"Afghan Skies" by Robert Kiely

As is my habit, here is a war poem to celebrate Veteran's day. This year's poem was written by Robert Kiely, Irish Defense Forces, while attached to ISAF in 2007. It spoke to me because he is Irish (the country of my parents), he served with ISAF in Afghanistan (mere blocks from where I served), and it captures the feelings of a deployed soldier longing for their lover (which echoed my feelings back in 2011). 

Afghan Skies
by Robert Kiely, Irish Defense Forces
‘Neath Afghan skies I lay my head
and dream of soft brown dancing eyes.
Your sweet scent from my senses fled,
your gentle touch, a distant smile.

‘Neath Afghan skies I see you sleeping,
 yet when I awake you are gone.
We share the same constellations fleeting
but countless miles see us alone.

The ceiling stares – a ticking clock
and still no calm to wistful sighs.
The shadows in the corner mock
while pictures play before my eyes.

I see across Drumavish hills,
the waves break on Rosnowla beach.
As winter blows its icy chill
your splendour smile just out of reach.

The passion that we often know.
The pleasure as our spirits ‘twined.
Breast to breast, a knowing glow -
our heart beats beat as one defined.

As slumber breaks, alone again
but images of you endure.
I hold them as my thoughts remain,
I save them in my mind secure.

‘Neath Afghan skies I write a while
and as I wish this night to fade
(a soldier’s curse, a spouse’s trial)
I wait for our reunion made.


Memorial Day Poem 2016

This year's poem is the lyrics to a song I heard at an Irish fest many years ago. For all those who died, regardless of country or year, let us remember and honor their loss.

The Green Fields of France 
by Eric Bogel

How do you do young Willie McBride,
Do you mind if I sit here down by your graveside,
And rest for a while 'neath the warm summer sun,
I've been walking all day and I'm nearly done
I see by your gravestone you were only 19
When you joined the great fall-in in 1916
I hope you died well and I hope you died clean
Or young Willie McBride was it slow and obscene.

Did they beat the drum slowly did they play the fife lowly
Did they sound the death march as they lowered you down
Did the band play the last post and chorus
Did the pipes play the flowers of the forest

Did you leave a wife or a sweetheart behind
In some faithful heart is your memory enshrined
Although you died back in 1916
In that faithful heart are you forever 19
Or are you a stranger without even a name
Enclosed then forever behind a glass frame
In an old photograph torn, battered and stained
And faded to yellow in a brown leather frame.

Did they beat the drum slowly did they play the fife lowly
Did they sound the death march as they lowered you down
Did the band play the last post and chorus
Did the pipes play the flowers of the forest

The sun now it shines on the green fields of france
There's a warm summer breeze makes the red poppies dance
And look how the sun shines from under the clouds
There's no gas, no barbwire, there's no guns firing now
But here in this graveyard it's still no man's land
The countless white crosses stand mute in the sand
To man's blind indifference to his fellow man
To a whole generation that were butchered and damned.

Did they beat the drum slowly did they play the fife lowly
Did they sound the death march as they lowered you down
Did the band play the last post and chorus
Did the pipes play the flowers of the forest

Now young Willie McBride I can't help wonder why
Do those that lie here know why did they die
Did they believe when they answered the call
Did they really believe that this war would end wars
Well the sorrow, the suffering, the glory, the pain
The killing and the dying were all done in vain
For young willie mcbride it all happened again,
And again and again and again and again

Did they beat the drum slowly did they play the fife lowly
Did they sound the death march as they lowered you down
Did the band play the last post and chorus
Did the pipes play the flowers of the forest

Here is Liam Clancy singing it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cp-OlpffDWw

Here is another version by the Dropkick Murphys: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kqba0IUdiBk


9/11 after 14 years

Fourteen years. I can't believe this much time has passed. So much has changed, and yet, so little. I looked back on 9/11 seven years after the attacks and wrote a blog about where I was and what I did. When the SEALs killed Osama, I blogged about it (from Afghanistan no less). I wrote about it back 2013 on the twelfth anniversary. I guess I should say something about it on the 14th anniversary. I can tell you I still hate that day. I tried to watch a video about it and had to put my phone away because I just couldn't watch it without losing my shit. I discovered this Amazing Spider-man written by J. Michael Stravinsky today, but totally missed it when it came out. I kept losing my vision while trying to read it and it's just a bloody comic book. The best quote from it?
"You wanted to send a message and in so doing you awakened us from our self involvement. Message received. Look for your reply in the thunder."
Maybe there is something broken inside of me now. I don't remember crying about 9/11, but today, I nearly lost my shit several times. Too many losses over the last few years. I lost my Mom and a pet this year. I lost my Dad and multiple aunts and uncles between 2005 and today. I think it all added up into a tidal wave of shit.
So I often self medicate with music. Do you have a playlist related to this tragedy? Here is mine:

Don't Tread on Me by Metallica. I chose this because the local rock station in Hartford, CT was playing this song after the second tower collapsed.
Let's Roll by Neil Young. I am sure you can figure out why.
Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue by Toby Keith. Because it's all about 9/11 and kicking ass.
Letters Home from the Garden of Stone by Everlast. Because the line "we're going in with the day light" resonated with me.
If I Ever Leave This World Alive by Flogging Molly. Should be obvious why this feels right.
I found a few more here and there, but these are the big ones. What resonates with you?


Memorial Day Post 2015

It's late for the Memorial Day observance this year, but early for next year! :-)

I saw lots of stuff on Facebook and Twitter, some good, but far too many angry or guilt ridden. The best may have been from Terminal Lance (if you aren't reading this comic, start now), a repost of his 2012 comic and accompanying post. Following the guidance of his character Abe, every beer I drank this weekend was dedicated to the fallen. I drank many beers, because there are many who fell, but sadly, there are more fallen than there is room in my stomach, so the drinking will have to continue same time next year. If you are a civilian, and untouched by this or any previous war, I am not angry that you don't understand or lack awareness. If anything, I am a little jealous. Just understand that your three day weekend means something else to a segment of the population, and that they are hurting a little (or a lot) and are depressed a little (or a lot).

Here is a cool photo that went viral this week. Just a lucky snapshot by a passing journalist at Fort Snelling National Cemetery. Haunting and poignant and not at all angry. Share it if you haven't already.

Finally, as has been my haphazard tradition, here is a poem for Memorial Day. Here is the complete Star Spangled Banner (it goes on much longer than we ever sing it). The opening lines of the last verse says it all for this holiday "O thus be it ever where freemen shall stand between their lov'd home and the war's desolation!"

The Star-Spangled Banner
O say can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hail’d at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight
O’er the ramparts we watch’d were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there,
O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

On the shore dimly seen through the mists of the deep
Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream,
’Tis the star-spangled banner - O long may it wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore,
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion
A home and a Country should leave us no more?
Their blood has wash’d out their foul footstep’s pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

O thus be it ever when freemen shall stand
Between their lov’d home and the war’s desolation!
Blest with vict’ry and peace may the heav’n rescued land
Praise the power that hath made and preserv’d us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto - “In God is our trust,” 
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave

O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.


Smells Like Teen Spirit revisited

So I am driving down the road, windows open, Smells Like Teen Spirit comes on the radio, so of course I turn it up. But it got me thinking, because it's 2015 now, and the song is 25 years old. I wasn't even 25 when I first heard it, which was probably driving in my beat up '85 Impala, heading to Moraine Valley Community College or maybe just driving aimlessly with no particular place to go. So some things were the same, but I am driving a relatively new car, and I have 2 kids riding in the back seat who no doubt think this music is lame. I moved through 7 states, finished 3 degrees, learned to scuba dive, fly a plane, went to war, came home from war, lost both parents, along with many aunts and uncles, and changed jobs several times. So much has happened in those years, so much has changed, and yet here I am, rocking out to the same song, at around the same time of year, juggling school, work, family and friends. Not sure what that was all about, but felt like writing it down.


Memorial Day Thoughts 2014

I am thinking about the dead on this weekend.  Specifically, those who died in our country's military service in war and conflict.  I am not an uninterested observer, as these were my brothers and sisters in arms. But I am not directly affected either, as none of my shipmates, battle buddies and friends have died in combat, for which I am thankful.  But I have been thinking about some that slept in the same camp I did, walked the same broken paths, ate at the same DFAC, used the same gym.  During my tour in Kabul, eight USAF personnel and one contractor were killed by an ANA Air Corps Colonel on 27 April 2011.  This was one of the so-called Green on Blue attacks, which heightened tensions and eroded trust with our ANA allies.  It also led to actual tactical pistol training, as some of the after action reports stated that none of those killed drew their weapons.  It was a bit of a shock around Camp Eggers.  Although we had heard of these types of attacks, it was rarely something we briefed to our teams before leaving base.  We changed some of our policies after that, strictly enforcing a buddy system on ANA bases, and getting our sailors range time to maintain weapons skills.  It changed our perceptions of disagreements and arguments with the ANA.  It left me a little twitchy for a while.  What I remember most though is some guilt and sadness.  These people lived on the same relatively small base.  I am sure I walked past them at some point, but I did not recognize a single face from the photos.  The sad thing is that with almost 3000 people on that base, and regular traffic from the Embassy and ISAF HQ, most faces of people you didn't know faded into the crowd.  I am sorry I didn't get to know them before they fell.  I am sorry I wasn't there to fight beside them in their last moments.  Farewell shipmates.

Here are links to some articles with the casualty list:

Here are some other links to the incident:  http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2011/04/afghan_pilot_kills_8.php#
http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/air-force-advisers-remember-deadly-insider-attack-of-2011/2013/04/28/ec2fa5d4-b02a-11e2-9a98-4be1688d7d84_story.html (this one is a retrospective from last year)

Only 5 days later, President Obama announced the capture and death of Osama Bin Laden.  I remember watching the scenes on TV and internet news reports.  Other than a few high fives and probably a few America, Fuck Yeahs, we just kept doing our jobs.  An important milestone was reached, but we knew that America was committed to staying in Afghanistan through 2014.  That raid was amazing, and although there were a few near misses, we lost no one.

Just three months after Osama's death,  we lost over 30 people in one helicopter shoot down, including members of Naval Special Warfare Development Group.  One of my battle buddies read the casualty list and realized he personally knew almost every SEAL on that helicopter.  It was terrible to watch him deal with that, knowing there was nothing I could say or do to help.  He had also lost one of his brothers to a terrible accident in June.

Extortion 17 shoot down:

It seems Death stalked us all that year.  It seemed I was always somewhere else when it struck out at our forces, but it finally found a member of my family.  A week after the helicopter shoot down, I received a Red Cross message indicating my father-in-law voluntarily ceased dialysis and cancer treatments and was expected to die in 1-2 weeks.  I was granted emergency leave and had priority travel out of Afghanistan (only wounded service members got out faster than me).  I was in Flint, Michigan in less than 48 hours, after passing through Al-Udeid, London, and Chicago.  I lost my luggage and had to buy clothes on the way to my in-laws house.  I actually beat my wife and kids there.  About a week after I arrived, this old warrior fought his final battle with cancer, laid down his arms and breathed his last.

In Memoriam, James Washington Crichton:  http://obits.mlive.com/obituaries/flint/obituary.aspx?pid=153282117

Somewhat grim after good weather, good food and time with friends and family.  Hope you have no tragedies to ponder in your own lives this Memorial Day.

Memorial Day Poem 2014

For this year's Memorial Day poem, here are the lyrics for Sgt. Mckenzie, from the We Were Soldiers soundtrack.  My favorite song from one of my favorite war movies.

Sgt. Mckenzie
by Joseph Kilna Mckenzi
In memory of Sgt. Charles Stuart MacKenzie, Seaforth Highlanders

Original Scottish Version
Lay me doon in the caul caul groon

Whaur afore monie mair huv gaun

Lay me doon in the caul caul groon

Whaur afore monie mair huv gaun

When they come a wull staun ma groon

Staun ma groon al nae be afraid

Thoughts awe hame tak awa ma fear

Sweat an bluid hide ma veil awe tears

Ains a year say a prayer faur me

Close yir een an remember me

Nair mair shall a see the sun

For a fell tae a Germans gun

Lay me doon in the caul caul groon

Whaur afore monie mair huv gaun

Lay me doon in the caul caul groon

Whaur afore monie mair huv gaun

Whaur afore monie mair huv gaun

English Translation

Lay me down in the cold cold ground

Where before many more have gone

Lay me down in the cold cold ground

Where before many more have gone

When they come I will stand my ground

Stand my ground I’ll not be afraid

Thoughts of home take away my fear

Sweat and blood hide my veil of tears

Once a year say a prayer for me

Close your eyes and remember me

Never more shall I see the sun

For I fell to a Germans gun

Lay me down in the cold cold ground

Where before many more have gone

Lay me down in the cold cold ground

Where before many more have gone

Where before many more have gone


12 Years Later

It's hard to believe that twelve years has gone by since 9/11/01.  We invaded Afghanistan, Iraq, bombed Pakistan, Yemen, and Libya, engaged in multiple raids, including one that killed Osama Bin Laden.  Fears of terrorism seem to have faded to background noise.  War seems to be the normal state of affairs.  The TSA has sometimes mindbogglingly foolish rules, which only seem to reduce our dignity without truly increasing our security.  I got married, had kids, buried my father and my father-in-law, moved three times, and changed jobs twice.  I have been to war and came back with minimal scars despite some close calls and foolish risks.  I guess I don't have much to say these days, since this blog has been so dormant.  I just felt the need to say something on this anniversary.  I guess the emotional shock has faded and the trivial, tedious parts of life have once again taken up most of my attention on a daily basis.