May 2007


31 May 2007 11:20 pm

The soldiers of the 875th Engineers have done great work in Iraq, clearing roads of IEDs and other explosives for the past six months. They suffered their first loss on May 26th with the death of Spc. Erich Smallwood. Another soldier, SPC Marco Robledo, was also grievously wounded in the same incident. My son is a member of the 875th band of brothers and wrote me an email of reassurance….

Amy Schlesing, an Arkansas native is doing a great job as a reporter/embed with the 875th . Reading this account brought tears to my eyes.

The last four days have been a hazy blur.

And, they’ve been gravely familiar.

This is the aftermath of loss, when minds grasp for answers and hearts break. And through it all, there is a lot of waiting.

There is something terribly bothersome about knowing that someone has died before his family knows. For a day, we all waited for soldiers to walk up the path to Spc. Erich Smallwood’s sister’s house, knock on the door and tell her that he was gone.

Phones were turned off, Internet access locked down, but word still somehow spread back to the States.

Then we waited for the Department of Defense to tell the world about Smallwood’s death so we could tell his story.

As embedded journalists, we are bound by rules and our own ethics to delay the story of a soldier’s death until his family has been properly notified.

In those three days, we went on with our work, listening to the stories of his best friends and documenting memories of a man they’ll never see again.

And we watched the progression of grief all around us.

It’s not easy to watch — and not easy to be part of it. These are intimate moments for a platoon and a company and we are outsiders. But these men let us into their circle of grief, they opened their hearts and let their emotions flow without fear.

For that I am grateful.

It allowed me to better tell the story of Erich Smallwood and explain something that people at home will never fully understand — how close a platoon of soldiers becomes in war.

I first realized something bad had happened Saturday night during my nightly ritual — sitting outside sending e-mails home on our satellite modem and swatting at the sand flies that seem to think I’m a buffet.

Something was up. It showed in the way the soldiers acted. As Staton put it, “It was obvious.”

He and I have seen this sort of agitation before and it’s never good.

It was deep into evening, about 10 p.m., a time when camp falls into a relative lull. But that night, clutches of soldiers busily walked about, most of them falling silent as they came near. There was whispering and gatherings outside one of the company headquarters.

The air was filled with mumblings of panic and worry, the precursor to grief.

The clincher was the soldier who walked through the doors of Charlie Company as I was nervously pacing the hallways at 1:30 a.m., wondering what was happening and how bad it was.

He quickly mopped his wet cheeks, trying to clear them of tears. I could hear the sniffling as he rushed into a nearby room.

Oh no.

Read on.

UPDATE:

The family that helped to raise Spc. Smallwood share their memories of him.

30 May 2007 11:53 pm

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Erich Smallwood, 23, was a member of Bravo Company of the 87th Troop Command’s 875th Engineer Battalion. Smallwood was serving with the battalion’s Alpha Company, First Platoon..

TRUMANN — Those who knew Spc. Erich Smallwood said the Trumann native was an All-American kid from small town America.

On a trip through Trumann on Tuesday, the outpouring of emotions could be seen through tributes and flags flying at half-staff to honor their native son, who served in the 875th for nearly four years.

Smallwood, 23, who died Saturday in Balad, Iraq, of wounds suffered when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle, was remembered fondly Tuesday by friends and family.

Trumann High School Principal Jim Montgomery said Smallwood, who played running back on the school’s football team and wore No. 20, was a special young man.

“He was a hard worker. He kidded around a lot and always had a smile on his face.”

Montgomery, who was an assistant coach on the 2001 team when Smallwood played, said the player was much like many of the young men on the team and the school.

Spc. Erich Smallwood and his brother enlisted in the Arkansas National Guard, not to see the world, but according to his brother-in-law, to defend our country so his family and country don’t have to go through what the people in Iraq have.

Family responds to support

Jon Redman of Jonesboro, who is Smallwood’s brother-in-law, said his family member made an impression on everyone he met.

“He was the funniest person I have ever met. He loved playing video games and going to the river. As a matter of fact, he probably would have went to the river on Memorial Day if he were home.”

Redman noted Smallwood loved his family, his sister and his brother, J.T., who is currently in Iraq.

“He had a tough life, but he pulled through. He, his brother and his sister are brave, and they pulled through to make a life for themselves.”

Redman said his brother-in-law also believed in the cause that he fought and ultimately died for.

“He believed in the war effort, and he was willing to fight. On one of his trips back, he said he was willing to fight because he did not want my wife or her daughter to go through what the Iraqi people went through.”

Redman noted the outpouring of comments from area residents in the past few days have been supportive.

“The people in Trumann and our neighbors have been overwhelming. No matter what a person may think of the war effort, the people here support the troops.”

Montgomery said residents in the Poinsett County community, which has roughly 10 people currently serving in either Iraq or Afghanistan, constantly think about those serving.

“We talk about them all of the time. At the school, I will ask their children about them, how they are doing. Right now, one of our hometown people is on leave. So, we think about them, and we pray for them,” Montgomery said.

Amy Schlesing writes, The fatigue of war is held deep in the gut

May God comfort Spc. Smallwood’s family and lift up his fellow troops.

29 May 2007 07:41 am

Amy Schlesing in her Notes from a War blog writes about the “peaceful life” in the country where the 875th operate.

It’s kind of surreal, standing out on this highway amid the farms and the roadside shacks where people sell soft drinks and black market fuel.

At one house, a woman fully cloaked in layers of dress with a black robe and headscarf goes about her house work, pounding dirt out of rugs hanging over the mud wall of her house.

Children play with goats in a nearby field as a man tends to his flock of sheep.

The houses are simple, made out of mud bricks and cinderblock. Some have privacy fences made of dried palm fronds. Others have mud walls. Small ponds flank the roadway, lined with reeds and date palm trees.

In the distance is a date farm with a large house with columns and balconies. Egrets and cranes fly from one pond to the next, looking for food. Sandpipers peck the ground.

Trucks roll down the highway hauling sheep, water containers, onions.

Life goes on here alongside a road routinely blown up by the bombs of insurgents. It makes for an interesting clash between a deadly road and, at first glance, seemingly peaceful life in the country.

It’s not all peaceful. Some houses are pocked with bullet holes. Soldiers have searched these homes, looking for bombers and bomb materials. They’ve found some, too.

There’s more from this terrific reporter.

Half a year into their deployment, the 875th Engineers have suffered their first loss.

The Department of Defense announced late yesterday that Specialist Erich Smallwood of Trumann died on Saturday near Balad, Iraq. The 23-year-old suffered wounds when an explosive device detonated near his vehicle.

He was assigned to the 875th Engineer Battalion of the Arkansas National Guard in Marked Tree.

This has hit them hard. Pray for the family and friends of Erich Smallwood and pray for the 875th.

UPDATE:
There’s more at Sapper Central.

27 May 2007 04:06 pm

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On the morning of Memorial Day, May 30th, 1962, I was sleeping in because school was over and I had completed the sixth grade. My mother came into the room and whispered my name. I ignored her, thinking, “she’s forgotten school is out. I can sleep in.”

When my Dad came in the room, and said, “Laura Lee.” I noticed his voice cracking. I sat up in bed, rubbing my eyes, wondering what was wrong. I opened my eyes and saw Daddy’s face. His eyes were red and he was crying.

“We lost Cookie this morning.” Daddy said.

Cookie was our beautiful, black cocker spaniel and the best dog that ever lived. My parents got her right after they married, so Cookie was, from the beginning, part of the trinity in my life: Father, Mother and Cookie.

When we were tasked to write essays or reports at school I invariably wrote about Cookie.

Cookie was very affectionate and gentle with all of us. She tolerated my youngest brother when he was little. He had a habit of sucking his thumb and holding his ear. I wasn’t a good influence in getting him to quit because I thought it was so cute. When anyone was sitting next to him instead of holding his own ear, he would hold theirs. So, Cookie also tolerated Guy’s ear holding habit.

She also welcomed the new pets that came along, the cats, the goat, the chickens, and our horse, Scout. Scout didn’t like dogs because a neighbors’ dogs had once chased him in the back pasture, running him up against the barbed wire fence.

One day, when Scout had the run of our yard he backed Cookie up against the house.

Cookie had a habit of making her rounds through the neighborhood early in the morning. On Memorial Day, 1962, our newspaper boy knocked on the door, waking up my parents to tell them that he had found Cookie lying in the middle of the street, right in front of our house.

She hadn’t been hit by a car, so Daddy surmised that she had had a heart attack. She was sixteen years old.

The morning was full of tears. All of us were heartbroken. Daddy went out to the backyard and dug a grave on the mound, a high place in the yard. We had buried one of our beloved cats, Frisky, there. He chose the spot right in the middle of the mound. My little sister went into the back pasture and cut a tiny cedar tree to place at the foot of the grave. Daddy carved Cookie’s name into a tree branch and fashioned a cross, placing the Tiger Lillies that Cookie loved in the intersection of the two branches.

When we laid Cookie to rest Daddy said a prayer and spoke of the blessing that Cookie had added to our lives. I remember hearing the term, “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away,” for the first time. On one side of the house the tiger lillies bloomed. That was Cookie’s favorite sleeping spot. The tiger lillies are still blooming today as if in remembrance of the little black dog that found comfort beside them.

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The lonely Tiger Lillies still bloom.

That was the first Memorial Day that hurt. Back then, Memorial Day was an actual fixed day in the calendar. There were no three day weekends. I was supposed to go to a Sixth Grade party at my friend, Paulette’s house. I could stay only a few minutes.

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The little cedar tree, planted by my sister, now towers over the mound. We’ve always called it The Cookie Tree. The ice storm of 2000 damaged it considerably, but it still stands as an enduring memorial to the little dog we loved.

Our family had taken us to the Oak Cemetery on Memorial Days before, but this was a time in between wars; the Vietnam War hadn’t yet caught hold in the American psyche.

We had been taken to visit the graves of our great grandparents on earlier Memorial Days and on that Memorial Day, 1962, we were planning to visit Oak Cemetary, where my grandfather, Guy Smith Webster had been buried just a year before. That was my first big heartbreak, he was the grandfather I followed around like a puppydog.

We didn’t make it that year. After burying Cookie that morning the day was pretty much spent in tears. Tommy Across the Street was watching us gather around the grave and told his mother that he thought our grandmother must have died.

In future years I was to learn the true meaning of Memorial Day. Back then I thought Memorial Day honored any and all dead and on every subsequent Memorial Day our family always thought of Cookie.

Five years later, when the Vietnam War was raging, a close friend of our family, Butch Cecil, was killed in action on July 14th, 1967 in the Quang Tri Province.

Butch was laid to rest in the oldest National Cemetery in the country, The U.S. National Cemetery in Fort Smith, Arkansas.

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My Uncle Max was always a towering figure in my life. He was a great athlete who played with my Dad on their Fast Pitch Softball teams. He was the pitcher who many times hurled no-hitters and helped take their team to four straight state championships. He was later nominated for the Fast Pitch Softball Hall of Fame.

Uncle Max entertained us when we were kids by playing the violin, making us laugh with his funny jokes and doing smoke tricks with his cigarettes. I didn’t know when I was young that he had also served in the Pacific Theater in World War ll as a tail gunner. One day when I was a teenager Uncle Max quietly brought out his World War ll photo album.

In future years the veterans of wars in our family would be laid to rest in the National Cemetery. My precious Uncle Max, my father-in-law, C.C, both World War ll vets, and my husband’s grandfather, Riley Nolan Donoho, who served in World War l.

I was blessed to know my uncles and father-in-law; they were steadfast men who left home to go to war and, thankfully, came home safely. They lived through the wars, had families and helped them to grow up.

Butch Cecil and a million other combat veterans, lost in our nations wars, gave their all. Those in the military today continue to give their lives for our country in the War on Terror. I learned this weekend that one 875th Engineers’ soldier was killed and another wounded this past Saturday in Iraq.

In this age of three-day weekends, Memorial Day seems to have lost its meaning. Many Americans don’t find it convenient nowadays to find time to pause to honor our American War dead. It’s just not in the three-day weekend schedule. There are the picnics, the traveling, the cookouts and all the rest.

Changing the date merely to create three-day weekends has undermined the very meaning of the day. No doubt, this has contributed greatly to the general public’s nonchalant observance of Memorial Day.” — VFW 2002 Memorial Day address

The news media brings us articles on how to keep sunburn at bay, barbecuing greener and The Indianapolis 500.

Little of the coverage focuses on the sacrifice of the combat veterans who served our country. If it’s covered at all, it’s to present the body count, not the heroic acts and progress made in our war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It’s just another day to many Americans, just as it was to me when I was young. I only knew it as the sad day that my dog, Cookie died. Most Americans celebrate the Memorial Day weekend as just another day off work.

It’s so much more. Memorial Day fills me with gratitude for the many fine Americans who have defended our country by giving their all. It makes me sad for all of the families who’ve lost their precious loved ones. It’s bittersweet because, while many of us have family members doing their duty in harms way, a multitude of Americans aren’t even aware that the war is ongoing, and our troops could use the support of all of us. On Memorial Day this year, none of us should sleep in, it’s not just another day to play, it’s a day to honor the best and bravest of all Americans.

Sisu understands the reason why we, as Americans, owe our every sunrise to those who made it possible.

Lorie Byrd at Wizbang has a Memorial Day Roundup.

UPDATE:

Final Roll Call

Blackfive has a Memorial Day Thank You from those left behind.

When I was a little girl, I loved to hear Kate Smith singing, God Bless America. I still love to hear her sing it.

“This year, with the war clouds of Europe so lately threatening the peace of the entire world, I felt I wanted to do something special - something that would not only be a memorial to our soldiers - but would also emphasize just how much America means to each and every one of us … The song is ‘God Bless America’; the composer, Mr. Irving Berlin. When I first tried it over, I felt, here is a song that will be timeless - it will never die - others will thrill to its beauty long after we are gone. In my humble estimation, this is the greatest song Irving Berlin has ever composed … As I stand before the microphone and sing it with all my heart, I’ll be thinking of our veterans and I’ll be praying with every breath I draw that we shall never have another war…” — KS introducing “God Bless America” on her radio show, Armistice Day, November 11, 1938


Cox & Forkum commemorates Memorial Day here.

On this Day of Memory, we mourn brave citizens who laid their lives down for our freedom. They lived and died as Americans. May we always honor them. May we always embrace them. And may we always be faithful to who they were and what they fought for.

President Bush today at Arlington Cemetery.

Take time to remember the three members of the Weapons Intelligence Flight lost during their Iraq deployment.

25 May 2007 11:19 pm

There’s a lot of odd news today. Some of it suggests that the American people and creatures of the wild are at odds. Some of it is clearly just nuts.

Evidently some southern, redneck ticks Chuck Schumer tried to ban from New York State took some revenge on him.

A wild hog was taken down in the woods of Alabama.

Speaking of hogs, Rosie O’Donnell couldn’t take it when Elizabeth Hasselbeck finally talked back to her.

Sometimes you get the bear but sometimes the bear gets you.

This woman bit off more than she could chew.

Ahmadinejad said today that the Jews in Israel are acting beastly.

This guy thinks the military gets too much respect?

I said the news was odd.

It’s also Friday night and time to put away all the beastliness of the world and smile at those we love.

24 May 2007 09:40 pm


Mingle2 - Free Online Dating

I wouldn’t say I am addicted to coffee. I just like coffee an awful lot. This morning I got up earlier than usual to get to school to prepare for the play. I went downstairs, flipped on the coffeemaker and trudged back upstairs to sit for a while, check the news and wake up.

After a bit I went down for the coffee and the coffeemaker had stopped with just about an inch of coffee in the pot. The switch had turned off. I think my cat, Sabby did it. He’s mad because I’ve been so busy lately that he hasn’t received his requisite attention. He does stuff like that. I think Sabby is really short for sabotage, not Sebastian. I turned the pot back on and went back upstairs.

I returned after a while and the coffee was ready. It wouldn’t have been a pleasant morning if I hadn’t had a few cups of caffeinated courage.

24 May 2007 11:08 am

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The play, Demeter and Persephone is over. The fourth grade students did an awesome job this morning. The photos posted here were part of the scenery that I spent all weekend painting.

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The student who was to play Zeus was home sick in bed but the boy who took his place did a great job. He was to play Charon but had to quickly switch over to Zeus. I read the lines of Charon from backstage using my deep, creepy voice.

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This Greek Corinthian order temple was hanging on the back of the stage. When the ground shook (beating tamborines) as Hades emerged to kidnap Persephone, the temple fell halfway down the wall. A mistake but perfectly timed.

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After the play was over and all the photos were taken I went to get the kids Irish Maid Donuts. Some of the kids still had their costumes on when I returned. I’m sure they will savor their moment in the sun for quite some time. It was a great experience for me to watch them stand up, remember their lines (for the most part) and act.

23 May 2007 07:46 am

I’ll have to try Mesopotamia Mix. Lettuce can be so boring.

Amy Schlesing of the Arkansas Democrat Gazette is embedded for a few months with the 875th Engineers and writes on her blog about life at Camp Striker.

The crunch of soldiers trudging along the gravel paths of camp surround me as I sit here on my little folding chair outside my room.

The day is windy and cloud-covered, giving a break from the harsh sunshine but not from the heat. The wind is both a blessing and a curse, its hot blasts carry clouds of dirt but still help counter the sun’s effects.

This is the living area of Camp Stryker, acres of white metal trailers in neat rows surrounded by thick gravel and interspersed with the occasional bathroom and shower facility. Bathrooms and showers are communal, modesty is something you just have to get over.

Many soldiers have small grills, which glow with charcoal at dusk. Soldiers gather around the grill and laugh, play cards and listen to music.

The smell wafts through camp carrying memories of home.

Late in the evening another scent moves through camp — burning trash.

Many of these soldiers are what I consider kids. Gosh, wasn’t I 19 just yesterday? Apparently not.

I live among the 10th Mountain Division, an active duty unit that has had elements deployed continuously to Afghanistan or Iraq since 2002. Active duty units typically have a younger average age than National Guard units. It’s just the nature of the business.

Some of these soldiers weren’t even driving yet when this war kicked off. The boys who live next door to me — I call all male soldiers boys, even the older ones — love video games and rap music. They yell at the video screen in their room into the wee hours of the night and wake up with thumping music.

It’s all about morale, what makes things a little more like home. It’s amazing to see these boys, these men, on patrol outside the wire. They seem so much older. They’re so focused and confident. But in the evenings, as they wind down, they become the boys they were before their boots hit this ground.

Last night, a girl dropped by to visit one of them, and the two flirted by tossing rocks at one another. The flirting quickly escalated when the soldier found a lizard and chased the screaming girl with it. She’s a 10th Mountain soldier, too.

Do you remember those days?

There’s lots more….

Welcome Sisu readers!

22 May 2007 12:25 am

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Poster of Hades adapted from an illustration in D’Aulaires Book of Greek Myths

I created this poster of Hades with his bride, Persephone as part of a prop for the play, Demeter and Persephone that I am directing for a fourth grade class at one of the two schools where I teach art. We were studying Greek architecture about a month ago when I mentioned to the students that I had a really cool play that I had produced when I was teaching fifth grade in Fairfax County, VA.

The students clamored for me to let them read it, then they insisted on doing the play. Since I only have the students for one forty minute class a week I thought it would be quite a challenge but I absolutely love drama and doing a play is a blast.

The students fourth grade teacher tells me she has never seen them so engaged in a school project before. They are checking Greek Mythology books out of the school library and getting together on their own to practice their lines.

The kids have memorized their lines and learned some drama lingo to boot. They know that on the stage they must “cheat”, they should never “step on each other’s lines, they need to play to the lady in row Z and if they forget their lines say whatever they can think.

I am working on finishing up the scenery in the next two days because the play is this coming Thursday.

It’s funny that the word Cerberus has been in the news lately. In Greek mythology, Cerberus is a monstrous three headed dog that guards the gates of Hades. In our modern day culture the private equity firm, Cerberus just bought out the Chrysler Group from Daimler.

21 May 2007 11:53 am

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I learned about the archaic smile when taking art history in college.

The Archaic smile was used by Greek Archaic sculptors, especially in the second quarter of the 6th century BC, possibly to suggest that their subject was alive. The smile is flat and quite unnatural looking, although it could be seen as a movement towards naturalism, if such a move is sought. One of the most famous examples of the Archaic Smile is the Kroisos Kouros.

The dying warrior from the west pediment of the Temple of Aphaia, Aegina, Greece is an interesting context as the warrior is near death.

In the Archaic Period of Ancient Greece (roughly 600 BCE to 400 BCE), the art that proliferated contained images of people who had the archaic smile. It is a smile which invokes a feeling of happiness via ignorance in modern interpreters. It has been theorized that in this period, artists felt it either represents that they were blessed by the gods in their actions, thus the smile, or that it is similar to fake smiles in modern photos.

The significance of the convention is not known, although it is often assumed that for the Greeks this kind of smile reflected a state of ideal health and well-being. It has also been suggested that it is simply the result of a technical difficulty in fitting the curved shape of the mouth to the somewhat blocklike head typical of Archaic sculpture.

The term always amused me and I thought of it when I had difficulty in my sculpture class with the mouth of a sculpture. I noticed a photo recently that reminded me of that archaic smile.

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Is the smile just fake or does Hillary believe she is blessed by the gods?

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