Like when you are a kid at summer camp, mail is pretty exciting here. This week I received a box from friends at the college where I teach in my real life. They sent two pounds of my favorite coffee and, to my surprise and delight, seed catalogues. In Minnesota, my home state, those of us who garden spend hours during the cold, dark days of winter turning the colorful pages of marigolds, snap dragons, and tomatoes, choosing our favorites varieties from last year and picking something new to try this year. The bursts of color and planning for spring are wonderful diversions, or at least, they provide balance to the reality of being in Iraq.
Life on COB Speicher continues to be quiet, meaning no mortar attacks or IED explosions since our arrival. Sometimes it is so quiet, I wonder if we are really in Iraq at all. I have amused myself wondering if I am in something like “The Truman Show.” But I know it isn’t quiet everywhere and there seems to have been a small rise in causalities recently among the units we pass messages to. Julie and I have a tendency to open “Stars and Stripes” newspaper to the causalities, and like many people in the states, turn to the obituaries. In our case, it is merely a list of name, rank, unit and a brief description of the cause of death. We are saddened by all of the deaths, but are especially touched by those in some of the larger units we call messages to: 101st Airborne Division out of Ft. Campbell, 82nd Airborne Division out of Ft. Bragg, NC; 111 Engineering out of Camp Dawson in West Virginia, 1st Infantry Division out of Ft Riley, KS., and all of the Marines in country.
In addition to the military deaths, the civilian deaths persist. A study reported in “Stars and Stripes” indicates that civilian casualties maybe be much higher than the 41,000 previously reported. The new estimates have been released in a report sponsored by the World Health Organization and the Iraqi government and published in the “New England Journal of Medicine” suggests that an estimate of 151,000 civilian deaths since March 2003 may be more accurate. Such loss is absolutely mindboggling, difficult to even conceptualize.
In the meantime, the messages continue to flow here. This week I’ve seen many messages related to liver, colon, and renal cancer; the deaths of two young children, nieces of servicemen; and many wives suffering from adjustment disorders and depression. The toll on families continues to be significant. A bit of good news announced in “Stars in Stripes” is that the Army may be able to reduce its deployments from fifteen to twelve months by this summer. That will bring welcome relief, not only to the servicemen, but also their families. So, spring and summer offer some hope.