Chair Force Engineer

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

In the Sandbox, A Reporter Who's Stuck on Stupid

I was alerted to a provocative article in this past Saturday's Washington Post about US forces who are currently serving in the Green Zone. The article, "A Darker Shade of Green Zone" by Karen DeYoung, begins as follows:

BAGHDAD -- Several dozen soldiers and embassy staff members relaxed on the patio around Saddam Hussein's old swimming pool, shivering in the desert chill, as a boombox blared Latin rhythms over the racket of low-flying helicopters. It was Salsa Night in the Green Zone, but on a Friday evening in late November, only a few bundled-up couples shuffled awkwardly to the beat.

Suddenly, a 30-something woman and a 20-something man, both in Air Force uniform, took the dance floor, their camouflage jackets and holstered sidearms swinging with each smooth, expert turn. The bored patio denizens perked up, transfixed by a rare moment of magic.

The moment was a fleeting reminder of the good times in the war's early days, when the pool patio was the Green Zone's social hub and young conservative staffers, eager to remake Iraq, danced away the cares of nation-building. Those times and people are long gone, replaced by sober diplomats and soldiers with lower expectations, slogging diligently through their duties, collecting combat pay, and envisioning an Iraq where the electricity works and where a trip to the market does not court death.

When the music stopped, Tech Sgt. Heather Warr of Miami smiled and left the floor. She had been here three months, and the best thing about the Green Zone, she said, is that she has a "wet trailer" -- one with an inside bathroom.

Her dance partner, Capt. Jaime Bastidas of Albuquerque, had arrived three days earlier, and he said the best thing so far had been finding someone else who could dance. The next day, they would return to work -- Warr assisting Iraq's Air Force, Bastidas working with the Defense Ministry, and both counting the days until their tours end.

Thanks to the advent of electronic media, members of the armed forces are now able to defend their reputation in front of a forum, albeit not one that gets as much attention as the Post's print circulation.

As I stated in the article comments section, this is a total misrepresentation of my character. Ms. DeYoung doesn’t know me, she doesn’t know why I volunteered, and she doesn’t know why I am here in Iraq. Her job allows her to write her perspective on military issues but not about people’s character. I am here a volunteered in the memory of a friend of mine, Sgt. Clayton G. Dunn. He died in what he believed and I dedicate my work here to him and his family. I am here to help the best way I can, in everyway possible way to complete my mission I have been assigned to do.
--Capt. Jaime Bastidas

Captain Bastidas, like so many of his fellow Airmen in the US Air Force, actually volunteered to be in Iraq. He left behind his wife, his home, his friends, his graduate classes, and his important space-industry job to serve his nation in the war zone. He is not unique amongst the US Air Force in this regard. It takes an understanding of the military mindset to understand why the Air Force offers up so many volunteers; it's because the nation is at war, there's a mission to do, and America's armed forces are up to the challenge, regardless of the politics or the personal risk. It reflects on the force's incredible devotion to their nation that they would choose to put their lives on the line to fulfill the mission.

While America's fighting forces undoubtedly need and deserve morale and welfare activities, it should be stressed that, even in the Green Zone, it's still a dangerous place with an important mission to perform. Capt. Bastidas and his fellow Airmen are busting their butts every day trying to get Iraq back on its feet again. The least we can afford them is a little salsa dancing in their down time to keep their minds off the constant threat of mortar barrages, convoy attacks, and suicide bombers. Any normal person can be forgiven for "counting the days until their tours end." But it takes true warrior spirit to accomplish the assigned mission while still longing for home.

And for the record, Sergeant Clayton Dunn was a great American who set the standard for us to follow. When I first heard about who he was and heard of his loss, I was deeply moved. Our nation is truly poorer for having lost him. We can pray that his efforts during the surge last May will have contributed to a lasting peace that can hopefully be forged in Iraq.