It was noon on a miserably hot day at U.S. 7th Cavalry. 122 degrees again, somewhere near Majar al-Kebir, Iraq.
It was even a bit humid in this ancient place. I had accomplished nothing other than riding around all night thinking about bad guys who might want to be setting up rocket sites.
I was supposed to figure how to get eyes on the bad guys and then predict where they would hit next.
By chance it was ‘Peacekeeper Patch Day’. The day that many of us had been waiting for our entire careers.
We were all there:
SSG Hastings from LA, a Veteran of Kosovo
SFC Smythe from Jackson, a fellow Bosnia Veteran
SGT Contreros from Corpus Christi, a Veteran of both Haiti I and Haiti II
SSG Percival from Seattle, a Veteran of Sinai peacekeeping Duty and last but not least,
CSM Delacroix from New Orleans, who had served on the Katrina Mission, Kosovo and Haiti and never got a patch.
SSG Hastings, covered with the ever-present dust, ran up to me and Mr. Anderson.
“Sir it’s today! got everyone lined up. Where you been sir?”
We avoided saluting. You don’t want to make the officer a sniper’s target.
“Overnight mission. Saw nothing, did nothing.”
I just wanted to go to sleep, but it was impossible during the day. The tents superheated to 150 degrees, so you had to sleep on a concrete pad in the meager shade of a retaining wall.
My mind drifted back to Cooperstown on a cool October day, just before Hallowe’en where I was sleeping on a dilapidated wooden bench by Glimmerglass, our old Lake Otsego.
I shook myself awake and I worked my way through the tent flap into the 7th Cavalry CP. The Squadron Commander wasn’t around. I generally left him alone. LTC’s hate having another of their kind around especially if they are the SCO. I understood. But Artillerymen have their own business. I left the Cavalry to theirs.
CSM Delacroix had them all lined up like an infantry squad ready for inspection. I reached into my bag. I asked Anderson to be my 2IC and carry the patches. We had Velcro now.
One by one, I walked to each man. They were gleaming with pride. There is no single thing in the Army that is nearly as great, as noble, as glorious as the combat patch.
Instantly, you are transformed from a Pogue into a War Hero. I slapped a horse-patch on to each man’s right shoulder and I congratulated them in turn.
I got to Hastings last. Like the CSM, he had waited a long time. Now he could look his fellow soldiers in the eye and one day maybe… his grandchildren.
“Gentlemen, and Hastings… this is a great day. Our Uncle, dear Sam, chose not to recognize us for hard days in Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, Sinai, but today… yes today, thanks to the glorious U.S. 1st Cavalry Division, we are now initiated into the brotherhood of the combat patch. Go forth now in glory, or die! In glory, like the late, great General Custer at his last stand! Like the boys who took Leyte, Manila, Pyongyang, Ia Drang, the ‘Berm’, The Wild West, the Mexican Border, it will never end. Chief?”
The Chief plastered the giant horse patch on my right shoulder. As we left the tent, I saw two MP’s with two detainees under a sun screen waiting for a chopper that was very late.
The MP’s looked tired, the detainees looked parched. Anderson, a good Christian fellow, looked at me, I looked back at him and we grabbed four two-quart bottles of cool water. We handed them to the MP’s… one for each MP, one for each bad guy.
“Thank you sir, the grizzled MP said, everyone will drink.”
Anderson and I went behind our tent in the flat, concrete, hidden area at the T-Wall corner. We stripped down to our t-shirts and ACU pants and we went to sleep in the meager shade.
Peace be the Botendaddy