Sunday, April 19, 2009

Legends of the FOB: Life and Death in Iraq

Major Mason S. Weiss will graduate from the 57th Officer Graduate Course at The Army Judge Advocate Legal Center and School this May and will then be assigned to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, as the Chief of Military Justice. I "met" Major Weiss on Facebook and asked him to share some experiences that he wrote about while in Iraq last year:

In Iraq, a lot can happen in the span of just a few days.

On Thursday, April 3, 2008, during the taping of her show, I told Oprah Winfrey — the absolute last person I imagined I’d end up talking to during my deployment here — about the current events happening in my section of Baghdad. I told Oprah that although I didn’t want to sound melodramatic, the recent fighting in nearby Sadr City made me realize I could become casualty number 4000 something at any moment.

Beyond those mortar and rocket attacks, you can always count on the constant danger of Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) on the road, including the very road I traveled on just to get to the International Zone (IZ) to appear on Oprah.

Members of my unit frequently drive on this road and insurgents have placed IEDs on it before. These lethal weapons kill indiscriminately, and it doesn’t matter what rank you hold or what job you do in Iraq as to whether you get hit by one of them.

What’s even more disturbing is that one cannot go more than 50 meters between here and the IZ (or seemingly anywhere else) without passing a multitude of Iraq Army and Iraqi Police. I think one could reasonably assume this means those people emplace the IEDs on the road themselves, or sit there, watch, and do nothing to stop them if others put them there. Anecdotally, it seems like every IED I hear about usually goes off right near one of these checkpoints, including one right outside our gate a few months ago.

On Sunday, April 6, just a few days after the taping of the show, yet another volley of rockets flew into the IZ. I can’t remember now if I heard that one because these sounds have become so common recently that I’ve just about come to ignore them.

Unfortunately, however, these rockets land places, and they don’t always land in empty fields or outside blast walls. This particular attack killed two people and wounded many others. It killed Army Colonel Steven Scott and Army Major Stuart Wolfer. Both were exercising at a gym at the time.

Colonel Scott was due to retire from the Army at the end of his tour in Iraq. He had two adult children. A lieutenant colonel here at my FOB knew Colonel Scott. In fact, she happened to have seen him that morning at the IZ.

The two were in a meeting together and had to run out to the duck and cover bunker because of incoming mortar rounds. She told me that he joked with her, sitting in the bunker, that the last time he was in Iraq in 2003 they were only getting shot at. She found out later that day that he got killed just a few hours afterwards.

Next Sunday (April 20th), I get promoted to mjor. I don’t know how many other Jewish army majors we have in Iraq, but unfortunately after Major Wolfer’s death, and an IED incident a few days later I will describe in just a moment, you can now subtract two from that number.

Major Wolfer, also an attorney in civilian life, served in the Army Reserve. He had arrived to Baghdad in December 2007 to work in the Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq (MNSTC-I). Major Wolfer had already completed a deployment to Kuwait just a few years ago.

The lay religious leader for the Jewish community in the IZ sent out an email to all the Jewish community in Iraq that said: “We remember him in part as a religious man who wrapped tefillin every morning, as a friend who questioned everything in an intellectual search for the truth, as a patriot and proud family man, and as an optimist with a wry sense of humor. Stu was a devoted husband and father of three beautiful daughters ages 5, 3, and 1.”

The afternoon Stu got killed, six members of the Jewish community learned about his death by word-of-mouth and convened at the combat support hospital. Keeping with Jewish tradition, they stayed with him to pray and read Psalms until the time came to accompany him to the “angel flight” which flew him out of Baghdad that same night.

I can’t help but think that for Colonel Scott and Major Wolfer, the difference between life and death came down to something as arbitrary as picking what time they wanted to exercise that day.

And although they came here to try and improve this country after a brutal dictator ruled it, unfortunately for them and their families, someone in Sadr City — who probably cheered when the statues of Saddam came down and who himself Saddam had probably oppressed — decided to show his appreciation for their efforts by firing rockets at the IZ and killing them.

Thanks, asshole. You have quite a way of showing your gratitude. And thanks to all of you in Sadr City who probably stood by, watched it happen, and maybe even cheered.

On Tuesday, April 8, Major Mark Rosenberg, another Jewish Army officer originally from Florida, got killed. Serving his second tour in Iraq, Major Rosenberg, who led a Military Transition Team (MITT), died of wounds after an IED struck his vehicle. He left behind a wife and two sons.

In keeping with the Jewish custom of giving tzedakah (charity) in memory of deceased people, consider donating to an organization that helps military personnel and their families. If you need recommendations for such an organization, see my Mrs. Lieutenant military support list.

Phyllis Zimbler Miller is the author of MRS. LIEUTENANT: A SHARON GOLD NOVEL and the co-author of the Jewish holiday book SEASONS FOR CELEBRATION. She also blogs at LA Internet Business Examiner, Operation Support Jews in the Military, and Fiction Marketing, and she is the co-host of the BlogTalkRadio show Your Military Life. Her company Miller Mosaic LLC builds call-to-action websites for book authors and small businesses.

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