Month Two, of Trip Three point Five

What can I say, if you would permit me I would spend a few pages bitching about the conditions of operations, and command climate; however even if it would amuse or interest you, I won’t waste anymore of my time thinking about it. I have been given an impossible problem, and the team before me, accomplished almost nothing while it was here. So, square one, back to zero, starting over, are all terms of a condition that I find myself in. This trip is so radically different than the last, that it is hard for me to find a frame of reference for you to catch up with, before I launch into my normally curious self.

Well for one, as stated in the last email, I am no longer in Baghdad, I am just north. The giant Gates of Baghdad (picture at the bottom) are to my south and mark a de-facto border that I am marginally responsible for. The area of ground that I have been told to monitor and affect throughout my tenor here is the size of all of Baghdad and surrounds the largest Iraqi military instillation in the country, Taji. On Taji there is an entire Iraqi Army Armored Division, yes they have tanks again, and they are not afraid to drive them anywhere or everywhere. I am not quite certain how many they have or where they came from, though driving past the junk yards of neatly lined and rowed twisted heaps of tanks from our invasion, I can’t imagine that they have too many. It is amazing to see that the Armored mentality of the Iraqi division is very similar to our own motto of ‘death before dismount.’ This will be my first of many battles with Staff Major General Qassim. (Staff officers, much like the British denotes a specialized officer school.) Qassim has a good grip on English, like any of the Iraqi officers that are worth a damn, and is not afraid to bum-it-up with a lowly Captain. I am sure it is so when he is with his buddies he can claim that he even has a Special Forces Captain to go along with his American Colonel. Who knows, I know last time I held this very same position with Major General No’man.  

So, north of Baghdad is an interesting place to be. The area is divided by a rather famous river, the Tigris, if you’ve heard of it. On the right side of the river (east) are a Shi’a majority, and on the left (west) is a Sunni majority. For the past three years this area has been the staging ground for every major attack in Baghdad. In the last year most of the high profile attacks have actually come from the west or have been put together inside the Amanat (the city limits.) This is pretty common knowledge. Anyways, my job is to determine who is doing it and where it is coming from, well if you know anything about the type of weapons and tactics my enemy is using you would recognize the futility of these questions. No doubt, my statements from last trip still hold, “The War is Over!” I just wish that some of the people here in country would get it through their minds that this was true. So, we run off to conduct our daily business with the mantra “Pressure the Net-Works.” Well, hmmm, what else should I say today? I am not discouraged, I have a plan, and I think it will work. I will hopefully end up changing some small fundamental way the Iraqi Army Division operates in this AO and it will manage to change the environment just slightly in the Government of Iraq’s favor.  Well more to follow on the new personalities.

I have tried to keep this one, bitching free, however, I see that I have added some sense of hopelessness and frustration, well it is there. But at the same time the job is good, the living situation is fine, and the men are salty (to quote some famous military leaders.) My only real funny incident was having a Team Mate that we sent home on emergency leave (his wife is having complications due to pregnancy,) went home with grenades. This didn’t seem to bother anyone until the Kuwaiti International Airport baggage screener asked him in a horrible accent “where are the booms?” This of course ended up with my Team Mate in cuffs in a Kuwaiti police station. Needless to say he should be on his way home any day now.

Well, that’s all I gots, as most of my reports are sent up to my boss I will close with…..

NAME SENDS.

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Greetings

Friends,

Once again, the mass emails, oh how I do not like to receive them, yet here I am blasting out another report. I am again in Iraq, this time just north of Baghdad at a place called Camp Taji. Taji was in the not so distant past am American Super Base that supplied all of the central area of operations. This base was a Division sized, and then during my last trip to country a Brigade size, and now that I have moved here, it is a battalion sized operation. My little home is FOB Bennett, a tiny compound on Taji. Bennett is comfortable and nice, I am living in the remnants of a huge command center. So for the most part I cannot complain about my living conditions. Nor can I complain about my partnered forces, the 9th Iraqi Army and the 11th Iraqi Army. They are doing the best they can, and for the most part are incredibly receptive to my advice and input.

It would seem that this trip will be much more in line with the full spectrum type operations that you would think of when thinking of Special Forces. Last time I was the hit man for others that did a lot of work developing targets, this time I have to develop those targets while promoting GoI legitimacy. I would love to get into the ambiguities of my conflicting guidance, and the policy issues on the ground between the DoS and DoD, but I just do not have the time or the energy to layout what will be the bane of my existence while I am here.

Well, not sure what to right for the first email, except I am on the ground. I have started to meet with some of the more powerful sheiks, and I have thankfully only been shot at once. So far, so good. I will send more when I have something interesting to share, until then…..

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Post Script

The glass of Macallans looks so frail in my hand as I see the frost on the windows. The winter of Colorado has struck again, with blinding speed, covering every inch with snow. Fears of avalanches have been reported on the local news, though who in all honesty watches local news. The change of returning home is strikingly similar to the weather that I am still memorized by outside my window. A series of highs and lows, extremes, in all honesty much like my deployment is how the last week has been. Maybe that is unfair, maybe I have just lived my life in mostly extremes. I am writing this today in some emotional release for the homecoming that I have received. There are people that I cannot thank enough for the simplification of all my stateside issues to include, my car, laundry, house and even the glass of scotch that I am drinking now. Thank you. For my friends that sent me off in style, they as well received me with an equal amount of warmth and merriment, as anyone who checks my face book status would already know. In five days I have spent an incredible amount of time intoxicated, though don’t worry, it is a passing phase and for the most part has not been the equivalent of my return in 05, where I gave up a week of memory in the pursuit of some release. Well, my homecoming is over and work is starting again.

Normalcy, my most recent posts have been about either the most absurd or the quest for stability. Well, as most of you know, though unhinged I am not dull. The stability that I look for is well within my grasp but I choose to stare at it like the glass of water next to the scotch. I guess this is the classic biblical question, well my ‘why not response’ is still working. The music in my home, yes my home, such a strange statement, is loud and strong, as strong as the smell of the scotch. I can feel the beat and rhythm of the speakers as the words fill my ears. I look out the window and see the strange orange glow of the snowfall, the lights reflecting in each flake. Extremes, highs and lows, love and hate… all fill the minutes and hours of my return. How can one explain to another the possibility of such extremes when they have become ‘water soft’ or fat from the comforts of life in the states.

The strong taste of the scotch is reflected in the strong desire to live aloud, to once again echo Thoreau triumphant call to action. So, I have, and with each emotion, I have pushed it past what it would have been. What normally would take days I will take minutes, months I will take hours, and years I will do in days. This infuriating fast pace race to some unforeseen finish line of exaltation has left me exhausted and spent without much to show. This is no different than the last time. Robert Service said it best, if I had just done things by half, what a deep mark I would have left. Well I have gone off in the quest for the strange and new and in the excitement of the Americana around me I have flown through the week, crashing head first into love, anger, lust, and excitement.

Where am I taking you, what am I trying to say, well there is such a simple answer to this question and it is even more painful to write as I delete the very letters that I type. I am trying to explain my actions, my feelings, and misgivings all in a single sentiment. That I have been trying to ensure that I have lived as much as possible for fear that it will be gone tomorrow. That the next day will bring another set of travels or even worse my final good bye. So melodramatic I know, yet walk the miles next to me and I think you will find it surprisingly reassuring, surprisingly normal, and more to the point even practical. In the past seven years, I have lost a girlfriend, best friend, half dozen coworkers, all having a significant effect on me, in the past three months I have lost another friend and coworker. The world takes from me what it will, so in response I have tried to steal from the world everything that I can.

So, explanation complete, reality settles back in and I get to recognize what I lose by this process, by this attempt to taste too much, to drink to deep from the well of life. My mind slowly meanders through the moments of the last seven days, and smiles with a slight frown intertwined. So many things gained and so much lost, connections made and shattered, moments shared and then brushed aside. Each move sometimes seems to be a fresh mistake; well the rhyme of a rolling stone is still my trademark type. I will see all of you again, and we will all continue to play our part in this cosmic play, however mine as the jester is at an end for the time being.

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The Last Letter, This One From Home (i think)

I have been back now in the states for only a few days and in these short periods of lucid consciousness, not inhibited by the alcohol and the women that fill my attention, I have seen why and what makes our society so different and special. The very nature of living our lives, in our quiet individualistic desires, from the plodding of the disinterested to the purposeful strides of those with more determination, every variation is at our fingertips. They are all in front of us breathing the same air and squinting against the same morning sun. These are the people of our nation, of our city, of your town and street, they exists as you do, in a world free of the concerns for all other things other than the task at hand. Defended by oceans, money and a strong sense of freedom, we walk around town under the assumption that we are safe, that for it to be otherwise is fiction. Oh what a glorious way to live. I have traveled around the world more than once and I have seen many things, and have lived many times over. When I returned just yesterday’s yesterday I looked around to try and understand the difference that I have seen, to compare the worlds that I move in and out of with ease that is startling to those who have watched others come back with scars in their eyes.

Most will immediately point out the vast differences between the US and Iraq in the form of third world verse first world societies as well as an occupied nation verse a rule of law, both are correct and profound. Maybe they will be a little more in tune with current politics (or public opinion) and shout a religious line and say they are Muslim and we are a Christian society. Maybe the educated will point out the differences between shame and guilt societies that separate our culutures and lives. Well all of these answers are true and measurable. I am under no illusions to the veracity of any of those arguments. Though I was looking for something more, I was looking for what you see when you look at a man’s eyes. The bright glimmer of understanding and excitement, life, passion, desire, the immeasurable spirit that is universal to all races and creeds, to every society. Are these not common to all men, no mater social status, skin color, religion, politics, war… I have always been under the assumption that it was this look that is where our divine equality has the potential to be measured.

Experiencing the death of a whole people is one of the more scaring memories that I have from my first deployment.  I am not referring to the physical death but rather the metaphysical death of a society. A people that have nothing to live for and move from place to place with no concern for their own well-being. They were well past the flight and fight responses of anyone with anime, they were already dead on the inside and passing time until their bodies would catch up. They could not look at you, nor would they look at each other. They were without hope. This took months to recognize, at twenty-four I struggled with trying to understand the people that were around me, it seemed that even my enemies were already beaten before they attacked. It was a rare and enjoyable moment when I would find a small grain of hope in the eyes of a little girl, or the determination of a doctor that continued to work as hard has he could to improve the lives of those around him, even as the very people that he helped were stealing from him. We felt at the time like we were moving through a world that was not real, that the laws of the universe did not have hold on the lands that we walked. It is this feeling that may have made it easier to complete our tasks at hand, when we were still focused on the kinetic aspect of our occupation.

Though I have been back since, the greatest changed was noticed during this last rotation that I have just returned from. The city of Baghdad is a bustling multi-ethnic and cultural urban sprawl. I was shocked and amazed at the changes in the people that I saw, their eyes were no longer dead, they looked up and occasionally would look you in the eye. They were defiant, and yet hesitant at the same time. They were unsure, as if each step could or could not be the last but they were willing to try. They had some level of hope, and this manifested itself in a desire to pretend as if nothing was wrong. They ignored the giant concrete walls, the tanks and the guns, and went about their daily life as if they just were there. It was such a novelty to watch them act as if they were not afraid of the bombs, or the guns, but they were. You could see the hesitation, the concern, the fear.  But they moved on, forward, in the hopes that we would leave, that their government would work, and that the next car parked on the street would not blow up.

From wheels up to my meandering though, the early morning streets of Colorado Springs no more than forty hours had passed and the faces of the Iraqi people were still fresh in my mind. I stood on the corner of a busy intersection downtown and looked around. The early morning bustle raced by me as if the time was so relative that as I moved to bring the coffee to my mouth they had walked blocks, greeted friends, gone to work, ordered breakfast. Moreover, as I brought the cup down, the world around me had moved forward in hours and not seconds. They were alive, they did not ignore dangers, they looked both ways before crossing the street, yet they had the expectation that their choices were theirs and that they could act, or live as they saw fit. By no means, did I only see happy people, I saw the sad, the tired and homeless yet their eyes had hope, they were alive. Only here, only in this nation is such the atmosphere that the most destitute among us have the ability to have hope. Such variance and difference, both so powerful in the mere understanding but somewhat frightening that those whom I watched believe that this is the only way that people can live.

The day moved on as I tried to explain my fascination with all of the humanity that I was fast becoming re-aquatinted. I had difficulty with the words and the ideas that were fumbling through my mind. It took the strong ear of a beautiful Colorado girl to help me hash out these thoughts and understandings in tea shop of all places. Well I am home, and now am looking forward to creating my own new reality that has connections and ties to a world that I have occasionally left behind with no attachments…

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Homeward Bound

A letter from the plane… Well, ok, I am not quite on a plane yet, though I think I can smell the stale air conditioning system on a large 767 commercial liner. Yes, so, as you all now know, I am less than forty-eight hours from being in the air headed west back to the United States. This is not my first, or second trip home, but for some reason (well I know the reason) I am more tired than usual. This trip or deployment was not what I had expected, there was no war for me to fight, there were no pockets of resistance waiting for the direct application of force that I can apply, nor were there opportunities for me to use soft power or alternative measures to affect the strategic situation. I was working with the 800lbs Gorilla, the direct action arm of the Ministry of the Interior. Though targets are available, they are not worth the effort and the ones that are, are too smart to be found. So, over the course of the last six months the number of targets that we have had has dramatically dropped.

Well, also as you know and have seen by now the news. Iraq has completed their elections and are patiently waiting for the results. Right now the challenger Allawi is looking good and will potentially push this fledgling nation in the right direction, one of reconciliation as well as firm control of those that would see another form of government in its place. Numerous dinners with Generals and Political leaders in the last month has sapped me of everything, from their petty squabbling to politics and to the hours of socializing that has to happen to accomplish anything. It is another thing to find that the only good work we do, providing the ground truth, never leaves the ground. That the J-2 has almost no visibility to anything that the teams write. That those who interact with the Division Commanders and the Mayors and Governors are not being heard at the highest level shows a complete breakdown in the use of Special Forces. To see the looks on the faces of the analyst when I am able to tell them about conversations with the person that they are trying to report on would amaze you. Well as I remember from the Course it is one of my primary jobs, reporting on ground truth.

Well the night sky has locked the dust into the air blurring every light and structure against the skyline. As much as I want to go back to the States, I can’t help but to think that I will miss this place. As the heat of the Baghdad day dissipates, I can’t imagine living in a country that leaves your clothes dripping wet by the end of the day. And it is only March, the summer has yet to set in. I am not sure why I will miss this place, it has not provided me with any amount of joy, nor is it a monument to any success. It barely has hope and before its hope is able to mature it will be ground out by a culture and society that would rather live in squalor than rise above the desert that surrounds them. I am saddened and intrigued. I have helped bring this country down and have spent time helping the country reclaim its place in the international community, and have found the prior much more forgiving to my consciousness. The counter-intuitive nature of that statement is what I will take home with me, that the destruction of a nation, tribe or people was significantly more forgiving on my psyche and conscious than the efforts of reform and care given the people struggling to find a foot hold in the new Iraq.

The bombs went off this morning around town and the hospitals were filled again today as violence erupts and then dissipates. The day returns to normal. The attacks have become so sporadic and sparse and considerably less dangerous that the people are able to ignore them and go about their business. The insurgents are failing. They exist and plan, and occasionally carry out attacks but their very existence is untenable in a country that is not afraid to take control and punish.

Alright well enough work talk, enough Iraq talk, as of now I will be back here at the end of summer and trust me I am petitioning everyone (congressmen, senators, heads of state) to get me to be able to go somewhere else. If the gods shine down upon me, my team will be sent to Afghanistan. If I am successful without a god then I will be able to go to Africa or Central Asia, again, anything but here. It turns out that I have not missed all of the snow of Colorado and will be able to snow board at least a couple of times before all the snow is gone. I really cannot think of anything else that is new. I am reading constantly and have worked my way through six essays on the Schlieffen Plan. I never thought that I would know more about the tactics of the Germans General Staff than I would cooking, but as it turns out my egg omelet has nothing now on the High Command.

Ok, well, I am smelling home cooked food, seeing my breath in the air, and drinking green beer, or at least that is what I am hoping for in a couple of days.

Well, i apologize for the tone of this letter, it is way to… something… oposite of uplifting. Well, i will let CNN do the uplifting for the time being and will think about Green Beer and spoiling my friends children and taking strange vacations to different lands…..

Ok thats all for now

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10 November 2009 (An Enemy I Can See)

I am not sure where to begin, I spend my days at a desk staring at three different computers screen, each with images that are hard to describe and even harder to decipher. Reports come in a never ending supply of emails, which must be read categorized and forwarded to the appropriate handler. Eventually they will end up back on my desk propagated into various programs that map out our influence across the country in little dots and circles on a national map. I am without a job and doing my best to help where I can. Even in what should be the most adaptive and innovative unit in the army, basic mistakes still occur and are not correctable because I have found incompetence has no bounds. In the office work space I have found an enemy that I cannot convert, kill, or use, that enemy is the stubbornness of ignorance, and the stubbornness of fear. Ignorance of what the appropriate solution looks like, and fear that he will be made to look foolish in front of those whose attention he desires. I have made little headway in my attempts to fix small problems in our well oiled machine. I take brakes to the balcony of the palace and look up at the constellation of Orion and am reminded that I will be moved from the palace in a month. I spend the rest of my hours at work reading everything and anything on the current situation across the country. At every level of classification, I am deep in study, taking notes and asking question of the subject matter experts that sit in my military intelligence detachment. They are specialist and sergeants that all have a degree and spend their entire day looking at very specific groups. They can talk for hours on personalities and locations. Their capability is truly astounding; off the top of their head they can map out networks and cells by organization and location. I have made one trip outside the wire, uneventful and boring. In the back of an MRAP (a large fox tan vehicle designed to survive almost any type of IED,) you can see nothing of the streets you are traveling; I miss my 1114 (up armored humvee.) The driver and the guy riding shotgun (TC,) tell me it looks no different now than three years ago. The road to the Green Zone is a typical city thoroughfare. I wish there was more that I could say that I have seen or done, but as for now, the office seems to be my home.

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20 February 2010 (Leadership and Politics)

  The days are already above eighty degrees and the rainy season is coming to a majestic end as it dumps more rain than the city has seen in the last six months, or can handle. The rain turns everything to mud; even the streets have enough dirt and dust on them to become a slick brown river. And yes, the Bob Dylan song echoes in my head as electoral politics has dominated every aspect of the nation’s leaders. Their security decisions, internal social programs, and external negotiations are all designed to promote or hinder a specific notable on the list of candidates. The obviousness of these politically motivated decisions is incredible. We have always asked for a transparency in the United States of our own politicians, only to see them clouded with clever announcements, and sharp diplomatic speak, hiding intentions that would be unpalatable to the populous at large. Here it is not the case, they do not care how it is perceived, they know that their actions will have impact, no matter how obvious it is. Their tactics will achieve the desired results with little affect on their position.

 The war is over, I will say this again, the war is over. By no means am I saying that violence does not exist in the country, it does. And in fact, they are unable to secure their own border, nor can they move their army and support it logistically. Yes, we have done our job, they are trained and some of their units are excellent and comparable to American capabilities at the tactical level. This does nothing to help you understand at the utter incompetence from which their higher-level systems and processes function. Nor does it allow you to digest the level of influence that Iran has on this upcoming election, nor the ease upon which Iran filters in both lethal and non-lethal aid into this country.

 More shocking than anything that I have just written is the intense ability of the senior leaders to only see half of the picture. They miss that fact that the television interviews of the ERB are just as politically motivated as the arrest warrant for a prominent Sunni leader who is a candidate. They will not allow me to move and detain the warranted Sunni leader because of its political impact, yet will allow me to help the ERB show off skills that it does not have, with equipment that they cannot use. The leadership cannot seem to grasp that those interviews and demonstrations are just as important politically as the detention of the candidate. Without getting into details, the level of frustration has risen well past the point of concern, and has slipped down the other side to pure compliance. “I do what I am told,” this statement is the hallmark of those that have given up any responsibility for the actions that they take. (Yes this is how I feel, but do not confuse this with the overall principles from which my team and I operate, to do no unnecessary harm is a line of conviction that will keep me ethically in check.) (I will steal a quote “ I have a limited morality, but my ethics are strong.”)

 Another key aspect of this whole process, now that I have made mention of certain blindness that exists that the lower levels, I will now look towards our operational commanders. They have been told that the Army is leaving and the Americans are withdrawing, turn over your responsibilities to the host nation. Yet, every chance they get they fight for their jobs. They are unable to let go, they cannot accept that their mission is to leave, and every day they go out of their way to ‘pressure the system,’ to create targets, and to push agendas that are American designed and based. It is incredible to me that a full bird colonel will call down to me and ask for the interrogation reports of a low-end thug. Alternatively, that the same commander will call down to me and ask me why I could not execute a specific target. They will not let go. As the operational tempo has slowed down to a halt, the senior American leaders have found every work around possible to speed up the Iraqi system to ensure that their specific units have targets and operations. There are not enough serious bad guys in the country for the level of forces that are trying to operate and each leader exerts as much pressure as he can to get his units to be actively engaged in combined offensive operations. You would think that they would be ok with an operation tempo that shows that we are unnecessary, or be more willing to accept unilateral Iraqi operations. However, this is just not the case.

 I have a trouble remembering what I wrote last time I sat down to send an update. So I am not sure if I have followed my normal style or content, though I feel that this rant might give some of you who are curious an insight to the situation here.  As for me, I am fine, I have no complaints, and the scotch still burns when I sip it from a plastic cut-off water bottle. My team is getting short tempered as our time here comes to an end. We are less than thirty days from returning to the snows of Colorado, and it cannot come soon enough. This will be the first time that I am actually excited about returning home. I remember last time dreading to come home, and begging to be allowed to stay. In the end home is where I needed to go and the jobs they offered me where not worth sticking around for. Now the jobs that I want are either in Afghanistan or in Africa. Tom, I have taken your statements to heart and am enjoying to the best of my ability the job I have and will relax to see what comes down the line next for my team and me. I am scheduled to be on this team for the next two and half years, plenty of time for me to find the trouble that I need. On a more humorous note, 97% selection rate to Major means in another two years, I should be promoted.

 I am trying to think of other humorous events or moments to share, and am coming up dry. I spend a few hours each week with General No’man, the ERB commander. This is a man that has fought in every war Iraq has had in the last thirty years. Some of you (and I can guess who) are instantly thinking holy shit. And you would be correct; he was a rifle platoon leader in 1982, a Major in 1991 and a Colonel in 2003. He has slung bullets at Iranians, Kurds, Shia revolutionaries (he is Shia himself,) and Americans (twice.) He is alive to tell about these stories, and of course, you must take them with a grain of salt and wash it down with the sand of the desert to get an accurate account of his actions. He has lost more than a handful of men to the onslaught of the American War machine, and was able to survive. He went into hiding during the rise of the sectarian wars and then joined up with Hilla SWAT and USSF. Thus the start of his current illustrious career as a counter terrorist commando extraordinaire. Iraqi officer and politicos from around the country know him only as ‘The Bear.’ So, for the humor part; he is pissed that I cannot go with him to pick up the Sunni Politician. Tonight as the rain was falling hard, I went to see him to ask why he had a company on standby. When I entered his office, his intelligence officer and his operations officer were discussing a deployment. I asked him where he was going, with a huge smile he looked at me and said “I go to attack the IZ (the IZ is the green zone and the seat of power,) will you come with me!” True to my form, I said, “Good for you, and go with god, and tomorrow I will come and take pictures with you in the Prime Minister’s Office.” His response was “bull shit, why would I want to take pictures with the man that wouldn’t help me!”

 Anyways, he was kidding, or so I think, please don’t share this last bit of information, for I am sure that it constitutes treason on some level.  On a more personal note, ****, an old girlfriend from school is still hanging around in Baghdad, and I spend one night a week with her, watching movies and giving her shit. Those of you who remember this relationship can only guess at the mountain that I am trying to land my jet on. I am sure that I will have to bail out sooner rather than later only to feel all of her wrath at once, thank god for planes to Colorado.  Also, for those on this distro that did not know, MAJ ***** ***** is now LTC ***** ****** and my dream of GEN ****** is another rank closer. When I call his office I always ask for General ******, sometimes they find this funny other times some poor Air Force Tech Sergeant is running around trying to figure out who the hell is General ******. 

 I am thinking I will be in DC in the end of April, and Florida in May, so please let me know if you will be around, I will try and link up with those that are around.

 PS attached is a picture of my Team Sergeant and I, rare cause we are in uniform and clean cut… ***** he still makes fun of you sometimes, i think i am going to head your way in two years, also i owe you some stuff…

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