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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Simple gifts in return

In June, Emily Curtis, a member of St. Peter Lutheran Church, Edon, Ohio, received a phone call that the American hospital in Baghdad needed 1,100 pairs of socks as soon as possible for the injured soldiers.

In just 18 hours, she mailed the entire shipment. Simple, noteworthy necessities, like pairs of socks, bring a glimpse of home to those serving in our country. In return, the troops (average age, 19) send notes of thanks that show what life is like in these faraway places and express their appreciation. Here are some, from 2003-04:

• The majority of locals are extremely sweet, but they are scared. I went to the town of Khoniquin near the Iranian border where it is mostly Kurdish. The people are wonderful. While we were there, they treated us like celebrities, begging us for autographs and giving us Popsicles and water in the hot sun. The children would want to touch us, and the old people would want to practice their broken English on us. It was wonderful.

• Webster [defines] soldiers as enlisted people fighting in the military. I disagree. We are all soldiers in my eyes. Our weapons are made of cold steel and your weapons are of care, love and support. Nevertheless, we defend our way of life with what we can and with what is available. Your weapons carry just as much of an effect as ours.

• We arrived in Mosul, Iraq, in March and most of the schools were shambles. The Iraqi government had neglected them for more than 15 years. Criminals had looted them during the war and stolen anything of even slight value. We worked hard to rebuild the only boys’ high school in the area. We restored running water, rebuilt bathrooms, replastered the walls, painted and planted gardens. We provided a new blackboard, set up a computer lab and gave the teacher furniture and supplies. One teacher told us that we “have created a paradise out of a hell.” This day is going to mark a new beginning for Mosul’s children and teachers

• When we arrived in Iraq, the temperature was around 115 degrees, and within a week and half, it climbed to over 130. It was all we could do to keep cool and even the nights were hot (120s).

• Most everyone lives in tents. All the tents now have power since we have several generators to power the camp. Most of the tents have some kind of heat source as the temperature drops to the low 30s at night. The tents are a little crowded with 14 to 15 guys per tent, but it is not too bad.

• Sometimes during this deployment, it can become overwhelming and lonely being away from home. Many of us are missing births, anniversaries, birthdays, even the deaths of loved ones. But receiving letters from people makes it a little more bearable and reminds us that people back home really care.

• The days are long—around 16 hours—and trying to sleep when time is available is dependent on what type of mission is being conducted. The land in Afghanistan is similar to Utah or Arizona—dry, mountainous and very sandy—but the sand is more like brown baby powder. We live in big tents outside reinforced with wood framing. Shower tents are up, but there is not always hot water, so we jump in and jump out.

• As many as 50 soldiers a day walk through this ministry center and depart with candy/snacks/etc. and always with a smile. Don’t let time and distance lull any of you into a false sense that the war is winding down. This is a combat zone and soldiers continue to risk their very lives every day for our precious gift of liberty. These paratroopers are highly patriotic and love their country very much. They are on freedom’s frontiers to keep you safe and secure back home.

• This country is quite different from Ohio. It is hot, 115 degrees during the heat of the day. Then at night it has been down to the 60s. I know that does not seem cold to you. But when you spend the day in 115 degrees, 60 at night is freezing. It is very dusty—the sand gets ground into a fine powder, like baby powder. And it is windy, so it blows the sand everywhere. I saw some Afghan kids about 8 to 10 years old. They live in the mountains. I don’t think they had schools. They live in tents or small one-room houses made of mud with dirt floors. No TV, no running water or toilets. No electricity. Just camels, goats, sheep and brothers and sisters.

• It is still really, really hot during the day, but at night it cools off enough to use a sleeping bag. Maybe only twice a week do we get sandstorms. We have become so used to them though that we eat sand and just ask for seconds.

• I must admit that despite how difficult it is for us, it is really worth it to know we’re doing it to keep you safe from terrorists. There comes a point in time in a man’s life that he realizes there are greater things than himself and that is the brighter future for all of us.

• This is my first deployment, and this is the first time that the word patriotism has come alive for me.

• Iraq is a difficult place. The danger and war continue, as I am sure you see on the news. The constant, 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week operation really wears people down and touching reminders from home really make a difference.

• Just the other day, one of my soldiers received a letter from a young 10-year-old boy who lives in North Carolina. He wrote a little motivational speech that inspired all of us who read the letter. In fact, most of us were in tears after realizing what this young boy wrote and the meaning we received from his letter. He wanted to thank us for being here fighting the war on terrorism, and he wished us a safe and quick return back home to our families. As I continue to read the letter, I learned that he lost an uncle on the 10th floor of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11. We use this story, not only as a reminder about why we chose our profession. It also reminds us why we are here. The lonely days, cold winter nights and the long days without our families are quickly forgotten. But what is not forgotten is that little boy who had strength and patriotism to write down his true feelings of his tragic loss while wishing us well.

• We go to these Third World countries and meet the people. We don’t get involved in politics or debates. We take care of business, we get things done and we do it in the hopes of seeing a better world in the future for all of us. I don’t think I would ever have the opportunities in any other country that I have had in the United States. I believe I made it to where I am now because the United States is truly the land of opportunity.

• Ma’am, today you probably saved the lives of eight to 10 of my men. Their morale had been low because of no mail, no boxes, nothing—and then to receive your boxes. A stranger who just came to us like an angel … they were so happy and then actually eager to get back to the task at hand. Thanks to you, they will be that much more careful. So thank you for keeping my men alive.

The holidays

• Right now over here we have our room decorated for Halloween. Gotta be festive.

• In some way, this will be the best Thanksgiving ever. I have realized just how much I have to be thankful for. This has been both a heartwarming and humbling experience. Not only am I thankful for family and friends and materialistic things such as real bathrooms, a roof over my head and a warm bed. I am also thankful to be an American. We take so many liberties for granted, especially being women. We are also a very safe and democratic society, and until I got here I never realized how important that is.

• We did have a blessed Christmas. Only a few rocket attacks and no medivacs, so that made it wonderful.

• Sometimes it gets tough here because an overwhelming feeling of loneliness just surrounds you like a cloud. Moods fluctuate and sometimes it is hard to control your emotions. That is why it is so important to have someone to talk to.

• Last week an Iraqi police officer wanted to know why he couldn’t beat his recent captive. I tried to explain to the officer thorough my interpreter that he works for the people, not for his government. Accordingly the captured has certain rights, the right to jury of his peers as in this particular case. That was how I spent my Thanksgiving—giving another country what mine has given me.

• For Thanksgiving we had the best meal so far—it was complete with all the trimmings. Most people couldn’t eat all the food that was served. We had ice cream, something that we hadn’t had since we’ve been here. This place makes you appreciate the small things that you take for granted when you are at home.

• I just received your tree, stocking and candy in the mail here in Bagram, Afghanistan. It is nice to have something “American” here. We have already put the tree up in our office. Although it is still early, the tree brings that little bit of normalcy to us here and we are all very grateful for that.

• The Christmas tree was just the right size and since it was fiber-optic, it really tied the room together. We are in a remote area of Afghanistan and live in an adobe hut. We received a few other decorations and with your Christmas tree, we really have the place looking like home.

• For the past month, we have been stockpiling some of the goodies for our Christmas party tonight, where we also be creating gift packages of snack, candy and personal hygiene supplies to had out to some of more impoverished families tomorrow morning during our dawn patrols.


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