June 30, 2003

Dear Afghanistan,                                                                                                       

Hey, brother.

Hope all’s well and things are calming down. As for me, well, you know. Shaking my head. There’s this euphoria in Baghdad, like we won and it’s over, but there’s also this feeling that maybe the other side didn’t get the memo. Know what I mean?

Guess what happened the DAY after Bush landed on that carrier? Maybe not the day, but close enough? A suicide attack. Killed five of our guys. Coincidence? A few weeks later, when it’s quiet and I’m thinking this might really, finally, be over, a Humvee gets blown up on the road. No enemy in sight. Two more guys dead. A few days later, the same thing. Now it happens almost every day and this shit is back on. My guys shoot at whatever gets close. I know that’s not cool, especially when most times it’s some fat dude driving women and kids, but know what I tell ‘em? Do what you have to do. Stay alive.

This shit is different.

I thought it’d be, you know, Desert Storm, The Sequel: roll in, accept a surrender, rearrange the furniture. Then, go home, drink beer, screw the wife. Somebody else is writing this one, man, and we’re stuck. But you know what? I still think we’ll be home by Christmas, or at least early next year. I believe that. We will figure this out. We’ll find the WMDs and Saddam and then we’ll pack it in. But man, after three months of looking and nothing, I’m losing my patience. Are we stupid?? Don’t answer that, lol. Anyway, things could be worse. We get hot chow! And A/C and internet are on the way

Stay safe, brother.

– Operation Iraqi Freedom (thought I’d make it official)



April 30, 2004

Dear Vietnam,                                                                                                 

First off, I haven’t been ignoring you.

I got the care packages, so thanks for your support. I held off writing back because I had stuff to process, and I know you’ve been there. Know what I mean? I almost asked you for advice, then I didn’t. Wanna know why? Because you talk too much. Sorry man, it’s true. You always go on and on, telling everyone how it was back in the day. Seriously, dude.

After I gave it some thought, I’m glad I didn’t reach out and say something I might regret. I mean, you have been around, and you deserve some attention for that. But here’s my deal: after one crap year over here, I realized your stories aren’t much use. For me, at least. All that shit about things you carried and folks back home calling you baby-killers. Dude, we carry everything in vehicles and the people back home are behind us, 100%. I mean, almost nobody supports the war, but they all support the troops. How do you even split that up?

I mean, I don’t get it.

What’s missing – and trust me here – is the truth. One true story. The command isn’t telling it. Not even the news folks are telling it. Can you imagine? The press is all mouth-kissy with the command because they want access to stay open. So all I hear is rosy this, the mission’s going great that. It’s going okay. I mean, we just made a national election happen. That wasn’t easy. But dude, there are places here my guys just won’t go. Places that are too dangerous. Can you believe that?

The other problem is, and here’s my two cents: our forward bases are getting so big and so cozy that the goal of a day’s work is to make it back inside the concrete perimeter for that hot meal, internet time and warm rack. All that shit outside the barriers – it’s annoying. More honesty? I think folks are cutting corners. Why? Why not? Just like your guys back in the day, mine are doing time, and the goal is to survive. But check this: you had a draft. Plenty of troops. Here, all volunteers, and a lot less. So to make up the shortage, we’ve been going around asking, begging, for help from the Iraqis we fucked over on the way in. Guess how that’s going?

It sucks, man. I wish we had access to alcohol like you did. Good thing we don’t, cuz we’d screw it up as bad as y’all. Ha, just kidding.

Okay, I’m sorry for all that stuff about you talking too much. I seem to resemble that. I’m just upset, and it’s not your fault. I’ll find a way through. Just easy on the advice. Please.




November 24, 2005

Dear Afghanistan,                                                                                           

What’s up little brother? I know you’re older but don’t worry, I’ll still protect your ass, ha ha.

Hey, wanted to wish you a happy turkey day. I hope they lay on the chow nice and thick. Over here, forget it. Contract food service peeps killed it! Roast turkey, deep-fried turkey, pig on a spit, a whole cow, cornfields, all of Ireland and every last shrimp in the sea – and that’s not counting dessert. Bakery, creamery, cookie factory… dude, is this even a war? If it is, we’re winning the food fight, ha ha.

But seriously, bro, things aren’t better. Our bases are even bigger now and we have more stuff and thicker armor on Humvees and trucks, but I don’t know. We’re still chasing the same thing, and I think it’s our tail – ha ha. Plus, I think my guys smell the barn. They go through the motions, they count the days. They hit the halfway point and then start playing it careful and cautious. Is it like that for you?

We talk about pushing this whole thing onto the Iraqis, to let them sort it out, and man, I’m torn. I want to trust them, but brother, can we? There are more of them in uniform now, and we give ‘em plenty of weapons, but it’s like this: you break into a dude’s house and point a gun in his face. Then when his brother hits you from behind, you tell gun-in-his-face to make the other one stop. Feel me? The crazy thing is, a lot of guys at ground level are pissed that the Iraqis are on board at all. I guess they want to stay here longer?

It’s been quiet. Something must be brewing. Stay safe!

– Later, OIF



October 11, 2006

Dear Desert Storm,                                                                                         

I hate to start a letter like this, but you really screwed this one up. I know it’s not all your fault. I blame Vietnam just as much. And yeah, they told you to stop and you stopped. And I know that blaming others isn’t useful, but I don’t care. I’m the one who’s here now – who’s officially, irreversibly fucked.

I hope you’re still in the Guard so your ass gets sent back over here.

Ha ha.

Sorry, dude. I’m frustrated. I don’t know what to do anymore. One group of know-it-alls says target the terrorists. Who exactly is that? The ones we can’t see while they blow us up? Another says, gee, it’s an Iraqi problem, let them do the hard work and solve this.

I’ll admit this much: I’m still here, so it’s still my problem. And I have no idea what to do.

Man, we got a Sunni versus Shia civil war going on: cousin killing cousin, bodies getting dumped on the street, and when they get tired of that, they go back to targeting us. They’re getting better, too – this ain’t 2003 anymore. They have shape-charges that punch through muscle, bone and steel. They aim ‘em right at our vehicle doors. Right where – you know. And when we roll out the heavies – tanks and stuff – they bury trunkloads of fertilizer in the ground. Big boom, vehicle flips, everything burns. People on both sides are dying, man, and now even my guys are scared – for real this time. They won’t say it, but they are. When a tank flips and burns, man, the shit becomes real.

So thanks for making it look so easy.

Thanks for the care package, too. You rock.

– Bruthas, OIF


February 1, 2007

Dear Spanish-American,                                                                                  

I needed a laugh, so thought I’d say hi.

I’m depressed, dude. This shit sucks and I wanna quit. How did you make it through?

Ha ha.

I’m sorry, but like I said, I need some cheering up. So, here: is it true you killed more of our troops with spoiled meat than the Spanish did with bullets?

Man oh man. I wish spoiled meat was my problem. Wouldn’t make things better, but might shake things up. My guys come here to gain weight and catch up on sleep. Gyms, 24-hour dining facilities, bodybuilding competitions. What the fuck? Every month, somebody flies in NFL cheerleaders wearing tight bottoms and loose tops, and they lean forward, dangle their tits and say, “Thank You For Your Service!” until I’m not sure who’s the one being served.

Remember those islands you won? (Philippines, brother.) Well, a lot of their folks are over here now. They serve the troopies three, four meals a day, do everyone’s laundry and drive food and fuel convoys up from Kuwait. They do a lot. Plus, they get shot at, kidnaped and killed too. What the fuck for?

Man, I was trying to cheer myself up.

Well, you still fed troops spoiled meat. You suck, ha ha.

But I love you, man.

– Guilty as government, OIF


April 25, 2007

Dear World War II,                                                                                                     

Sorry to bother you, sir, but I need some advice. I can’t ask Vietnam and I think you know why.

Things have gotten awkward lately. All this “Thank You For Your Service” stuff. It doesn’t feel like a thank you. I mean, it did a few years ago. Right now, it feels like an early apology for a future screwing. And not a nice one.

Sir, I’m failing. I know it and you know it. And I asked for this.

How did you do it? You made it look so easy. Was it? Or does it seem that way because we all know how it ends? You amaze me.

I’m so depressed I feel like reaching out to Civil War. I know. I know.

I’m about to get bigger too, and break some hearts back home. We’re gonna have to keep the troops here longer. There’s just no other way.

But you know all about that. You’re an inspiration, sir, and always will be. Any words of advice you can send won’t be wasted.

– Yours truly, OIF



June 17, 2007

Dear Civil War,                                                                                                          

Hope this letter finds you well. World War II said it would be okay if I reached out. Mexican War told me to call you ‘War of Northern Aggression,’ but we all know what an ass he is.

How are you? I’m okay. I’ve been worse, but lately I’m better. Ever get that down, then up feeling? Maybe after Gettysburg?

Well, things got interesting over here. Just last month, a bunch of Iraqis who’d been blowing us up started a fight with another bunch of Iraqis who’d been blowing us up and then asked if we could do them one solid: just let ‘em fight it out. Stay out of it. In return, they promised they’d stop attacking us, and – get this – start working with us to beat the other group. Confused? Amazed? Me too! But here’s the truly amazing part: we said YES. Didn’t even know who the hell those guys were. But a friend in need, you know the rest.

Is that a mind-screw or what? So now we’re working with the old-bad guys to fight the still-bad guys and you know what? Fuck me!

Sorry about the language. But fuck me, lol.

Sorry again, but I’m tickled about this, and I don’t know what else to say. Thanks for listening.

– Regards, OIF



July 4, 2008

Dear Korean War,                                                                                                       

Happy 4th of July! I thought it was time to send you a note, since I’d already written everyone else. Sorry I’m late.

Well, things are finally going well. The new armored vehicles are here and they’re keepin’ the troopies safe. Even if we didn’t have ‘em, the boys’d be fine, ‘cause we’re turning this war over to the Iraqi Army. That’s right – they have a real army again, built by us. Our casualty count drops every month. We’re still losing people, but how else do you measure the good news?

If you ask me, I think the local guys just found somebody they hated worse than us, and I’ll take it.

I know, I know – they’re saying something else back home and lots of folks believe it. They say it’s the surge, all that money, all that sacrifice or maybe it’s that brainy general with the horse-teeth. It could be all that. But man, things don’t just stop and turn like that. You know this. You been standing on one side of a cold shoulder for what, 55 years?

I’d like to celebrate, but it feels weird and temporary, like things could switch back any time. I don’t mean to spoil the mood, but my eyes and ears remain open. Just like you, I guess.

Hope you’re getting all you need these days. I hear you’ve been living alone, and I know it can’t be easy. Let me know if you need something.

– Sincerely, OIF


December 24, 2010

Dear Vietnam,                                                                                                 

It’s been a while, I know.

This thing is almost over, and I’ve done some thinking. I want to apologize for telling you to shut up and get out of my life. That wasn’t right. You’re my elder and I respect you for that and I know you can teach me things. Maybe someday I’ll get another chance to do you that respect.

I went this alone because I had to. I did it for you as much as I did it for me. Wait. I think I did it because of you. And you know what? I don’t know if I’m any better or if anything is any clearer.

I do know this much: I had no idea what I got myself into. It was exciting, then it was boring, then routine, then real fucking scary. When the bad stuff ended, I felt lucky more than anything. And I don’t have any answers.

I just want to say that I get it now, about the things you carried – or the things you carry, or whatever. I think I’m carrying some stuff now. When I get back, I’ll try to unload. Let’s meet up, man. The first few rounds are on me. I want to hear your stories.

– Operation New Dawn (they renamed me – stupid, huh?)



January 7, 2012

Dear Afghanistan,                                                                                           

Happy New Year, brother. It’s been a week since I finished and I’ll be honest, I am not doing so hot. I don’t know what to do. This stopping sucks worse than getting blown up. Well, maybe not worse, ha ha. But at least there I had brothers and a mission. Now it’s just me and the meds, lol. But how are you, bro? You’re still doing the hard work, and whatever I can do to help out, I’m in. In fact, I won’t rest until you’re done. Your fight is my fight.

I’ll bet you’re thinking, “Don’t do me any favors,” and I’d probably say the same thing. Your fight is yours, whether you asked for it or not. I fell in love with mine while I was there, I swear. The dry heat, wide sunsets, fresh veggies and sweet chai – shit, the people. They were cooler than I expected, even the ones that didn’t want us there. Shit, none of ‘em wanted us there, and they were still cool. They had this hospitality you don’t find back home, like, “Come inside, drink tea and eat raisins, then we talk, inshallah.” Man, if you earned an Iraqi brother’s trust, he’d pull a bomb out of the road and hand it to you. Nothing says thank you like that.

Inshallah. I hope I never stop saying that.

I look back and I think about so many Iraqis who got killed because of us. Not just by us, but because of us. That is some crazy shit, and when I think about it, I need another pill.

I’d better stop before I get sentimental and feel like going back. I’m supposed to be happy it’s over, right? Shaking my head, man.

Write when you can.

– Later, Iraq