- Coming home to my family and seeing my mom Terry Tate Office Linebacker six people trying to get to me.
- Dropping four 500 lb bombs on AQI in one day. Boom.
- Going to the UW-Michigan game with Clay and Jeff on Veteran's Day, watching them win, and then celebrating the entire night at Wando's.
- Attending my first Packers game with the Schmitts, making my infamous 4th quarter rally, and watching them come from behind against the Chargers.
- Listening to Clay blabber on about how much he loved me and dollar beers after getting all hopped up on morphine following his getting shot.
- Getting a combat meritorious promotion to Corporal while in Iraq.
- Watching "Unforgivable" for the first time on youtube. (don't watch it if you don't have a very loose sense of humor, or a filthy mouth)
- Watching my R.O, LCpl Colbert run across a road with machine gun rounds impacting around his feet...with a smile on his face because he was about to call in air support for the first time, only to have someone take the radio handset from him and do it themself.
- Making the much anticipated return to the South Bay, complete with Sunday Fundays, dollar beers, jet fuel margaritas, Union, Rockham, and everything in between.
Monday, December 31, 2007
I guess New Year's Day would be an obvious choice. I was lucky enough a year ago to bring in the New Year with my immediate and extended family, as well as some very close friends. We all knew I was weeks away from being sent to Iraq, but the evening reflected no worries or fears. It was pure Wood family fun.
2007 will be a year that I cannot possibly forget. I obviously spent the majority of it in Iraq. Was that a horrible thing? Depends on how I look at it. War is an awful endeavor that I wish had never entered mankind's mind. However, you have to be pretty naive to think that evil can be confronted without it. I am fortunate and proud I have the mental and physical capacity to fight for my country and things that I believe in. I am blessed that I have had the chance to write history, and I know that my battalion helped write a positive chapter for the Iraqis that lived in our area of operations.
The seven months that I spend in Iraq was a learning experience that can't possibly be replicated in universities or textbooks. It was a lesson in psychology, in culture, a first hand look at the best and worst qualities that can be found in society. Iraq aged me by decades while simultaneously revealing my youth and insignificance to the grand 'scheme'.
The second half of 2007 did nothing but justify everything that I fought for in the first half. Coming home and seeing my family waiting for me at Victory Field was a tidal wave of relief, knowing that, at least for a while, my mom could sleep well at night. The outpouring of support that I received from people all over the country, people I had never met and most likely will never meet, overwhelmed me and reminded me why I serve.
And what of all those Badger football games I got to attend? I'd be lying if I said the anticipation of this season didn't motivate me on the occasional patrol through the Zaidon. Sure they nearly gave me a heart attack on numerous occasions, but being able to watch them in person FIVE times was more than I had hoped for. Being on the sidelines for the Michigan game, in uniform with two other men I had served with was a major highlight. Then there is Brett Favre and the Packers welcoming me home with an amazing year, I did NOT see that one coming.
I'd be crazy not to mention the Rockham Palace Beer Pong Championships. So maybe I made an early exit in the brackets, give me a break, I was two weeks removed from Iraq. And then there was the 7th Annual Thanksgiving Showdown. So maybe I lost in that too, but, true to the class of '97 motto, "win or lose, we still booze".
All in all, 2007 was a crazy year. It took me around the world, around the country, and through the full spectrum of experience and emotion. So here's a toast to what lies behind us and what lay before us.
Sunday, December 30, 2007
My dad and I are ready to board our flight to Tampa, FL to watch the Badgers play Tennessee in the Outback Bowl. If you're gonna be around, give us a holler, I'm sure you'll be able to find us in either Ybor City or Channelside.
I'll be walking in the parade on the night of the 31st and I'm getting introduced on the field with a number of other veterans around halftime, so keep your eyes out for the tallest Marine on the field.
Friday, December 28, 2007
So, since I was the only one up at this point, I started making some eggs, mixing up some mean bloody's and brewing a couple cups of Irish coffee. After we ate a light breakfast, most of it the liquid variety, Dave and I convinced everyone to take a dip. Dave, Jeremy, Katie, Natalie and I got in the hot tub, snow falling on our heads, bloody's in hand, cigars puffing and music playing. Not a bad scene.
Then I convinced Dave to switch his flight from going home to DC to instead flying down to Tampa with me to go to the Outback Bowl. If anyone knows Dave, you'll understand that it didn't take a whole lot of convincing and, in fact, all it took was a dare for me to run out across the lawn, jump in a stream of running water and do some pushups (brilliant idea). So I naturally agreed. This whole pointless story ends with Dave trying to switch his ticket only to find that it was WAY too expensive to do that 2 days prior to departure. And, since Dave gets email alerts whenever I post on this site, and those emails are sent to his phone, I know that in ten seconds when I hit publish that he'll be reading this at the airport, ready to board a flight to DC.
So Dave, Thanks for backing out on our bet. Real mature.
Tuesday, December 25, 2007
This is Christmas is especially meaningful to me. I cannot believe that it has been an entire year since my last one. The deployment to Iraq that immediately followed and consumed the majority of my year feels like it didn't even take place. The fact that the only thing we wished for, that we could all gather as a family once again for Christmas this year, has taken place, is amazing and a blessing. Mixed with that relief is the knowledge that there is zero chance I will be in Iowa with my family for next year's Christmas. I have no idea when I am deploying again, or to where, but I know that it will overlap Christmas.
I hope that this Christmas finds all of you in good health and in the comfort of loved ones and friends. I pray that the meaning of Christmas does not get lost on you and that God can continue to bless you well into the new year. I thank all of you for the support that you have shown me and my family, and I pray that I can someday repay you in a way befitting your generousity.
In closing, I would ask that you keep in your prayers this day the mothers and families of Blake Howey, Nathan Windsor, and all the other fallen brothers of 2/7. This is their first Christmas without their sons and they must know that they're sacrifice as families is felt and appreciated around the country.
Monday, December 24, 2007
The Wood kid ninja pose.
Meghan donning her cap and gown for a few photo shots since I missed her graduation from the University of Iowa this past Friday
Dad and Kevin in tears over some inside joke that involved licking themselves. The rest of the table was noticeably disturbed.
Cranium time game face.
Game night with the O'hara clan.
Sunday, December 23, 2007
It actually worked out pretty well because my buddy Jeff Lang was able to pick me up at the airport. I got to meet his lovely girlfriend for the first time, and the three of us plus my dad went out downtown and caught up. Good times.
I don't really have anything planned while I'm home, just a little Christmas action, with the requisite last minute gift shopping taking place tomorrow. I'm gonna have to schedule in a few snow runs because as soon as I get back to California on the 2nd I report to school, and that's going to be a major gut check.
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
Yesterday my old platoon had the honor of traveling to Huntington Beach, CA, hometown of Nathan Windsor, to take part in a rededication ceremony for a memorial to the fallen heroes of that city. Nathan lived a good part of his life in Huntington Beach, and his name will now forever be inscribed on the granite rock that sits in front of the city hall.
There were plenty of mixed emotions surrounding the whole day. For myself personally it was a great opportunity to see a lot of guys that I never have the chance to see anymore. I think that many of us had done a good job of moving on since the deployment, not of forgetting what had happened, but moving on towards the future. Before we had changed into our blues or the ceremony had even begun, myself and a few buddies went across the street to grab a bite to eat. We ended up talking over a beer about how weird it was to be attending a memorial for a friend. A year ago this time we were just heading out on pre-deployment leave, and I don't think a single person thought that we were going to lose anyone in Iraq. Of course we were prepared for the possibility, but all we had heard about was how pacified the area we were heading was supposed to be. I never expected to see a friend's name on a wall. Walking up the steps at city hall and seeing Nathan's name on that wall really brought me back to the reality of what happened in Iraq.
The ceremony itself was very well done and a great tribute to three fallen Marines. There were local and state representatives, the mayor, the CO of 1st Marines, a multitude of police and firefighters, a 21 gun salute, and a bagpipe player. Speaking of the bagpipes, I used to think that Amazing Grace on the bagpipes was one of the coolest things in the world, but I don't think I can ever listen to it again for the rest of my life without almost tearing up.
The inscription on the memorial says it best, "Lest we forget the heroes of all our wars." And one of the speakers explained it best when he said, "This isn't a memorial to war, or to dying in war, but a memorial to life, lives lived to the fullest."
Saturday, December 15, 2007
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Now I realize that this is going to lead me into another Marine Corps rant. Who paid for the sandwiches?? I did. Why? Because my unit was the only one represented at the school that did not provide its sent personnel with a per diem. Actually, we were also the only ones that did not have our transportation paid for in advance ("keep your gas receipts guys, you'll need those when you get back..."), and also the only ones that had to stay in the world's oldest barracks while everyone else was staying in town in a hotel. The Holiday Inn Express guys were obviously the better trackers. Ultimately, even with the out of pocket expenses, I would still take the school slot again. I joined the Marines to learn how to do crazy things, and this was my first real stab at something outside the box, even if I had to feed myself.
Sunday, December 09, 2007
Well, I'm finally back from Fort Huachuca. The two week tracking course I just finished was unbelievable. I'm not sure what I expected to get from it, but it certainly exceeded whatever expectations I had.
The course was taught by David Scott-Donelan, a man who basically has written the book (literally actually) on modern tracking in a combat environment. If you're interested his bio is found here. To cut his long story short, he operated in the Rhodesian Special Forces for over 20 years, fighting communist terrorists that were infiltrating the small country of Rhodesia for more than 25 years. He's now a US citizen and has spent the last 15 years trying to convince the US military that tracking is an essential skill that has been overlooked, he's finally starting to win a lot of top brass over.
So that's that.
Basically for the past 2 weeks I have been at Fort Huachuca, AZ, learning the 'ancient' skill of tracking, but more importantly how to apply it to today's battlefield. My platoon sent 5 guys, and we were joined by Navy SEALS, some combat search and rescue, British SAS, Army Intel, etc. From start to finish I'm amazed by the level of proficiency that we were able to achieve in tracking. I'm not Crocodile Dundee, and I can't put my fingers in a track and commune with my quarry, but if you shoot at me and decide to run away into the woods, I'm pretty sure that I can find you. I really am not going to go into too much detail about techniques and methods that were taught, the instructors at times mentioned that things, while not 'classified', would be valuable to the enemy if known. So just use your imagination.
We obviously did a lot of tracking both weeks, with exercises continuing to build on each other. The fort was a great place to hold the school because there were so many different environments to track through- savanna, desert, mountain, forest, it had it all. The first Friday we tracked our quarry 11 clickes up a 7,000 foot mountain (and then it poured on us on the way down).
One of the most important things that I took from the class was a new understanding of our border situation. Like I mentioned before, this Army base is on the Mexico border. A lot of the people that go through this combat tracker course are law enforcement professionals (Border Patrol, FBI, DEA, ATF, etc), and so David is very passionate about what is happening along the US-Mexico border. He showed us all kinds of power point presentations created by these agencies designed for new joins. The situation is NUTS. We're talking low-intensity warfare. WARFARE on our border. Contract killings, drug lords running combat patrols, ex-Mexican military special forces being bought and hired by drug lords, gun running into this country, you name it, it's going on. I saw video/photos of all of this, most of it 'internal' or classified. If this stuff ran on CNN everyone's opinion would change.
While we were doing our tracking exercises in the wilderness around base, we could pick up the drug trafficker's radio frequency and listen to them in their observation posts, that were located ON base, as they watched us move around. We'd be tracking someone and come across a path that had been used the previous night by drug runners with 70 pound packs of weed on their backs. We would find their little rest stops, complete with litter and broken light bulbs. You find the light bulbs because that's what the mules use to take their meth (they take meth because they have to make the 30 mile trek from the border across base to the pickup site in one night, with 70 pounds on their back, the meth gives them super-human endurance).
The scariest thing I heard while I was there? Al Qaeda tried paying the drug czar across the border $10,000 a head to get snuck across the border into the fort with weapons and missiles. They were going to shave their beards so that they would better fit in. Wow. Let's NOT build a wall, that sounds great. By the way, I did see the border, and it consists of three barb wire strands. Awesome.