Wednesday, May 31, 2006

A No Comment Commentary

I was with the Marine rifle company named in the Haditha incident. During the month of October 2005, up to the Iraqi constitutional referendum vote, I patrolled the streets of Haditha with them. Due to blog entries here at Fire and Ice back in October several news organizations have contacted me for comments. I had intended to make a statement here with my personal reflections, but will not do so at this time.

The Public Affairs Office and Judge Advocate General of the Marine Corps have asked Marines
to temporarily refrain from publicly speaking about the November 19, 2005 incident in Haditha, Iraq. Here is their request, which I will gladly honor.

All Marines are trained in the Law of Armed Conflict and are expected to fully comply with its provisions. The Marine Corps takes allegations of wrong-doing by Marines very seriously and is committed to thoroughly investigating such allegations. The Marine Corps also prides itself on holding its members to the highest levels of accountability. If the allegations are substantiated, the Marine Corps will pursue appropriate legal and administrative actions against those responsible.

The investigations are on-going, therefore any comment at this time would be inappropriate and could undermine the investigatory and possible legal process. As soon as the facts are known and decisions on future actions are made, we will make that information available to the public to the fullest extent allowable.

What I will give you as a commentary of sorts are three links which will hopefully give you; 1 a sense of my personal experience with K/3/1 echoed by a CNN journalist, 2 my opinion about the bullypulpit politicizing taking place, and 3 what I've done with $100 of my hard earned money as a response to items 1 and 2.

Oh, I almost forgot! My good friend and associate, the Ernie Pyle of Gonzo documentary film making, Pat Dollard, has finally set up a website where hopefully we'll soon be seeing trailers for his forthcoming Young Americans project.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Combat Artist

Warrant Officer Michael Fay doing a watercolor at Al Taqqadum, Iraq-February 12, 2005

This article orginally appeared on the New York Times TimesSelect website on March 15 and is copyrighted by The New York Times and Michael Fay.

The Combat Artist

I’m going to make an assumption that you would probably like to ask me three questions: What does war have to do with art? What is a combat artist? And why would the United States Marine Corps, of all organizations, send fine artists into harm’s way? I’ll try to answer these as best I can over the next couple weeks. At the same time I hope to provide a glimpse of who I am, both as artist and Marine.

Although what I do falls within an established tradition and has an objective journalistic bent, it also has poetic leanings. I’ve been out in the trenches of the war on terrorism, which means not only witnessing them as an artist with a sketchbook in hand and an eye at the aperture of a camera, but also as a Marine putting a rifle to shoulder, making a good sight picture, squeezing off rounds and trying to kill the enemy.

Then Gunnery Sergeant Michael Fay firing his rifle in New Ubaydi, November 15, 2005

There’s a joke that’s a starting point I use to give people a sense of who I am and what I do. This particular joke is offensive and racist, so as a good politically correct Unitarian (yes, that’s the religion on my dog tags) I only give the set-up and not the punch line. There’s a zebra that goes to heaven and standing before the pearly gates asks Saint Peter, “I’ve got to know, was I a white zebra with black stripes, or a black zebra with white stripes?” I share with many of you a sense of living in gray areas, with legs astride both sides of everything. This is rarely a comfortable place to be, but I take solace in Carl Jung’s reassurance that living in the “tension of opposites” is the healthiest place to be for our unfolding psyches. I was recently asked by a journalist, “Are you an artist who happens to be in the Marines, or a Marine who just happens to be an artist?” That’s a question I try to answer each day, but one I fear will remain perpetually open. What I can state with black and white certainty is that I am passionate about what I do and, despite all life’s detours, my muse has never deserted me.

I’m self-conscious enough to want to describe what I do as a combat artist for the Marine Corps in such a way as to appear fashionably humble. That would be patently false and more than a few close friends would take me to task about that kind of posturing. I have some wonderful qualities, but self-deprecating humility is not one of them. (James Stewart, were he alive, would be horribly miscast playing me — a cross between James Cagney and Jim Carrey would probably get the job done.) Simply, I know that what I do is unique and that I’m very good at it. My work has been favorably compared to the images of Winslow Homer and the reporting of Ernie Pyle. I also know that I’m the beneficiary of being the right person at the right place at the right time, and this tempers my flights of egotistical fancy. Without the war on terrorism my fifteen minutes of fame just wouldn’t be. Before 9/11 I was high up in the running for the Fraternal Order of the Jacks of All Trades and Masters of None poster child contest.

I have been blessed by being allowed to do art of a subject — Marines in combat — of such inherent depth and vibrancy that even if I were talentless dolt I’d enjoy an astronomically high statistical likelihood of creating something of artistic merit. As an artist I am a realist, or to be more precise, a devotee of a school of fine art called Naturalism — a term coined by Emile Zola. I call it “Dragnet” art — just the facts, ma’am. I’m also a Romantic of sorts. My stock in trade is images and events drenched in the pathos of war, and I am as much participant as observer.

What is a combat artist? The answer is deceptively simple — an artist who goes to combat. This is not unlike a landscape artist going out into the hills of Vermont or a figure painter posing a model in the soft north light of a Soho loft. But the working conditions are markedly different. In addition to art supplies, I carry a 9-millimeter pistol with a combat load of 60 rounds. Due to the nature of combat in Iraq I also tote an M-16 A4 rifle to the field, with 180 rounds. I generally do not carry grenades. How close do I get to actual combat? Very close. I have one minor shrapnel wound and was injured when a Humvee I was riding in nosedived into a large I.E.D. crater in the dark. I have fired my rifle at the enemy in pitched battle. All these elements — the crushing weight of gear in the heat, the pain of injuries, the adrenaline rush of firefights, the boredom of downtime — march alongside a constant vigilance for cultivating ideas and images. I am both with and of the Marines — with them as observer and of them as fellow combatant.

To do my artwork in the field I carry a small bag — it’s actually a medical corpsman’s combat trauma kit — with small sketchbooks, a selection of pens and pencils, a compact watercolor set, film and lots of extra AA batteries. I also have two digital and one regular 35mm camera. When it’s hot and heavy I take pictures. When things are quiet I sketch and do small watercolors. I give everything a coat of fixative.

Working conditions are not only dangerous, but filthy as well, so I favor spiral sketchbooks with heavy fronts and backs. They get shoved in and out of a backpack on a regular basis. I take a digital photo of each piece in case there’s some unfortunate event where my gear gets lost or destroyed.

What has war got to do with art? Images of war and warriors have been part of art history since time immemorial. For me, particular pieces reverberate with the presence of the first combat artists. When I look at the statue from Greek antiquity, “The Dying Gaul,” I know viscerally that the sculptor witnessed this. The dying warrior’s posture, wound, thick locks of hair and Celtic jewelry shout this fact. I think of the warriors I’ve sketched — the wounded trying to rise, the exhausted collapsing in corners and against walls, St. Christopher medals displayed against the fabric of flak jackets, awkward battlefield haircuts echoing the Gaul’s mop of hair, probably shorn by a buddy’s knife blade.

Egon Schiele, the troubled fin de siecle artist, while in the Austrian army during World War I, drew poignant and sensitive portraits of sickly Russian P.O.W.’s. (He himself died from the same Spanish influenza pandemic that was ravaging the world towards the end of that war.) Goya’s series of etchings, “The Disasters of War,” recorded the horrors inflicted on Spain by the French in the Napoleonic wars. Rembrandt’s “Night Watch” captures what would today be a gathering of National Guardsmen. Manet raced to Cherbourg in hopes of witnessing the Civil War duel between the U.S.S. Kearsarge and the C.S.S. Alabama, with the resulting painting redefining marine art. The Franco-Prussian War still echoes down the halls of Western art by virtue of the indelible effect it had on Monet, Renoir, Courbet and Pissarro, to just name a few.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Storm and Stone

Wazir Pass looking towards Pakistan with mulberry grove in middle-ground.

Marine Grenadier

Fireteam Leader

Sergeant and Lieutenant with map consulting on fields of fire (Reversed in composite scene so direction of light matches with other figures).

Marine Fireteam
First version of the composite scene for Storm and Stone

Over the past few weeks I have been working out the different elements for a painting to be titled Storm and Stone. This title came to me before any image of the piece appeared in my brain housing group (Marinespeak for one's brain). Normally I create a piece and name it afterwards..

In the early part of May of 2005 I went out on a "presence patrol" with the re-inforced 3rd Platoon of Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment. This jaunt, commanded by 2nd Lt. Weiss, was destined for the foothills of the Tora Bora Mountains. We left Jalalabad, Afghanistan under a broad expanse of perfect blue on May 6th and headed towards a particularly spectacular place on the border with Pakistan called Wazir Pass. Our primary mission was to scout alternative pathways into and around this rugged tribal region for an upcoming operation.

Navigating these roads, if you could even call them that, was a bone jarring kidney stone loosening torture session. We crisscrossed innumerable Afghan arroyos swelled and churning with the pell mell rush of the spring melt. These deeply rutted paths were lined with small groves of mulberry trees, walls of dry stacked river rocks, and pungent onion fields. Majestic snow crowned peaks in the distance seemed to neither retreat nor get any closer as we held on for dear life inside or in back of scraped and dusty HUMVEEs. As we finally approached Wazir Pass a broad stoney plain opened up offering us a unimpeded view of the mountains. Our still bumpy drive now rose gradually up through minefields marked by white washed cairns of boulders, and then onto terraced wheatfields that eventually led into the narrow winding streets of ancient villages nestled in the very folds of the Tora Boras. Small orange butterflies fluttered everywhere across the stones and green fingers of ripening wheat.

We set up a patrol base overlooking a checkerboard of fields, adobe homes and walled family compounds called the village of Khogyani. Slingshot armed Afghan boys sheparding their small flocks of goats, sheep and donkeys meandered out to recon us as we dug in and prepped for our first night out under the stars. With a borrowed entrenching tool I excavated a position for myself and then turned my attention to sketching. In the bright mid-afternoon sun I produced two watercolors and managed to sunburn my hands to a nice shade of lobster red.

Around 0300 a storm of Biblical proportions rolled over us. I had dug myself a decent fighting hole and was stretched out cocooned in my sleeping bag and pivy sack when the sky exploded with a deluge of rain and lightning. Even through the zipped up and velcroed security of my little womb I was awakened by flashes of light and assault of rain drops the size of a cat's paw. Several groups of Marines and Afghan soldiers found themselves, as the initial edge of the storm pushed through, tumbling head over heals in tents uprooted and rolled by the cyclonic winds. Hunkered down in my one-man fighting hole I merely found myself awash as it filled quickly with several inches of rainwater. The storm departed as quick as it had arrived, and in the inky blackness soaked and cursing Marines stumbled about righting tents and nursing minor bruises.

With the dawn of May 7th two words were etched into my mind, storm and stone.

I often work from photographs for finished pieces. For Storm and Stone I'm combining several different scenes and sets of individuals into one composite design. Here are the basic set of initial sketches and the first wedding of images into an overall scene.

The final painting will hopefully resonate not only with my personal experience, but also echo the work of a great American artist of our Southwest, Maynard Dixon in who's "simplified realism" imagery I find inspiration for rendering heroic figures in wide open storm swept spaces.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Go to War. Do Art.

A while back I mentioned an opportunity to write for the New York Times TimesSelect website. Over the next week I will share with you the pieces written for them from March to May.

This article appeared in The New York Times on March 8, 2006 and is copyrighted by Michael Fay and The New York Times.

I’m a warrant officer-1 in the United States Marine Corps Reserve. Warrant officers are hybrids, not fully commissioned officers, and although drawn exclusively from the non-commissioned officer ranks, no longer enlisted Marines. We are by and large the duty experts in a particular field; think of us as consultants. I am a combat artist for the Marines; a Winslow Homer in camouflage. I work directly for the Historical Division of the Marine Corps University and my orders from them are simple. Go to war. Do art. My output goes into The Marine Corps Combat Art Collection, which houses over 8,000 works of art. I think I’ve got the best job in the military.

I now live in Fredericksburg, Va., but was born and raised in Allentown, Pa. The lyrics in Billy Joel’s song “Allentown” tell it all: “Our fathers fought the Second World War, spent their weekends at the Jersey Shore.” Myself and two younger brothers grew up when there were only three television channels, milk and bread were delivered to your doorstep and all adults were addressed as Mr. or Mrs. Delivering the afternoon paper, belonging to the Boy Scouts, wanting to have long hair and pout like Jim Morrison, lusting after Patti Merkle and watching the anxiety grow on my Dad’s face with each year the Vietnam War continued as I approached 18 — these things define those years. My high school class, 1971, was last to get draft cards and have our numbers drawn, mine was 123. The only constant from then until now is art. Most of the cells in my body have probably been replaced since then, relationships and jobs have come and gone with regularity, but the doing of art remains. Oh, and Patti Merkle is still around … she says she’ll be in from California late this spring and wants to visit.

I’m now taking a couple weeks leave after returning home from Iraq on Feb. 15. There are plenty of reasons to take time off. This particular trip has been hard on my family. Not only was I over there, but a nephew, a Marine lieutenant, was with me in the Sunni Triangle. They — meaning my daughter, mom and extended family of brothers and their broods — have endured months of intense anxiety. I think separations during war are hardest on those back home.

We, those out in the war, are intensely focused on something we’re very proficient at. We’re in our element. There is truth in the phrase “time flies when you’re having fun.” Not that war can be described as “fun”, but it is at very least a competitor to elaborate meditation techniques. The mundane dross and noise of life drops away and the only place that matters is the proverbial now. I find that the deployments — this was my fourth in the war on terrorism — fly by. My days are filled with doing what I love. But for those at home there are daily scenes of death and destruction flashing urgently across TV screens and newspaper front pages followed by imagining the worse while waiting for reassuring word. I have the luxury of knowing I’m O.K. and intimately aware, despite the violence, that there are so many positive and engaging things going on all around me.

At this moment, I miss it. I wonder if this is what it’s like for a tightrope walker who’s come down off the wire.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

What Movie Are You?

What Classic Movie Are You?
personality tests by

A friend sent me this. I just had to take the profile test to see which movie I am; needed a little break from all this seriousness. Seems I'm Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Monday, May 22, 2006

The Visit

1st Lieutenant Ryan McGlothlin USMC

Donald McGlothlin and Myself. Don's holding Ryan's notebook of inspirational poems and sayings.

November 16, 2005 is seared into my memory. It was a day of pitched battle, heroism and violent death.

We rose early that day and ate hurried meals of crackers and cheese, or PowerBars quickly washed down with weak lukewarm Gatorade. The night before word was passed that solid intelligence indicated a significant number of insurgents were cornered with their backs against the Euphrates River, and nowhere else to go. The blocking force, an Army National Guard Stryker unit, on the north side of river had seen to that. The Marines of 2nd Battalion 1st Marine Regiment had relentlessly pushed them for two weeks east along this ancient river valley; all the way from Husayba on the Syrian border to this final fist of land called Old Ubaydi.

In the early dawn hours Marines were pulling on battle gear, checking weapons, and drawing fresh ammunition. Warming themselves and shaking off the last dull vestiges of sleep they idled in groups of three or four. Tangerine faces glowed in the firelight of burn piles. Hoarse voices joked with nervous familiarity. The shouts of squad leaders and the platoon sergeant rose occasionally-chastising a slow riser here, bestowing cheery words of encouragement there. Tin-can radio chatter underscored the hum of hushed voices. Everyone knew, even after nearly two weeks of continuous combat in Operation Steel Curtain, that today was going to be a slugfest of the highest order.

Warming themselves around the burn barrel: from Left to Right-Corporal Rogers, LCpl Guzman and SSgt Homer. Corporal Jeffrey A Rogers was killed in action during the November 16th firefight.

At 0640 the order to move out rippled over the squads like a ribbon of May wind across a field of winter wheat. With the small crisp twisting and clinking sounds of gear and the crush of dry leaves beneath combat boots, the lines formed and moved out through pomegranate orchards and down irrigation ditches towards the several hundred acres of mud-daubed huts, walled compounds and palm groves where the battle royale would shortly take place.

Iraqi families (many waiting way too long to leave) holding sleepy children and limp improvised white flags, poured from their homes and were pointed in the direction of friendly lines. Old women wept while youngsters waved. Dogs darted about, roosters crowed and teams of M1A1 Abrams main battle tanks, with engines spewing exhaust and treads squeaking, unceremoniously crisscrossed freshly tilled fields. By 0805 the platoons of Fox Company 2nd Battalion 1st Marine Regiment were on line facing across several hundred yards of open ground- the otherside of which was eirely silent and, except for wandering livestock, devoid of people.

I was with 3rd Platoon as it took position in a farmhouse along the dirt road that bordered the battlefield and faced the open ground. 2nd Platoon was a hundred yards off to our left, closer to the river. Their three squads had each taken the meandering irrigation ditches up to their jump-off points, which were the first set of structures. Not knowing whether all the locals had evacuated, Fox Company was going to clear each house room by room, rather than by just "dropping" them with a missile from a Cobra gunship or a round fired pointblank from the the main gun of an Abrams.

At 0815 it hit the fan. 3rd Squad of 2nd Platoon had stepped into a virtual hornet's nest of mujh. By 0820 the radios were alive with frantic calls for help. Marines were down.

Staff Sergeant Michael Ventrone, 3rd Platoon's platoon sergeant, raced his Marines under fire across a hundred yards of open field to the aid of the stricken squad. We came upon a scene from Dante's Inferno. SSgt "V"'s men fanned out quickly engaging the enemy, securing our position, and rendering care to the many wounded. All of 2nd Platoon's corpsmen (medics) were down and 16 Marines and sailors were hurt bad.

I found myself with a group trying to help 2nd Platoon's gravely wounded lieutenant, Ryan McGlothlin. Up to mid-afternoon of the day prior I had been with Lt. McGlothlin and his men. All around me there were Marines I knew wounded and dying. Unfortunately Lt. McGlothlin didn't make it. Someone brought a blue sheet out from the home in who's courtyard the triage had been set up and handed it to me. I went over, laid a hand on Ryan, said a prayer, closed his eyes and covered him up. He was still warm. I will never forget this. This memory will revisit me daily for the remainder of my life. 5 Marines died that day and 11 were wounded.

Through all of the chaos, just like any other Marine that morning, I continued to do my job. Yes, I fired my rifle, but I also continued to take photographs and record the events with a small digital audio recorder. In addition to my primary mission as a combat artist, I also function as a field historian. While with Lt. McGlothlin's platoon I had taken several photos of him and did an oral history interview just days prior to his death. When I retrograded back to Camp Fallujah I reviewed my pictures and realized I also had several of two of the other KIAs from 2nd Platoon. Through something called Legacy.Com we were able to get word to the families that there were pictures of their sons taken days before they died in action. All the families concerned responded and have recieved the images.

This past Saturday the father of Lt. McGlothlin paid me a visit at my home in Fredericksburg. He has an aunt who lives here. Ryan's dad, Donald McGlothlin, is a former circuit court judge and practicing attorney. He is also a gentleman of the old school. Don, as he asks to be called, was enroute to a special memorial event held this past Sunday in Washington, DC called "A Time of Rememberance". Don is a fearless warrior when it comes to facing the still painful and raw emotions flowing from the loss of his beloved youngest son.

During a phone conversation arranging our get-together, Don said to me, "You have other photographs of Ryan don't you". I knew what he was asking. We had already supplied him with a CD containing pictures and the oral history interview of his son done days before he died. In no uncertain terms he wanted to see everything I had. Everything. I had sound recordings of the battle, the casualty evacuation, and photos of his son as the corpsmen worked on him and moments after he died. Don needed to see and hear it all. He had gone on-line and gotten a fuzzy satelite image of Old Ubaydi. I had a complete stitched together panoramic view of the battlefield, to include the house where his son was fatally wounded. This is a spiritually brave man.

Old Ubaydi Battlefield. November 16, 2005 Scene of firefight of Fox Company 2/1

Don also wanted the local paper to cover our meeting. His willingness to not only share the full story of his remarkable son's life and death, but also his own grief and struggle to heal is a gift to us all. You can read about it by going to this link:

Don likes to share a telling quote from his son. Ryan, like his father, was a staunch Democrat. Ryan's politics and character are summed up simply in this oft spoken sentiment, "I would never vote for Mr. Bush, but I'd take a bullet for him." Words like these need no editorializing.

I learned another surprising fact about Lt. McGlothlin. Ryan's great grandfather's name was Sa'id Mafouth Rasbey. Sa'id was a Druze from Moukhtara, Lebanon who immigrated successfully to our shores alone at the age of 12, and this was his second attempt! The first time he stepped on Ellis Island they sent him back to Lebanon because he lacked a sponsor here. He turned around and came back a year later. An immigration official, remembering him from his previous try, went out of his way to find him a family willing to take him. Sa'id changed his last name to honor the man who took him in, Williams. Ryan's greatgrandfather eventually married and settled in Bristol, Virginia. Ryan was raised in Lebanon, Virginia.

With this posting I include pages Don was gracious enough to have copied for me from a journal Ryan started at the age 14. Of the hundreds of inspirational quotes and poems, from Yoda to Mae West, Don't Quit is the very first one written in this notebook. His careful deliberate handwriting tells me they were meant to be read and understood not just by his own eye, but by others as well. Lt. Ryan McGlothlin has been submitted for the Silver Star for his actions that day, actions that protected the lives of his Marines and which have left a legacy of personal courage, integrity and inspiration for us all. Two Marines under his command, Corporal Alvarez and Lance Corporal Mooi, have been nominated for Navy Crosses for their heroism on that fateful November morning.

*Click on images to enlarge

I'll end with two interesting(at least to me)coincidences. A couple days ago I posted an op-ed I penned for the local paper commenting on two other pieces printed in the same publication. One of the referenced writers was Wade Zirkle, a former Marine. It turns out that Zirkle was the platoon commander of 2nd Platoon F/2/1 immediately prior to Lt. McGlothlin taking command. In that same op-ed I said No Child Left Behind should really be called No Parents Present. Today's Free-Lance Star, in addition to the story about Don McGlothlin and myself, has a wonderful Associated Press piece about a former emotionally disturbed special education student,Ernest Lewis, who's graduating second in his Richmond, Virginia high school class with a 4.4 GPA. How did this miraculous reality come about? Simple...he was taken in by an aunt and uncle who took him out of special education and provided him with PARENTING. Cost to the taxpayer....$0.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

.....Ouch, A Response to My Op-Ed

Here's an editorial response published in Fredericksburg's Free-Lance Star newspaper on the 17th. The opinion expressed by Gary T. Moore is in response to the piece I shared with you in my previous post. I'm not quite sure what this gentleman is suggesting with the paranthesized statement, "which I consider to be subjective by its nature and the Uniform Code of Military Justice". Op-ed pieces are by their very nature "subjective", so I don't get the purpose of stating the obvious; however the reference to the UCMJ is a little too obscure for this knuckle dragging neo-con devildog. If I had indeed stated directly or by inference that "America can't be fixed", then the body of his response would have been raising an extremely valid point. My take was that personal investment (blood), and not simply spending tax dollars (treasure), is the irreplaceable element that at the end of the day makes positive changes possible here, in Iraq or anywhere for that matter. Was that unclear? (In case anyone is wondering-the choice of pink letters is slanted, subjective, wholely disrespectful, completely biased and meant to influence the reader's perception and interpretation of Mr. Moore's comments in a negative light....ain't democracy great!)

Gary T. Moore
Date published: 5/17/05

Michael D. Fay's self-serving promotion of military opinion (which I consider to be subjective by its nature and the Uniform Code of Military Justice), at the expense of Larry Syverson and his alternate focus, wasn't worth all the extra ink ["Our soldiers who've been there know it: Iraq is worth fighting for," May 4].
He could have just as easily stated that America can't be fixed, and Iraq can, so it's best to spend out tax dollars over there instead.
It was also very disrespectful to speak of Mr. Syverson's three sons in Iraq without interviewing them while there and getting their unbiased opinions for his comment.
Gary T. Moore

Donald McGlothlin, the father of Lieutenant Ryan McGlothlin, visited yesterday afternoon and we shared about his son. Out of respect for both Donald and Ryan, I'll talk about our meeting in another posting. Suffice to say that this was a very moving experience. At the invitation of Mr. McGlothlin the get together was covered by the Free-Lance Star, and I'll give you all a heads-up when the article is printed....which hopefully Mr. Gary T. Moore won't experience as a waste of ink.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

View From the Soapbox

I've mentioned before that I live in Fredericksburg, Virginia. One of many wonderful things about this beautiful and historic rivertown is our hometown newspaper, The Free-Lance Star. The Op-Ed page editors occasionally humor me by publishing one of my soapbox ramblings. I thought I would share a couple of them with you over the next couple days. I am finding myself, now that I'm in the rear with the gear, compelled to respond to things I read in this well-balanced paper.

This coming weekend I will be meeting with the father of a young Marine lieutenant who was killed in action on November 16, 2005. Donald McGlothlin's son, 1st Lt. Ryan McGlothlin , died leading his platoon during a particularly hard battle in Old Ubaydi, Iraq. Yesterday I also recieved an email from the grandparents of one of Lt. McGlothlin's Marines, LCpl Justin Mayfield (his portrait appears in my December 26th posting), letting me know that Justin had just recieved a Bronze Star with Combat 'V' for his efforts that day. He and his fireteam came to the aid of fellow Marines at a hotly contested farmhouse. Justin has also just proposed to his high school sweetheart! These are real families investing their blood and treasure every single minute of every hour of everyday to make the world safer for us all. Those who cannot grasp this profoundly simple reality have only my genuine old school in your face disdain.

This particular Op-Ed piece was motivated in large part by my personal experience of both family members and of Marines who've made the ultimate sacrifice. If you go to the link for Larry Syverson's commentary, which I'm primarily responding to, you will, in my humble opinion, read the most pathetic self-serving and transparent anti-war rant that will ever enter your brain housing group.

Here's my two cents:

A recent edition of The Free Lance-Star featured a very interesting juxtaposition of two viewpoints with respect to the war in Iraq. One writer, Wade Zirkle, talked about our nation's war effort cogently, within the greater strategic context of world events and the disconcerting imperfections that often attend the unfolding of history ["Through a Marine's eyes: Iraq a necessary part of a greater war," April 28]. The other writer, Larry Syverson, presented us with a highly emotional rant rooted in his own anxieties and fears ["Iraq costs too much in blood, money," April 28]. Zirkle spoke with measured reason born of actual events and international political consequences. Syverson, in obvious desperation, reduced the prosecution of this war to a dollar amount--and then proceeded to opine about imagined superior ways to spend if not our blood, at least our treasure.

Like Zirkle, I've been to Iraq twice as a Marine. I've also been to Afghanistan on two separate tours. I agree completely with his assessment. In a recent article in The Free Lance-Star, U.S. Army Capt. Matt Thompson--a Stafford native who served four combat tours in the war--asserted strongly, as most returning combat vets interviewed by this paper have done, his belief that the fight in Iraq is worth it.

We who've actually invested our blood and treasure believe in the mission wholeheartedly, even in the face of the horrors and realities of war. I've seen the price being paid. I was with Lebanon, Va., native 1st Lt. Ryan McGlothlin when he was killed in action Nov. 16 in Ubaydi, Iraq. I closed his eyes, said a prayer, and covered him up.

I've also been a public-school teacher. Syverson laments that the treasure being spent to establish democracy in Iraq would be better spent on education. But the chronic problems plaguing education in Fredericksburg, the state of Virginia, and across this great nation will not be solved with money. The past 40 years should teach us that. The problem in our schools is the absence of parents. No Child Left Behind should really be called No Parents Present. Money is not going to change this reality.

Syverson would also like us to believe that the money would be better spent on health care. The overwhelming majority of health care issues in this country stem from individual lifestyle choices. Until the consumer marketing juggernaut stops pushing alcohol, tobacco, fat-laden foods, poor relationship choices, and fast cars, we'll have a health-care crisis no matter how much money we throw in that direction.

And building housing with the money? Every major city in America is actively tearing down the socially engineered housing projects of the 1960s that turned inner cities into war zones during the '80s and '90s. People value and care about their homes when they have to earn and pay for them--not when they're handed out like spare change.

The answer to America's problems in education, housing, and health care lies in personal responsibility and accountability. Plain and simple. Throwing money at these realities will never take the place of real folks stepping up to the plate and doing the right thing.
Syverson's three sons are all in Iraq. I find it interesting he couldn't trot out one good anti-war quote from any of them. Syverson's talking points are entirely tainted by his own discomfort and anxiety. Narcissism, anyone?

Apparently his sons are more concerned and committed to investing their blood and treasure in a better tomorrow for Syverson's future grandchildren than in making Mommy and Daddy sleep better. Perhaps the sons--like Zirkle, Thompson, and myself--have had, and continue to experience on a daily basis, reason for hope and glad promise for the Iraqis and our own descendants.

MICHAEL D. FAY is a combat artist and warrant officer in the Marine Corps. He recently returned to Fredericksburg after his latest tour of duty in Iraq.
Date published: 5/4/2006

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Afghan Images.....Continued

Afghan gardener pruning roses, Jalalabad
Surveying IED site
Afghani farmer harvesting pumper crop of wheat
Me bumping down the road with good luck smeagh (scarf)
My battle buddy during trip, Radio Operator Lance Corporal D.W.Wofford USMC
Young girls, Pech Valley, come out to wave
Detail of typical stone wall bordering the road along the Pech River
A gang of Afghan boys take a break from swimming in the Pech River to run up and wave
Afghan boy in the village of Khogyani

Blogger didn't seem to want to upload pictures yesterday, but today it does! These images accompany yesterday's post. Enjoy.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Afghan Images, Afghan Memories

There's one incident from my trip to Afghanistan back in May of 2005 that I love sharing. I went out on a patrol along the Pech River to survey an IED site. The battalion's executive officer was making his rounds of the various FOBs (forward operating bases) the previous week when his vehicle was destroyed by an IED set in the road that parallels the river. Miraculously, other than busted ear drums, no one was seriously hurt. One of the drawings with this posting is of the XO's driver.

This road, if you can even call it that, ran between Asadabad and Jalalabad. The narrow valley that the Pech River had carved over the millenia was deep and rugged. All along our way we were greeted by families coming out of their rustic stone homes, ragtag gangs of boys in baggy pants dashing up from swimming holes and farmers busy in their terraced wheat fields. The smells of dust, freshly sythed wheat, water from the spring melt boiling in the river, and Humvee engine exhaust filled the air like some exotic curry dish. I was standing braced in the rear of an open back vehicle holding on for dear life. This road was so rough that kidney stones were being passed, dental fillings loosened and major vehicle components dislodged and discarded by the roadside.....and we could only go 20 mph max! Village after village came out to wave and stare.

Just below one of these villages, from my vantage point standing high up in the back of the HUMVEE, I saw what I soon learned to be a new school house. What drew my attention, in this landscape of golden fields, rock walls and churning water, was a flood of blue and white pouring out of the school. Banging down a river valley at 10 to 20 mph gives folks a lot of time to stop what they're doing and see what the ruckus is all about. What greeted us as we slowly passed the school house were several hundred Afghan girls in uniforms of sky blue cerulean topped with snow white hajibs. They were waving as if waving was an Olympic event. They stood in windows, leaned over the courtyard wall and jammed the entrance way jockeying for position. Here's the best part, the part I tear up every time I re-live this moment; they were shouting in English "Thank You!"