would be a four-day weekend back in the States for Memorial Day weekend. Growing up, I always looked forward to Memorial Day. We had a day off from school, Jones Beach would open up for the summer season, and if the Mets were in town, there was a good chance I would be going to a game with my brother and parents.
Here in Iraq, it's just another day. Walking around our FOB [forward operating base], you would never even realize that Memorial Day is approaching. We have nothing special planned, no BBQs, no lying out in the sun; it's another day of work.
The more I think about it, we have had a number of memorial days already, every time we have lost a soldier to an IED, or small-arms fire, a Memorial Day has been observed. When you have had nearly 30 Memorial Days in the last eight months, the official Memorial Day is just another day on the calendar.
Spending time in Baghdad changes your view on the meaning of holidays. Being over here, I have come to the conclusion that I had it all wrong as a kid; Memorial Day is not a celebration, it's an observance. Memorial Day is not Christmas, it's Yom Kippur.
If you ever look at and talk to the soldiers working and living in South Baghdad, you will understand why nothing is scheduled. The soldiers here are focused on their mission, they know and understand that the harder they work, the lesser the number of names that will be called at a Memorial Day ceremony somewhere back at home.
You won't see any BBQs being lit up, the meals are still eaten at the mess halls and dining facilities and soldiers out on patrol will be scarfing down an MRE [meal ready-to-eat] when they have the time.
There is no "Memorial Day celebration" here. There is no spending a day at the beach even as the sun burns brightly and the temperature tops 100 degrees. There are no sounds of charcoal burning in the BBQ pit, just sounds of HMMWVs [High-Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles] starting and squad leaders giving mission briefs.
There is no beer being drunk, just soldiers sucking water out of their camelbacks. There is no day off from work or three-day weekend, and if you want to give Memorial Day a title, might as well call it "Groundhogs Day."
As a commander, one of my daily tasks is to walk around and talk to the soldiers in my company. I spent most of my day Monday doing just that, walking to my motor pool and talking with the mechanics who are repairing the gun trucks so they are ready for the next patrol.
I talked with my medics who are focused on the care and health of the other soldiers in the unit; I stopped by and talked with my military police soldiers as they prep for the next trip outside the wire. There is little to be said, they all know they are here to do their mission and to do their job. They look forward to the long weekends back in the states; the days off for holidays and beer drinking will just have to wait another four months.
To paraphrase A.M. Rosenthal, there is not much to write on Memorial Day over here, just a compulsion to write something. The soldiers here work day in and day out, no holidays, very little time off and always with the risk of not going back. Yet with all that can be and is sacrificed, soldiers, for whatever reason, have continued to volunteer and join the ranks.
To not write about these soldiers and all that they sacrifice, and to not mention the true heroes of this war — the soldiers who sacrificed everything — would be nothing short of a disservice.