AT THE CLOSE OF A YEAR, A SOLDIER REBORN
by Lieut. Gabriel Scheinbaum
American Reporter Special Correspondent
Nineveh Province, Iraq
NINEVEH PROVINCE, Iraq, Dec. 31, 2005 -- It's New Year's Eve here and there is no room for schmaltz. There is only room for first person accounts of the war, my war. That is all I can offer and that is what you should come to expect.
I don't live in the streets and the deserts every night. I am not a trained sniper, only an expert marksman. I don't thrive on taking another's life, but will not hesitate to do so when called upon. I don't eat great food, but I eat more often and better than "The Greatest Generation" of soldiers did during WWII. I don't dream of being home, but I miss my family. I don't shower everyday, but I am cleaner than those I am here protecting. I'm an Executive Officer of a Cavalry troop, and it is the best job on the planet today. I have to think that or I will certainly be miserable.
I chose the Year 2005 "Reborn" title because this year, for me, was different than the 27 before it. In my twenty-eighth year I went from from Alaska to New Mexico's border with Mexico, and from there to the border of Syria and Iraq.
I have done and seen things this year that I never saw before, and quite frankly never imagined I would see. And I have come to live a life I had trained to live but have adapted daily since I arrived in theater in the brutal summer heat, sand, and dust. This and my future dispatches, will be my story and no one elses. It will be my story as honestly as I can tell it, given the biases of my life itself. ` I got shot at, so what? It was going to happen sooner or later. For five months I saw my troop's Stryker vehicles blown up, my men hurt and returned to duty. The frustrations of fighting a cowardly yet increasingly annoying enemy mounted. Then six days ago in the midst of one of our largest one-day operations the snapping started. Sure, they call it sniping, but trust me, it's snapping. You have seen the movies. You have seen the bullets fly Matrix-style. You have really never seen anything. I won't glorify it. My involvemnet in the firefight that started at seven o'clock directionally, and moved clockwise around the school where I was operating to the two o'clock position, lasted 10 seconds.
Ten seconds was enough time to convince me that the movies have it wrong. Ten seconds was enough to show me that no place on the planet, let alone here in Iraq is safe from violence. Try counting to ten: one Mississisippi; two Mississippi ... Snap-snap-whiz, two bullets made a nice home in the adobe-esque wall of the school about nine feet from my face.
My first thoughts were not about my life, oddly, or even to take cover, or return fire, but how I was going to describe that singular event in writing. My second concern was for the 200 or so military-aged males who were my "guests" at the school in a courtyard opposite from the first shots. I had "invited" these men to the school during a city round up for explosives testing and intelligence gathering, and I was damned sure not going to let a stray bullet nestle into one of them.
The thing about the job of the XO is I have to be all things to all people. I handle the maintenance of the troop, the food, the supplies, the morale and welfare. I am the "bad guy" if need be, and sometimes even the goat. I am never the hero, so don't expect me to be one here. That day, nearly a week ago, I was the devil to some Iraqis, an angel to others. While on one side of the school I welcomed the men to sit on the cold floor of the eastern courtyard, to wait in ordered silence for their turn to possibly be guilty.
I was stared at, spit at, cursed at ... and an hour or a short walk later to the other courtyard, the "release yard," as I called it, I was thanked for ridding the town of the bad men. I was the epicenter for the mission that day with the help and technical know-how of a small team of specialized individuals.
It was a good day, bullets included.
That day was a rarity for my troop, "Crazyhorse Troop" of the 4th Squadron 14th Cavalry Regiment. To that point, nearly all of our action came from reacting to Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), which claimed nine of my vehicles, or indirect fire with our awesome mortar platoon destroying over 19 enemy safe houses or personnel.
My troop has had the most contact, most casualties (and by the way, look it up - casualty is not always death), and the most success of any unit in the brigade. That is fact. We have seven soldiers who have been awarded the Purple Heart, and three more pending. Everyone in my troop, save for my two supply clerks, has qualified for the Combat Action Badge given to those who engage or have been engaged by enemy actions. And we have the most battle space to maneuver within. We do all this because we are good at it. We do all this because it has to be done.
So yes, I think of this past year as a rebirth. It was born in Pancho Villa's flatlands and has matured in the Middle East. For the next seven months, or however long I may be serving here, I invite you the reader, the supporter, or the detractor to mature with me. You won't get preached policy. You won't get force-fed propaganda. You will get my candid view of what I do and how I live. I will give you boring stories made less boring my veteran editor, himself a former war correspondent. At times I will surprise even myself with some good writing. But as long as I avoid those snap-snap bullets I will continue to write about this. I'm not Ernie Pyle or Micheal Yon. But you'll get a soldier's-psyche point of view every time.
I'll leave you with this. It is what I will tell my soldiers: Have a Happy New Year... . You've earned it.
1st Lieut. Gabriel Scheinbaum, a 1999 graduate of Marymount University in Arlington, Va., says his degree in communications and journalism contributed to 25 percent of his ambition to write. The other 75 [ercent comes from a desire to share his true stories with the people who read the newspapers and watch television.