"Hey there, pops. How are things? Still chill'n on vacation? Hope so. You could use it."
Chris said when he arrived that he has it pretty good where he's stationed this time. He's in a real building, with a real bed, and there's a porcelain toilet. He's got decent recreation facilities. He has easy access to e-mail, which lets him stay in touch with his wife, Jennifer, in San Diego. It also lets his mom, Cyndy, his sister, Stephanie, and me keep him updated on some of the details of our lives, and learn some of the details of his.
"I just had the longest duty. I had a foreign national blow himself and one other guy to smithereens. They were looking for unexploded ordinance on one of our ranges. Well, they found some."
There are some e-mails from Chris I don't entirely share with Cyndy and Steph. This was one of them, at least at first. It's by mutual agreement: there are certain details about what Chris does that they'd just as soon not know about right now.
And if you think you might feel the same way, stop reading right now.
"One was actually in four pieces and the other I had to transport. Dude had five open fractures, including a gap in his face. His lower legs were hamburger and his femoral artery was exposed on his left leg. Needless to say, I had a long flight. My crewman and I had to do CPR for like 15 minutes before we landed …
Atta boy. Shake it off. One thing I probably overdid as Chris grew up was telling him to "deal with it" or "shake it off" or "rub some dirt on it" whenever he got hit hard by something. He's clearly taking the concept to a higher level - I was never talking about treating people with gaps in their faces.
"Then some guy tried to kill himself by OD-ing on his meds. Did it like two hours after I get back from dealing with hamburger guy … I am off to bed after this e-mail."
I ran this column past Chris before I put it in the paper. He hadn't sent me the e-mail to get it published, and besides, it's not like that every day. There are days of routine transfers, paperwork and boredom, too. He's proud of what he does, but he doesn't boast. I had to tell him why I wanted to run it.
I told him that, since this whole thing began, I've never heard anyone say they didn't support the troops. Some offer prayers, some send packages, some give hugs to people like Jennifer. And some support the troops by trying to bring them home.
There's never been a question about whether we should support the troops, but there's fierce debate over how we should do it. In fact, that debate accounts for most of what we hear about Iraq.
That's why I asked Chris to let me publish this. There are 130,000 stories like his over there, and people need to hear some of them. If nothing else, they allow us to occasionally take our minds off the caterwauling over how we support the troops, and focus briefly again on why.
So he's OK with it. He'll be pretty self-conscious about being in the paper, but he can deal with it. Take one for the team. Probably won't even rub dirt on it.