IRAQ WAR – RECOVERY ROOM – (Post 28 May 04)
The Jealous Sound – Recovery Room
I know that I left you for dead
Don’t give up so soon
Because you know that we all have a bed
It’s waiting for you in the recovery room
Just forget everything that I said
Washed out the wounds
Walls painted red
Waiting for you in the recovery room
So it took a little longer than I thought, but at least it’s done. I didn’t mean for all of it to be read word for word, but if you never knew, well now you have a pretty good idea.
Kuwait was a clean slate, a most painful experience that rid the very foundation of who I was before. Djibouti taught me about myself, what I’m capable of, what I’m good at and what I’m not so good at. Kenya taught me my place in this world, and created for me a lifelong objective.
I’m so far removed from the military now. I believe we all have our purpose here on earth, and the army’s not the life I want to be known for.
“I’ll carry the radio next time. I don’t have any children.”
Dear California Veteran,
On behalf of all Californians, I thank you for your service in the United States Armed Forces. Maria and I are delighted to welcome you back to California.
You should be proud of the work you have done defending our nation on the front lines of freedom and know that you have my profound respect. I came to this country with nothing but dreams, and I was able to realize those dreams because of great men and women like you who protect America’s ideals and our cherished democracy.
You have confronted many dangers to oppose tyranny and secure hope and opportunity for Americans and those around the world. Your contributions keep the torch of freedom burning brightly by defending our liberty and upholding the promise of our democracy. Through your service, we see the goodness and courage of an entire nation, and we are reminded that the blessings of freedom demand the high calling of selflessness.
Again, I thank you for your service and offer my warmest wishes for the future. Welcome home!
3 Aug 04
So I’ve been going to school, too. Started sometime in July, I think the 6th, and been busy with that ever since. It’s really tough for me to concentrate and it’s definitely harder for me to absorb the material. Takes me a long time just to try and get the sentences out. The other day I studied like hell for hours for the Anthropology test and still got the same score that the guy next to me got, and he didn’t even study.
9 Aug 04
I’m no longer trying to identify myself. I know who I am, what direction I am heading, and know some things that I need to struggle with to define myself better and further mature, but I don’t spend countless minutes and hours contemplating about who I am, asking why am I here or is there God and stuff like that that was really important to me in the years past. Presented situations have become much more flexible. I’ve become more patient overall, yet more aggressive in pursuing what I want to achieve.
18 Aug 04
This is all quite awkward, because I’m picking up where I left off 1.5 years ago but at the same time, it’s different. Maybe it’s the LCD monitor. Or that now I’m in the living room. Or it’s all the 1.5 years worth of mail I have to go through. At any rate, I look forward to this year because I’m gonna make it the best year of my life.
31 Oct 04
You know what’s really weird… I sometimes have these ‘jolts’ let’s call them that wakes me up momentarily. It’s kind of like when you watch those movies and tv shows they use those electric shock things (defibrillator, thanks Patrick) and my body reacts like that. Last thing I remember before I opened my eyes momentarily was being eaten by a giant this time around.
14 Nov 04
I think it’s not what you do when you have everything to give that really matters. I think it’s what you do when you have nothing to give that really determines your character.
Rank, Name. Age. # of promotions to the rank during deployment. Duty locations. Fired at. Original/Augmentee.
Age as of 27 May 04, date of photograph.
Specialist Lopez, Lisa. 19. Promoted twice. Kuwait and Djibouti. Never fired at. Original member. She was pregnant and flew back earlier to join her soon to be husband who we had met in Kuwait. She and her husband reside in Utah.
Sergeant Miceli, Michael (Far Left). 35. Promoted once. Kuwait and Djibouti. Never fired at. Augmented in Wisconsin. Later, he would be demoted back down to Specialist for downloading porn over the SIPRNET (pronounced siper-net, for military’s secure, classified secret or above network). He remained back to serve another term because he earned more money overseas than he did as a manager of McDonald’s back home. I have not spoken to him since, and none of us would ever try to. He was from Iowa or Ohio, never married, no kids.
Sergeant Mabugat, Macky. 21. Promoted once. Kuwait and Djibouti. Fired at in Kuwaiti Naval Base. Original member. He was always willing to contribute. He would never back down from supporting us, even if that meant he and leadership wouldn’t get along. He lives in Southern California, going to community college doubling in Anthropology and Political Science.
Captain Guardiano, Peter. 48. Promoted once. Kuwait, Djibouti and Kenya. Never fired at. Augmented in Long Beach, CA. He always had me do his officer’s work because I was better at it than he was. I missed a lot of training and had to make them up on my personal time later on. He was the worst platoon leader any of us has ever had, always confining us to his limits. On New Year’s Day, he didn’t allow a single one of us to leave the tent while he went up to the Cantina to ‘get to know the other officers.’ He tried to hit on our Master Sergeant and was firmly rejected. Afterwards, she would be treated like crap. He was arrested in Kenya for taking pictures of mosques. In Fort McCoy, WI, when we were outprocessing and turning in our equipment, he would steal SPC Perez’s military issued sleeping bag (worth $300) and was only caught when he tried to turn in her sleeping bag as his own. He was never charged. Returned back to San Diego, never married, no kids.
Master Sergeant Tayo, Veronica. 41. Promoted once. Kuwait, Iraq, and Djibouti. Fired at in Iraq. Augmented in Wisconsin. Sanchez would later tell me that when he was having trouble with the deployment, she was the one that helped him hold it together. We had a hard time accepting her, but she was efficient and listened to her soldiers well. Only when the deployment came to a close did we come across information that she really tried as hard as she could have given the crappy circumstances that our leadership consistently put her in. She is a single mother of 3 and resides in Sacramento.
Captain Eng, Christopher. 29. Never promoted. Kuwait. Never fired at. Original member. He was the most sinister back stabbing Commander any of us have ever met. He sure did a great job taking care of himself. He was a failed computer gaming network business owner. Never married, no kids.
First Sergeant Basiliio, Tony. 45. Never promoted. Kuwait. Never fired at. Original member. I had a lot of respect for this man because of his leadership ability. He was an Army Ranger, an elite infantryman, and trained us like he was trained. He resides in Las Vegas, never married, no kids.
Private First Class Roberson, Jason. 24. Promotions omitted by choice. Kuwait and Djibouti. Never fired at. Original member. Roberson was the funniest guy I ever got to know. He was also quite possibly the most calm and collected. He was someone that you might think to yourself at first sight, I would never want to spend a year and a half with that guy. But he became one of those people that I came to like and respect. I always thought he was smarter than he gave himself credit for. I haven’t heard from him since. He was previously a commercial aircraft baggage handler at LAX. He has one son, named Jason, Jr.
Specialist Sanchez, Eddie. 20. Promoted once. Kuwait, Bahrain, Djibouti. Fired at in Kuwaiti Naval Base. Original member. He was young, but always knew how to look at things in the most optimistic sense. He was the one that built the porch at KNB along with Fitz. I learned a lot from him. He has been recently accepted into several Cal State colleges and will major in Architecture.
Specialist Perez, Mayra. 19. Promoted twice. Kuwait, Djibouti, and Kenya. Never fired at. Original member. She resides in Southern California, along with her husband to be, a soldier from Utah we met in Kuwait. She is a mother of one.
Sergeant Fitzgibbon, Tommy. 27. Promoted once. Kuwait, Bahrain, Djibouti. Fired at in Kuwaiti Naval Base. Original member. Father of a girl who is now tearing her way through grade school, she’s so smart. His father patented a certain machine gun which most bombers in World War II used. He is the most savvy person I’ve ever met. He is smart, intelligent, yet humble, and never gave himself credit for anything he could have taken credit for. On his left chest he wears the EIB (Expert Infantryman Badge) in which only 2 of his 60 man company at Ft. Irwinreceived that day of testing. He was one of the best leaders I’ve ever seen. To this day, he would always tell me that he regrets not having been able to do more for me and the platoon. He now works for Exxon Mobil in Southern California.
Sergeant Ontiveros, Abraham. 28. Promoted once. Kuwait and Iraq. Fired at and mortared at in Iraq. Original member. I feel as though I want to say a lot about this man… he was by far the smartest man in the platoon. Some people thought I was the smartest one. Perhaps I was a bit better educated, but this man had the raw skills and was more perfectly rounded at everything. Quick on his feet, great personal skills, excellent analytical skills. He always got us the equipment we needed, going beyond his own responsibilities. He would single handedly design a Brigade Headquarters Facility for Camp Arifjan, Kuwait and would later help build it. He was an avid smoker, but always ran faster than me (I ran 2miles in ~13 minutes 40 seconds). He would be awarded a Bronze Star for Service. He recently returned after having attended Warrant Officer School and now flies Black Hawk Helicopters for the Southern California National Guard as a Chief Warrant Officer 1.
Sergeant Windsor, Cheryl. 32. Promoted once. Kuwait, Djibouti and Kenya. Never fired at. Original member. She would soon enter full time Army after our redeployment was complete. Never married, no kids, apparently because she’s a lesbian.
Staff Sergeant Lodevico, Daniel. 23. Promoted once. Kuwait. Never fired at. Augmented in Wisconsin. Here, he is big and buff because in Kuwait there’s not much else to do, so he kept working out when we left him and headquarters in Kuwait. He would lose most of his muscle mass when we returned. We haven’t heard much from him since, but last time I talked to him, he had opened up a store in LA.
Staff Sergeant Figueroa, Tomas. 26. Promoted once. Kuwait, Iraq. Fired at and mortared at in Iraq. Original member. One of the bullets came so close that it hit a foot above where he was standing guard. I asked him if he was going to tell his wife of one daughter. After some hesitation, he responded, “No, not even when I go back home.” A mortar would hit near his tracks on his way to church in Iraq. He never missed a single Sunday despite the unforgiving heat. He is the most charismatic leader I’ve ever met. Always the first one in and last one out, he never would ask us to do something that he wouldn’t do. I would have followed him to the depths of hell. Prior to the deployment, he worked at Cal State Long Beach Admission Office. He now resides in Southern California, having returned after teaching English in Philippines with his wife. He now has two kids. He was awarded the Bronze Star for Service.
Sergeant Urmanita, Giovanni. 27. Promoted twice. Kuwait and Iraq. Mortared at in Iraq. Original member. He didn’t say much, but when he did, it was always ironic and funny. He was the best dancer of the platoon. Being the only other Asian dude in the platoon, I would fake my age using his ID. He was a hospital attendant back home in Southern California, but has volunteered to be deployed again after having difficulty managing financial hardships upon his return. He left behind his wife and a kid.
Specialist Porcayo, Victor. ~23. Promoted once. Kuwait, Djibouti. Never fired at. Original member. We haven’t heard much from him because he cut off all modes of communication after our return, that’s how much he hated the deployment, not necessarily us. As weird and impossible as that sounds, we all understand it. But we do know that he did achieve his dream of becoming an officer with the LAPD. I would always remember him for his undying love for his daughter.
Staff Sergeant Mathes, Ralph. 36. Never promoted. Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan. Fired at in Iraq. Original member. I didn’t get to interact with him very much, but he was always calm. But he got shocked fairly easily, too. He almost always had a nonchalant way about him, and his facial emotions would change only for a second to chuckle at a funny joke. We liked to call him Ralph because he told us at one point that he doesn’t mind being called on a first name basis when no leadership was around. Him being a Staff Sergeant and 35+, this was a big deal for us. Never the one to go back on his own word, we must have agitated him at least a little bit. He worked at Disneyland prior to the deployment. Never married, no kids.
Sergeant Contreras, Jaime. 25. Promoted once. Kuwait, Djibouti. Never fired at. Original member. He was a great shot and always had a content demeanor about him. He was probably most passionate about the platoon. Under his leadership, we would all run 5 miles every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, early in the morning before work. It was 85 degrees when we started the run, and was nearing 95 degrees upon completion. It would take us a full hour for the run, because we would stop after 4 miles to complete our 30 pull ups and finish our final mile. A large part of us getting the Kenya mission and me getting the Solider of the Quarter Award was because of that: we worked hard, and it showed, without us being flashy but just doing solid, fundamental work without complaining and with very little leadership having to intervene. He has 2 kids, got married, went back to his old job and took a pay cut to get it back, and just recently got fired because the new management brought in their own team.
Staff Sergeant Lopez-Lopez, Jose. 23. Promoted once. Kuwait,Iraq. Fired at in Iraq. Original member. Fastest runner in the company. He never worked out, but always ran below 12 minute 2 miles. He would later tell me that the secret would be to eat slowly. It didn’t work for me. The leadership didn’t like him very much because as the supply sergeant, he got to know everyone in every camp we went to, and was charismatic enough to be able to get away with some things. But we liked him because we didn’t care about those regulations and were more worried about getting things done, and he was the one guy that I think really knew how to do just that. He’s no longer with the unit, and I’ve heard he and Porcayo still talk, but the rest of us don’t know much about either one anymore.
Specialist Kim, Elliott SungChul. 20. Never promoted. Kuwait, Djibouti Kenya. Original member, then transferred to 368th MI Bn, and augmented back for the war. I am pictured here lucky enough to be flanked by my two favorite Sergeants. I would transfer into UC Berkeley a year later, and will work at IBM in New York starting September 07. My hope is to work for about 4 years before applying to Harvard MBA school, and later utilize the saved capital and established networks in pursuing philanthropy.
We all went in a little different, and came out a little messed up. But for those 16 precious months, I felt a sense of belonging I haven’t had since.
Every once in a while, I see myself, with 40 pounds on my back, with my rifle in my hand, with kevlar helmet a size too big and boots a size too small, and I’d march forever and a day with it…
I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you that I do miss it sometimes.
Please, don’t neglect to dream and to dream big. Don’t neglect also to pursue that dream. Because as long as you do, the rest of us will keep fighting for that cause without regret or remorse of what could have been.
Thanks for reading.