by Capt. Gabriel Scheinbaum, U.S.A.
American Reporter Correspondent
August 1, 2006
RETURN TO BAGHDAD: I'M NOT COMING HOME AFTER ALL
BAGHDAD, July 31, 2006 -- There has been a lot of news this week about the Army's decision to extend the year-long deployment of the 172nd Stryker Brigade from Fort Wainwright, Alaska. After all, would you remain silent if you or your loved one had just served for 361 days in Mosul, Rawah, and Tal Afar, Iraq, and days from re-deployment were told that too bad, you're not done yet?
That last sentence may be as confusing as the situation for these 4,000 soldiers I serve with here in Iraq. No doubt hearts broke in unison when the soldiers and family members learned through Pentagon and media leaks that the possibility of remaining here for "overtime" was an almost certain one.
But I am not going to comment on all the negatives involved; it would be unprofessional of me to do so though many would argue I have the right. But the truth is, I don't have the right to publicly bemoan this extension. Instead, I have the duty to put into perspective the positives and opportunities that more months in a combat zone may bring a soldier.
If course, I am sad that I am writing this article on the day I was supposed to be flying home.
One year ago today, I flew away from Fairbanks and American soil. A year of unimaginable events and unexplainable memories have passed. I served in the austere desert along the Euphrates River for six months and in the busy northern city of Mosul for the past half year, so I have had adequate time to think of some of the upsides of being here. I'll do my best to show you what you're missing by living your normal day-to-day lives in the States and the things you are missing by not being a soldier in combat.
One, you have to pay for gas. Suckers.
For the past year, as oil prices rose from $55.00 a barrel to now a record high near $80.00 a barrel, and prices at the pump have gone as high as $4, I have not had to pay for fuel once. I have never been great at math but I did some calculations, adjusted for inflation, and came up with this number: $2,740. That is how much money I have saved by not gassing up my Ford F-150 for the last year. And counting.
And a bonus point for me: You tax-paying Americans are also paying for the military's gas.
Two: Speaking of taxes, while you are working hard each day in anticipation of one of Ben Franklin's certainties, taxes, I am earning a tax-free paycheck over here. Our soldiers stand to make some considerable money, and depending on rank, marital status and savvy investing, could have a nice little nest egg when they are done.
While the extension is definitely unfortunate for the soldier and family members waiting at home, it is lucrative. Again, depending on rank, each soldier can earn between $800 and $1,000 extra per month while he or she is extended. And although I would gladly give up that money to be home on my couch drinking a beer and paying for gas, I admit that a grand more a month is a nice gesture.
Three, I guess the theme right now is money. I am not spending any money on food over here and I also eat pretty well. The dining facilities (DFAC) in Iraq are really top-notch. Soldiers can get pretty much whatever they want from stir-fry, hot or cold sandwiches, even steak and lobster.
While the majority of soldiers live and work within the fence, those soldiers whose job it is to patrol and seek out and destroy the enemy outside the fence definitely appreciate the food the most.
It is not uncommon to see a platoon of infantry or cavalry soldiers come into the DFAC sweaty and dirty from a day's patrol and eat the equivalent of a $40.00 meal at Texas Roadhouse. Yes, the food isn't as good over here as it is in the States, but it is plentiful and the price is right.
Fourth, and maybe my most important point: Baghdad is not only Iraq's capitol, but it is also the epicenter of all the violence and sectarian battles today.
You watch the news and read the papers: Baghdad is a powder keg right now. Our extremely successful and diligent Stryker Brigade is getting the chance to go there and do something that hasn't been done yet: stop the violence. The Stryker vehicle system and the soldiers that operate with them are the most agile and elite we have to offer in the conventional Army.
And they are spot-on proven to get the job done. I'm not feeding you political bullcrap right now. Strykers save lives, as our brigade knows better than anyone. So we head south with our trusted and successful platform ready to help clean up Baghdad for the people there, and for the future of this country.
Five (last one): While many of you who read this may struggle to understand how my soldiers and I can do this every day for a year and longer, it is important for you to realize that this is what we do for a living. Despite the groaning and heartache, the muffled talk of mutiny, each soldier is prepared to continue until we finish this mission.
How is that an upside? Because for all the complaints, we know that the more we do here now, the more lives we save, or take (terrorists and insurgents beware), the more hands we shake and candy we toss, the better the chance that we won't have to come back.
My brigade has done a noble deed for sure, so far, but we are not released from our debt yet. We have trained the Iraqi soldiers and police to defend themselves and their people. We have fought side by side with the Iraqis with the hope that they can do this on their own. And we have been successful.
But all of that took place up in Northern Iraq. We now prepare to do the same in the heart of the country, but first, we have to take out the trash. First, we have to get these people to stop killing each other and start acting like the civilized people that most yearn to be.
First, we have to stay longer.
AR Correspondent Gabe Scheinbaum of Boca Raton, Fla., is on active duty in Iraq. His observations are his alone, and not those of the U.S. Army.