Thursday, March 18, 2010

The cold hard detachment

"They were on the rooftop of a factory with a few other soldiers, over-wathching Bravo Company's clearance operations on surrounding streets. The roof was three flights up a narrow enclosed stairwell. It was a big roof spotted with broken glass and dirty puddles from a recent rain, and Emory was there in the middle of it when there was a crack and he went down. . . They got Emory inside the enclosed stairwell, safe from any more sniper fire, but now they needed to get him down three flights of stairs. It was a big building. There must have been a hundred steps. Emory was placed on a backboard. He was limp. His eyes were opening and closing. Two soldiers hoisted the backboard, but there were no straps to secure him with, and when he began slipping off, another soldier draped him over his back in a fireman's carry.

This was a staff sergeant named Adam Schumann. He was regarded as one of the best soldiers in the battalion. A few months after this moment, having turned into a soldier who was mentally broken, he would say of Emory, "I remember the blood was coming off his head and coming into my mouth. I couldn't get the taste out. That iron taste. I couldn't drink enough Kool-Aid that day."

-From "The Good Soldiers" by David Finkel

I have been in a number of palaces of polished marble and gold toilets built by oil money.

One was in Baghdad.

Tonight, I was in the Crescent Hotel in Dallas.

David Finkel was in town to speak to a group called the World Affairs Council.

There were about 150 people there.

Very white. Very wealthy. Very intellectual. Very connected. Totally disconnected to the reality of our military.

Much like our current and former Commanders in Chief.

I went at the invitation of a friend. We both knew it would be emotional. I knew enough about David Finkel and his book to know it would be harsh reality.

David Finkel is the National Enterprise editor of The Washington Post.

He embedded with the Second Battalion, Sixteenth Infantry Regiment of the Fourth Infantry Brigade Combat Team, First Infantry Division during the surge in Iraq in early 2007.

I did not go for sympathy, empathy, condolences, or attaboys.

I went for two reasons.

To learn more about the war that killed my oldest son.

And, to thank David Finkel for his sacrifice to tell this hellish story.

David is an incredible journalist. He observes, and reports facts. In the greatest detail.

His job is to report objectively. And part of his job is to stay emotionally detached from what he is reporting on.

I could tell as he spoke that part of him had crossed that wall. He was emotionally touched. He had seen young men die and older men grow callous. But he maintained his professional demeanor as he told ghoulish stories that Hollywood can't imagine.

What amazed me was what happened after he spoke.

He knew he was speaking to the refined. The untouched. The elite.

He does it regularly as he promotes his book. New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, San Francisco, Washington D.C. Night after night, he speaks to the chosen.

And night after night, as tonight, the audience doesn't get it.

After he spoke, he opened up for questions.

There were two or three nabobs that asked "intellectual" questions about whether this war was different because we can keep wounded alive longer with medical technology, about how we can help start schools in the Middle East to change thinking there.

Not one asked about Emory or his family. Not one asked about Schumann and where he is or how he is today.

Not one asked how David was doing. He had seen hell and lived to tell about it. But no one cared. No one cried. No one asked. No one hugged him.

I couldn't help myself.

I stood up and told David that I was thankful for his service and courage to go into Iraq and come back and tell this story as honestly as he did.

And I told him that I was the father of a soldier that died in the surge shortly after he left Iraq.

I can't properly explain the chill I feel tonight.

Exactly three people came to me afterwards.

Two men shook my hand, but never could really say anything other than to ask what branch Pete was in.

But one man came and gave me a bear hug. And held my hand. He wanted to know Pete's name and where he was buried.

He was the only black man in the audience.

He is a retired Army chaplain who has seen too much in his own lifetime.

He was the only person in that audience, save my friend, to understand that David's story and Pete's story were about real people. Real sons, daughters, brothers, fathers, cousins, friends.

The rest of the crowd exited to get their books signed by the author and to have dinner together.

"The military is at war. America is at the mall."

And the elite of America are in polished marble palaces built with oil money.

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