Wednesday, November 05, 2003


I don't know what else to call them...the analogy is apt in my mind.

They are the intellectual construct by which I deal with the barrage of bad news from Baghdad. They work for me...I'm not sure how others do it...and I'll be honest: in the end, my fences are very, very selfish.

The fences come into play when I hear or read a news report that says "another soldier killed today".

I listen carefully. If the report says the tragedy took place in somewhere other than Baghdad...I am relieved...and all my fences are intact.

But if that report is from Baghdad...the bad news just breached the first of my fences.

And so I listen some more...I search the internet. I look for any clue. Sometimes the report will indicate the Soldier belonged to the 4th ID or the 82d Airborne. If second fence remains solid.

But if the report says 1st Armored second fence has been breached, my defenses...are weakening.

I have other fences. Unlike most, I have the "female soldier" fence. I've noticed the press is likely to make special note if a casualty is female...or perhaps the story will refer to the soldier as "he".

If I can be reasonably sure it isn't a woman, the third fence has protected me.

Inside the 1st Armored Division I have the 1st Brigade, 2d Brigade and 3d Brigade fences. Inside the 1st Brigade I have five battalion fences.

Not quite as useful, but handy occasionally, are the Officer/NCO/Enlisted fence, the Quartermaster versus Infantry fence and the east-or-west-of-the-Tigris fence.

But the ugly little secret that we don't really talk about is that in the end, I have about 120,000 the end the fences are about protecting my Soldier.

I don't want any Soldier to die. But there are varying degrees of that - and they work in the inverse sequence of the fences.

First and foremost I'm concerned for my wife. Next, is for her soldiers...because she really is the sweetest woman on the planet I know how devastating it would be for her to lose one of hers. Beyond that, I pray for the 1st Brigade...because somehow I believe that every time that 1st Brigade fence is breached, it becomes just a bit weaker and doesn't protect quite as well.

These are my fences...I don't have to ensure they are rational.

I don't really like to look at my fences too closely. I like to pretend they are real and solid and offer true protection. But some days when I'm weak, if I look at them carefully, my fences look like the slot dividers on a huge roulette wheel. There may be thousands of slots on that wheel...but if they spin that little white ball it must come to rest somewhere.

I wonder sometimes about those who don't need fences...because they have no personal stake in this war. And I wonder how that feels.

I can't remember how that feels.

I was a child during the Vietnam era. As I learned to pray in the Southern Baptist church I learned that every prayer must include the phrase "and Lord, please bless our Soldiers in Vietnam". I suppose I had no personal stake in that one -although I was very aware when my big brother got his draft number - and it wasn't a particularly good one. But the example set in my church led me to feel as if I had a duty to pray for those if somehow God had a huge scale and the weight of the prayers had to tip the balance in the Soldiers favor.

On the eve of Desert Storm I took my little brother to the airport. Ostensibly he was heading for a new unit in Germany but we had it figured out...soon after his arrival in Germany that unit would be shipping out for Iraq by way of Kuwait in a serious shooting war. I fought that war at "maximum standoff range". I was in Atlanta. He has sand in his boots, a Bronze Star medal on the wall, and demons that sometimes still call in the night.

I learned a couple of days ago that my neighbor, the guy whose front door is ten feet from my own, the guy with whom I had a beer and barbecue only a few weeks ago - he was wounded on Friday. He's been medivaced from Iraq to Germany and they are talking about flying him to the US. He has severe burns and needs skin grafts.

And my wife is in Baghdad. And many of my friends.

A dear friend of mine whose husband just concluded his R&R leave told me that while preparing breakfast this weekend she popped the seal on a can of Poppin' Fresh biscuits. He flinched. As she told the story I got the feeling that the flinch was almost more disturbing than if he had reacted in a greater way. As if all the evil and heartache and fear symbolized by a sudden, quick sharp noise has insidiously taken up an unshakable residence deep inside his soul.

So I don't know - indeed I'm not sure I ever knew how it feels not to have a personal stake in a very dangerous endeavor.

Without that stake, is all this just something happening "over there"? If one has no personal that what allows some politicians to use this all as their political football, posturing for the pithy sound bites and the provocative headlines...and votes.

I don't know. I don't know how it feels. Perhaps it is an exhilaration that one needs no fences of one's own. Or perhaps it feels like liberty...the sweetness of which can only be tasted in its absence.

Or is it sweet? I don't know.

History is being made and we are on the right side of it. Of that I am not in doubt. And I have a personal stake in that. Virtually everyone of us living here in Giessen and Friedberg, in too small apartments shopping at too small commissaries and tiny little PXs...getting together for frank discussions of our fears over lunch...opening our hearts to our neighbors to fullfill the palpable need for human contact and understanding...virtually everyone of us has a personal stake in the liberty of 25 million Iraqis...and possibly the peaceful future of the world's most troublesome region.

I have a stake. I own a piece of that. And I am proud that I do. I am proud of my wife for her sense of duty to her country and to her Soldiers. I don't mean some jingoistic sort of arrogance sort of proud. I mean being a part of something that is greater than one's self. I mean having a speaking part in a role that is noble.

And I wonder what it feels like to have never held the fickle hand of a noble calling. Do the concepts of duty, honor and sacrifice hold any meaning for those? I don't know. Does knowing that one will bear no cost balance with one's lack of investment?

For I don't know...until the bill is delivered... the price that will be required of me for my personal stake in history. None of the stakeholders do.

And so I build my fences. I build as many as I strong as I can. I bolster them with prayers and scripture and bravado and probability and sometimes too many glasses of wine.

I vent my anger to strangers on the Internet and my hopes to that tiny inner circle of the truest of friends.

I build my fences and polish them with optimism. I hiss loudly at tresspassers who would cheapen the value of my investment. Stay away from my stake! Don't stain it with your fingerprints...I don't know what it cost me yet!

My fences keep me sane.

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