It was a community effort. My wife Ann was the sparkplug and prime mover. Through the past year 130 large flat rate postal boxes containing things GI's like were sent. Destined for the troops she mailed to "her" adopted Chaplain Captain Jared Vineyard and his assistant Sgt. Shane Birdsong in Afghanistan. The Chaplain and his unit are currently in the process of rotating back home. Did Ann and the community's efforts make a difference? Read the following and judge for yourself.
The following is an English translation from an email written by an anonymous French infantryman whose unit is/was serving with Chaplain Vineyard's unit in Afghanistan. The French outfit, called OMLT (Operational Mentoring Liaison Teams), is a part of the allied coalition waging war against "Al Qaeda Terrorists." Those brave French soldiers go unarmed and function as observers in the "war against terror." The writer's perspective is that of a common soldier observing his American peers doing their duty in a harsh and dangerous land. It is a little heard voice talking about the fine young men and women we send into battle.
"We have shared our daily life with two US units for quite a while - they are the first and fourth companies of a prestigious infantry battalion whose name I will withhold for the sake of military secrecy.
"To the common man it is a unit just like any other. But we live with them and got to know them, and we henceforth know that we have the honor to live with one of the most renowned units of the U.S. Army -- one that the movies brought to the public as series showing 'ordinary soldiers thrust into extraordinary events.' Who are they, those soldiers from abroad, how is their daily life, and what support do they bring to the men of our OMLT every day? Few of them belong to the Easy Company, the one the TV series focuses on. This one nowadays is named Echo Company, and it has become the support company.
"They have a very strong American accent - the language they speak seems to be not even English. How many times did I have to write down what I wanted to say rather than waste precious minutes trying various pronunciations of a seemingly common word? Whatever state they are from, no two accents are alike and they themselves admit that in some crisis situations they have difficulties understanding each other.
"Heavily built, fed at the earliest age with Gatorade, proteins at places like Waffle House and McDonalds - they are all heads and shoulders taller than us and their muscles remind us of Rambo. Our frames are amusingly skinny to them - even the strongest of us - and because of that they often mistake us for Afghans.
"Here we discover America as it is often depicted: their values are taken to their paroxysm, often amplified by the loneliness of this outpost in the middle of that Afghan valley. Honor, motherland -- everything here reminds of that: the American flag floating in the wind above the outpost, just like the one on the postage parcels. Even if recruits often originate from the heart of American cities and gang territory, no one here has any goal other than to hold high and proud the star spangled banner.
"Each man knows he can count on the support of their whole people who provide them through the mail all the things that an American could miss in such a remote front-line location: books, chewing gums, razor blades, Gatorade, toothpaste etc.
"Every man is aware of how much the American people backs him in his difficult mission. And that is a first shock to our preconceptions: the American soldier is no individualist. The team, the group, the combat team are the focus of all his attention.
"And they are impressive warriors! We have not come across bad ones, as strange at it may seem to you when you know how critical French people can be. Even if some of them are a bit on the heavy side, all of them provide us everyday with lessons in infantry know-how. Beyond the wearing of a combat kit that never seems to discomfort them (helmet strap, helmet, combat goggles, rifles etc.) The long hours of watch at the outpost never seem to annoy them in the slightest.
"On the one square meter tower above the perimeter wall they stand the five consecutive hours in full battle rattle and night vision goggles on top, their sight focused in the directions of likely danger. No distractions, no pauses, they are like statues nights and days. At night, all movements are performed in the dark - only a handful of subdued red lights indicate the occasional presence of a soldier on the move. Same with the vehicles whose lights are covered -- everything happens in pitch dark even filling the fuel tanks with the Japy pump.
"And combat? If you have seen Rambo you have seen it all -- always coming to the rescue when one of our teams gets in trouble, and always in the shortest delay. That is one of their tricks: they switch from T-shirt and sandals to combat ready in three minutes. Arriving in contact with the enemy, the way they fight is simple and disconcerting: they just charge! They disembark and assault in stride, they bomb first and ask questions later -- which cuts any pussyfooting short.
"(This is the main area where I'd like to comment. Anyone with a passing knowledge of Kipling knows the lines from Chant Pagan: 'If your officer's dead and the sergeants look white/remember it's ruin to run from a fight. /So take open order, lie down, sit tight/And wait for supports like a soldier. / This, in fact, is the basic philosophy of both British and Continental soldiers. 'In the absence of orders, take a defensive position.' Indeed, virtually every army in the world.)
"The American soldier and Marine, however, are imbued from early in their training with the ethos: In the Absence of Orders: Attack! Where other forces, for good or ill, will wait for precise orders and plans to respond to an attack or any other 'incident,' the American force will simply go counting on firepower and SOP to carry the day.
"This is one of the great strengths of the American force in combat and it is something that even our closest allies, such as the Brits and Aussies (that latter being closer by the way) find repeatedly surprising. No wonder it surprises the hell out of our enemies!
"We seldom hear any harsh word, and from 5 a.m. onwards the camp chores are performed in beautiful order and always with excellent spirit. A passing American helicopter stops near a stranded vehicle just to check that everything is alright; an American combat team will rush to support ours before even knowing how dangerous the mission is - from what we have been given to witness, the American soldier is a beautiful and worthy heir to those who liberated France and Europe.
"To those who bestow us with the honor of sharing their combat outposts and who everyday give proof of their military excellence, to those who pay the daily tribute of America's army's deployment on Afghan soil, to those we owed this article, ourselves hoping that we will always remain worthy of them and to always continue hearing them say that we are all the same band of brothers."
Beautifully stated! Ann has requested another Chaplain to adopt so the effort will continue. Thank you all for your contributions of goods, service and cash! As seen through the eyes of a Frenchman, your efforts are making a positive impact on morale.
That is the way I saw it.