Wednesday, August 25, 2010


The fathers and grandfathers of Vietnam troops went off to World War I, World War II and Korea knowing they wouldn't be back till it was over over there. But Vietnam troops went for a set tour (a year for soldiers, 13 months for Marines). Most kept calendars to tick off the 365 days. Short timer calendars, they were called. Some were simple calendars; others featured elaborate sketches of women which more often than not reflected a lack of familiarity with the original source material. But those paper calendars were carefully kept up to date and any solider or Marine could tell you with great precision how many days were left in their tour. When you got close to the date you were going home you called yourself "short." As in, "I'm so short I have to look up to Chesty Puller." I recall the moment the wheels of the plane carrying me and several hundred other vets lifted off from Tan Son Nhut airport in Saigon -- just at lift off most guys on the plane whispered "short."

Not much has changed. Most of the Marines at Naw Zad can tell you exactly how long they've been there. How much longer they have to go is still a bit up in the air. But unlike the troops in Vietnam who kept paper calendars, these guys are high tech. Many have their iPods programmed to tell them how many days they've served in Afghanistan. We call this progress.

I left the guys last week and now I'm back in the states. I want to report to them that the beer back here is still cold and the women still look fabulous. I hope to be at Cherry Point and Lejeune to shoot their return. It was hard leaving. I always feel like I'm deserting them. But since no serious moment in a combat zone goes without being mocked, here is how I handled it. As I was going around saying my goodbyes, I'd tell a Marine, "Now don't get hurt while I'm gone." Pause for one beat. "That would screw up my movie." The Marines got the joke but I notice my civilian friends don't think that's funny. Oh, well ...

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

It Takes Balls

Capt. Michael Linhares, a Marine Corps helicopter pilot, works as the air operations officer at the combat outpost in Naw Zad, Afghanistan. He also coaches Afghan kids in soccer -- and other life lessons.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

River City

River City. Restricted communications. Access to telephones and the Internet are closed down whenever a Marine is killed or seriously wounded. And we stay in River City until the families are notified. The idea is clear – no one wants a family to hear secondhand they’ve lost someone.

The battalion just lost two Marines. Not from Alpha Company but whenever anyone in the battalion is killed the entire battalion goes into River City. Families, of course, know this. If they are accustomed to hearing from their Marine every day or so and then they hear nothing, no e-mail, no call, no Facebook posting …

At this combat outpost there is a morale, welfare and recreation room – MWR in military speak – with phones and computers. During River City it is closed and empty. I’m fortunate in having wireless access to the Internet but during River City the radio wave icon in the upper right hand corner of my lap top screen is gray, not black. No signal. When I look at that icon and see it’s gray I know the families haven’t been notified yet. Their lives haven’t been crushed yet. I dread seeing the icon go black, that the Internet is back and River City is over. I dread that because then I know that officers in dress blues and chaplains will have knocked on the doors of two families. And two families will feel pain beyond comprehension to most.

Monday, August 2, 2010

May the Dove of Peace ...

I may have complained a time or two that there really hasn't been much direct contact with the enemy. Trust me when I tell you the Marines are more annoyed at that than I am. But nonetheless, I have vented a time or two about this. Today, while sitting in the shade of a mulberry tree where the temperature probably didn't get much above 110, a dove shit on me. What am to make of that? Is that a good omen, a bad omen or just shitty luck?