Authors: Walter Dean Myers
An Imprint of Scholastic Inc
To the men and women, now serving, or who have served, in the United States Armed Forces, and to all the families who have anxiously awaited their safe return.
February 27, 2003
Dear Uncle Richie,
When I was home on leave I reread the letters you sent from Vietnam to my father. In one of them you said you were always a little nervous once you arrived in country. We're not in Iraq yet, but that's the way I feel, kind of jumpy. At one of our orientations (and we have at least two a week) an officer said that guys who fought in Nam wouldn't even recognize today's army. We're supposed to be so cool and well trained and everything. I hope so. I was thinking that maybe your eyes wouldn't recognize today's army but I'll bet your stomach would.
I can't tell you where we are right now, but it's less than a hundred miles from the Iraq border. What our army should do is to take photographs of all the military stuff we have over here and then send copies to the Iraqis. That would end things right then and there. I really think the Iraqis will back down at the last minute and hand over their weapons and we'll just have to put in a handful of military police to take care of business while the political people do their thing. I don't expect anybody to be shooting at us.
You were right, though, when you said I would have doubts about my decision to join the army. You joined a war that had already started; I thought this would be different. Dad was still mad at me when I left and it was no use telling him how I felt. You know he had all those plans for me to go to college and whatnot. I tried to explain to him that I didn't think he was wrong about college or even about me studying finance. You know your brother so you know what he saidâ“If I'm not wrong, then why are
you joining the army?” Uncle Richie, I felt like crap after 9-11and I wanted to do something, to stand up for my country. I think if Dad had been my age, he would have done the same thing. He was thinking about me and about my futureâwhich is coolâbut I still need to be my own man, just the way you were at my age.
Anyway, say hello to everybody for me. And if you happen to speak to Dad, please put in a good word for me. All my life I never went against him until now and I really feel bad that he's upset about me joining. Uncle Richie, I remember listening to you and one of your buddies talking about Vietnam in your living room. You were both kind of quiet as you spoke, as if you were talking about some secret thing. That was interesting to me. I hope that one day I'll be talking and laughing the same way about what Jonesy (a guy in my unit from Georgia) calls our adventure.
Well, that's all for now.
Your favorite nephew, Robin
“Gentlemen, ladies, welcome to Doha by the Sea.
I'm Major Spring Sessions and I'm overjoyed to welcome you to sunny Kuwait. If we actually have to enter Iraq, you will be playing a crucial role in achieving our objectives by interacting with the civilian population. There are many different areas of expertise among you but together you make up a very strong teamâand that's a concept that will be stressed over and over againâand you have all expressed an interest in the Civil Affairs unit. I'm sure we'll all get along and make the army proud of us.” Major Sessions was cute, black, and had a smile that lit up the headquarters tent. She looked sharp in her desert cammies. Jonesy nudged me with his elbow and I had an idea what he was thinking.
“Our entire detachment is made up of about forty-two people and there will be some switching around as we go along. We might increase some teams and decrease others. That's an important
concept because what we're going to be doing, as an advance Civil Affairs unit, is to assess future needs. Right now we have one medical team, one construction team, an intelligence team, security personnel, and a flex team that will work directly with the native population. Some of the security people will also be assigned to work with the locals, so you see how fluid the Civil Affairs unit will be. This is an important mission and you're important to it. Don't forget that. Captain Coles will brief you on your assignments, your mission, and your relationship to the Infantry while you're over here. Thank you.”
Major Sessions smiled again, pivoted on her right heel, and moved smartly from the small stage.
I had been introduced to Captain Coles when I first arrived at Camp Doha and he seemed all right. Not too gung ho, but not sloppy, either. Tall and thin with blue-gray eyes, Coles always looked sincere, as if he really wanted to know about you and was interested in what you were saying. He waited until Major Sessions left before he went to his clipboard.
“I have everybody listed here but the three new security teams. When I call out your name give me some sign that you're here, that you're alive, and tell me your hometown,” he said. “You're not trying out for
so be as brief as you can be. I just need all of you to start connecting names and faces and get to know each other. Evans!”
“Corporal Eddie Evans, Stormville, New York, sir!”
“Corporal Charlie Jones, Stone Mountain, Georgia, sir!”
“Sergeant Robert Harris, Tampa, Florida, sir!”
“Corporal Marla Kennedy, Dix Hills, New York, sir!”
“Private Robin Perry, Harlem, New York, sir!”
Captain Coles looked up at me. “What kind of name is Robin? Your mama didn't know if you were a boy or girl?”
“I think she knew, sir.”
“Well, which is it? Boy or girl?”
“Okay, I can deal with that,” Coles said. “Darcy!”
“Specialist Jean Darcy, Oak Park, Illinois, sir!”
“Corporal Victor RÃos, Albuquerque, New Mexico.”
“Nice town,” Captain Coles said. “Danforth!”
“PFC Shelly Danforth, Richmond, Virginia.”
“Corporal Phil Pendleton, Leetown, West Virginia.”
As Captain Coles read off the list of names I looked around to see how many of the guys and the four women I remembered from the flight over. We had all arrived about the same time from the States, which was good. No two-month “old-timers.” I was glad to see everybody was wearing name tapes.
“Okay, listen up!” Captain Coles put his clipboard down and
looked us over. “For the time being we're attached to the Third Infantry. If we actually get into a combat phase, the Third Infantry and the Fourth Marines will spearhead the attack. The Third isn't particularly happy taking care of us, but they won't get into our hair unless we screw up and get in their way, which we won't. For the most part we'll be trailing the Third's main combat force by at least a few days. We're going to have a lot of freedom, at least at first, as the planners and shakers back at the Pentagonâor wherever they do their planning and shakingâdecide exactly what they want from us. In the unlikely event that Mr. Saddam Hussein doesn't step down and there actually
a shooting war, we will not be first-line troops. Basically I think there will be a war because Mr. Hussein, in my opinion, is not wrapped too tight. We, the Civil Affairs team, will be on board to see what the Iraqi noncombatants need so that we can begin the rebuilding process as soon as possible. In case you're too stupid to follow what I'm saying I will run it down for you very slowly and very carefully. If, when I am finished, you still don't understand, I will probably shoot you.
“Operation Iraqi Freedom has four phases. The first was the understanding and assessment of the area. This started way back during the first Gulf War that ended in February 1991. Since that time the Intelligence experts have been studying the area to understand the local dynamics and local problems. That phase is completed. We know what we're facing, what we're doing, and why we're here. At least that's the theory. The second phase is the
preparation of the battlefield, which more or less means bombing the heck out of the enemy, taking out his communications, and disrupting his lines of supply. That'll start when the order is given, but that's not our job. The third phase, if necessary, will be the forceful removal of the present regime in Iraq and neutralizing their weapons, especially their weapons of mass destruction. These weapons could include various forms of gas and biological weapons, maybe even nuclear devices. The fourth and final phase will be the building of a successful democracy in Iraq. That's where Civil Affairs comes in. It's our job to assess and start that rebuilding process.
“I'll be point man for our operation and I will answer to Major Sessions. Major Sessions has a nice voice, pretty eyes, and a very nasty disposition. She would not mind shoving her hand up my rear end and tearing out my entrails if I don't keep you clowns on mission.
“Major Sessions answers to Colonel Armand Rose. Colonel Rose would also not mind tearing any or all of us a new one. He's served on the ground in Grenada in 1983 and in the first Gulf War and he's kind of suspect about what we're supposed to be doing, so he'll be watching us carefully. He's going to want to know what kind of a job we can do. In other words, will we be able to make our battlefield successes meaningful. It's as simple as that.
“My personal mission in life is to grow old and grumpy and watch my kids flunk out of school. I need to get back home to get that done and I would appreciate your help.”
We left the tent and drifted out into the bright Kuwaiti sun. The intense direct light was always a bit of a shock and I saw guys going for their water bottles. I wasn't sure whether I should drink as much water as possible or try to train myself to drink less.
Since Kuwait was right next to Iraq, I thought things would be tense here, but they're not. Our living quarters are in a warehouse area; the mess hall is really good and it even has a coffee shop. There are also fast food places, a theater, and a library that was built after the first Gulf War. After two weeks in country, I was still trying to get used to the heat and even complaining like everybody else, but down deep this is a little exciting, too. I'm also wondering if there really is going to be a war. There is a huge amount of guys and heavy equipment already here and more being brought in every day.
I turned around and a tall blonde caught up with me. I'm six-two and we were almost eye to eye when she reached me. I glanced at her name tape. Kennedy.
“Say, Birdy, weren't you at Fort Dix?” she asked.
“Yeah, and the name is Robin, not Birdy,” I said.
“Whatever,” she said. “I like Birdy better.”
“Kennedy, I knocked out the last person who got my name wrong,” I said.
“Really? I'm impressed,” she said; a grin spread across her face. “What kind of weapon was she carrying?”
Kennedy flipped the sling of her M-16 over her shoulder and sauntered off toward the women's quarters.
I had come down with measles at Fort Dix, New Jersey, with only two weeks left to go in my Infantry training cycle. After a week in isolation at the hospital I spent three weeks hanging around the dayroom watching television and shooting pool while it was being decided if I would have to repeat the whole cycle again. I ended up with another training group and then received orders to report to the Civil Affairs detachment at Camp Doha in Kuwait.
I went to dinner in the main mess. The tables actually had flowers and napkins on them and we ate off regular plates instead of the trays we had used at Fort Dix. I grabbed some meat loaf, mashed potatoes, and string beans, and found a table. One of the guys who had been at the meeting with Major Sessions came over and asked if he could join me.
“Sure,” I said. The guy was about five-seven with smooth brown skin and a round face. Solidly built, he looked like he could take care of himself. But when I saw his camouflage do-rag and dark shades I knew he was a little different.
“So what you about, man?” he asked.
“Same thing everybody else is,” I answered, “getting ready to go to war. What are you about?”
“I'm about the blues,” he answered. “You know, the blues is what's real. Everything else is just messing around waiting until you get back to the blues.”
“So what are you doing in Kuwait?” I asked. I glanced down at his name tape. It read jones.
“Yeah, I'm Jones,” he said. “But everybody back home calls me âJonesy.' What I'm doing here is getting some experience, getting to see some stuff, and saving my money so I can open up a blues club. When I get that club going I'm going to play blues guitar six nights a week. Then on Sundays I'll jam with God because me and him is like this.”
Jones held up two crossed fingers.
“Yeah, yeah. Look, you and me got to stick together,” he said. “That way I can watch your back and you can watch mine.”
“You play guitar?”
Jones looked away and I got the feeling he had already lost interest in watching my back. He talked some more about the club he was going to open. He didn't sound as if he had much of an education, but he seemed sincere about wanting to play his guitar. He said he practiced it at least two hours a day.
“Yo, Jones, that's good,” I said.
“ âJonesy,' you got to call me âJonesy,' ” he said. “That way I know you looking out.”
I liked Jonesy even though I wasn't sure what he was talking about sometimes. Like when he asked me if I was a hero.
“No,” I answered.
“You tallâhow tall are you?”
“Six foot two.”
“A lot of tall dudes are hero types,” Jonesy said. “You go crazy trying to watch their backs. You know what I mean?”
“Yeah, but I'm not the hero type,” I said.