Friday, April 01, 2005

A year ago

I was asked by our MWR Newspaper Editor if I would write an article or message to the team. I have been thinking a lot about what happened here last year. I was scared. I told Carren I was not but I was. It was the very worst that we went through but we got through it by bonding together. It was the biggest test I have ever had as a leader and I did the best I could. I told my staff that every man wonders what it is like to be at the tip of the sword. We know now. I also know now what Vietnam vets meant when they just did not want to talk about it with anyone who had not been there. They would say, "You won't understand." That is true. I find it easier to write about it than talk about it. I have a bond with these people that I will never have with any others. I was under fire with them.

I chewed rocks with Bob Johnson in a parking lot outside the DFAC during a mortar attack. I sat in a bunker with Lou Stall where a 1st Cav trooper hit me up for a job while we had 13 rockets land within 200 yards. I drove like a madman when we took fire outside Balad in a convoy. I made Ed Bruener spill his coffee in his lap. I don't know what made more noise, the Humvee in front of me cooking of with Ma Deuce (.50 caliber) or Ed screaming from the scalding coffee. I sat on the Baath party star in our parking lot with Specialist Lakin while he calmly shot three nitwits trying to come through the fence naked. The survivor said they had seen the movie Predator and figured that is they were naked and covered with mud the guards would not pick them up with night vision. I was in the TOC when Chief Keaton called in artlillery on a mortar position and killed 6 insurgents with one round. It goes on and on. It's not all violence but the violence sticks with you.

I don't think I will have any long term problems but I know that I am not the same person I was when I got here. I have changed. My world has changed. My priorities have changed. I love life.

Anyway, here is what I wrote.

Message to Team Taji,

A year ago we went through a terrible week. We had fellow KBR employees killed and captured by insurgents in convoys right outside our gates. Taji was declared a safe haven and the truckers came pouring in. It was chaos and it took us two days to get everyone together under one roof and accounted for. The truckers were angry, scared, and confused, but they responded to the quiet leadership offered by some of the same people here today.

As there was a stop move order they were stuck here with us. Some of them had lost everything and did not even have a change of clothes. One of them had been declared dead and we were overjoyed to find he was alive. Our personnel took them in, gave them clothes, vehicles to drive, food to eat, phone and email access. Our team went the extra mile to help these wonderful men. They responded in kind. They became part of Team Taji. They helped us pick up trash, haul water and laundry, and did everything they could to assist us in our mission. They became part of our community. When they rolled out we were concerned and made sure they contacted us when they got to their home bases.

Before they left they paid us a wonderful tribute. On the wall beside the morale phones is our wall of honor. The truckers who were stranded here wrote notes of thanks and gratitude where they can still be read today. They did this with no prompting because they wanted to leave something behind that would remind us of them. Every time I see this wall my eyes well up with tears remembering that awful, wonderful week when we became a family here at Taji.

Some of these heroes are with us today. Joe Markin is here and so is Dan Randall. They were stranded here and loved it here. They came back to work specifically for Taji. They are heroes as are any person, man or woman, who has ever driven a truck outside that gate. This is the reason we go the extra mile for these people. Nothing gets here unless it is on a truck. That truck is driven or commanded by someone from back home. They are fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, sons, and daughters. They are heroes, they are brave, they are Americans, and they are welcome at Taji.


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