A Soldier’s Last 24 Hours in Iraq

A friend of mine named Marc Tinaz has 24 hours left in his deployment in Iraq. He wrote a letter to his family and friends stateside trying to sum up his tour (on which he was awarded a Bronze Star for his actions in combat). He also included a letter he received from a mother of one of the soldiers in his command. I’m posting the dispatch only because I don’t want to be the only person crying at work.

Final Letter from Iraq

03 Feb 2010

Dear Family and Friends,

How can I summarize the last 9 months for you to understand what has happened, how it affected me and what my final thoughts are?

First of all, this deployment has been incredibly humbling and for the first time, this experience has left me somewhat speechless. I know, it’s hard to believe, even for me. Yesterday, I was awarded the Bronze Star for Bravery and meritorious service in combat. Me, the comedian. “Humbling.” That word just doesn’t suffice nor describe how I feel.

Many of you have asked, “Have you made an impact? What have you changed in Iraq?” I’m not sure. I guess the history books will be our judge and answer some of those questions. What I do know is that many Sailors, Marines, Airmen and Soldiers volunteered several hours making care packages for the children of Iraq. Boxes with toothbrushes, coloring books, crayons and toys. I know we meda-vaced locals to the hospital. We provided security to the town during local elections.

Personally, I’ve learned that God doesn’t give you anything you can’t handle. That when you’re scared, something inside pushes you past your limits. The needs of others supersedes the selfish needs of yourself. That gratitude comes in the smallest gifts. A dry bunker at night, with the temperature at 35 degrees is a lot better than a wet bunker at 50 degrees. In total chaos, a joke seems to put things in perspective. An artistic and imaginative masterpiece drawing from a 5-year-old is priceless, because they made it just for you. The only 3 words from a child that have the same deep impact as “I love you” are “Come home, Daddy.”

That when we think and have concerns of the youth of tomorrow being someday “in charge” that we shouldn’t have any reservations. For these young men and women have been nothing short of incredible; brave, courageous, enthusiastic and completely dedicated to the mission, their unit and our country. Their passion is contagious. They made me laugh, cry and a few times gave me several heart attacks. I am so grateful for their devotion and dedication during this dynamic and dangerous tour.

I learned the true definition of pressure. I can clearly recall my in brief with the Base Commanding Officer. “No pressure on you, Lieutenant, but 28,000 people on this base go to sleep hoping your equipment is up and running. Try not to disappointment them.” A lot to digest on your first day.

I learned that life is short and very precious. That Family and Friends should not be defined as two different categories. For in the darkest and challenging hours, a handwritten letter from an old friend writing you a short note saying “My family and I pray for you every night. We miss and love you” fills your heart with love and loyalty. Receiving care package after care packages from friends and friends of friends. It just reinforces the fact you do not have to have money to be rich.

Finally, I learn that families are just as affected as the service member. I have had the privilege to correspond with a mother from one of my Sailors almost daily. A little eccentric, she always had something to say or she would request an immediate update on her son. I think this letter from her summarizes how families dealt with this deployment. I received this a few days ago. I think as a parent, many of you may identify with her feelings.

Lt. Tinaz,

I would like to thank you so very much for keeping the lines of communication open. This has been a very difficult 9 month deployment for me. I am so grateful for your numerous Family grams, Newsletters and personal emails to me. I know I am needy and demanding, and my son would probably place me in the nagging category or perhaps a little neurotic. I would like to thank you for demonstrating patience and understanding. You could have easily deleted the several emails and told me to go to hell. But you replied in kindness and constantly reassured me that my son was safe and doing his share. I apologies if I was so demanding, but what can I say, I’m a mother.

My entire life as a mother, I have prepared myself for life’s little hiccups and prepared my children to take on the next step in their lives. As a Mother, there is nothing like having your child scream in pain and demand your presence running into the house with a skinned knee. Bring out the ointment and gently blow so it doesn’t burn. Or special kisses when they bump their elbows or their head. The first day of school, walking them to the bus stop and reassuring them all will be well. Inside, I’m frantically waiting all day and running to the bus stop, “did he make it on the bus, did they forget him?” Again, I’m sorry, I’m a mother. I believe I dealt with each event as they came, shots from the doctor, the first date, driver’s license, and even getting them ready for college. But nothing, nothing in my experience has prepared me to send my child off to war. At first I was in denial. “My baby just graduated High School….My son is in the Navy, why is he going on land? It must be a mistake.” “No mom, it’s not. I’m leaving.”

As the days approached to his departure, I could not stop crying. I would try to keep my composure around him, reassuring him all will be well. When we arrived at the airport and when we finally had to say our goodbyes, I completely lost it. I could not let him go. My baby that suddenly turned into a man was leaving to go to war. TO WAR!! I held on to him, wrapped my arms tightly around him and soaking in as much as I could. Over and over again I would tell him, “I love you, I love you, I love you. .” “I love you too Mom. I need to go. I’ll call you when I get there.” Watching him walk away through the security checkpoint, my child’s life flashed before me. His first words, first steps, his first tooth, first soccer game. The thought that the next time I see my son could be in a box covered with a flag was unbearable.

For 6 months I have lived one day, one hour, one minute at a time. Watching the news, waiting for phone calls and emails. In desperation, at times if I saw someone in uniform I would ask if they knew my son. “No, are you sure? He’s in Iraq.” I’m sure they thought “this lady is a nut bag”, but they would smile and say “No ma’am. But I’m sure he’s fine. You hang in there.” What can I say, I’m a mother.

When I found out he was coming home early, I felt like the weight of the world was off my shoulders. In fact, I think I was able to sleep for the first time in months. When I saw him at airport, I ran to him crying like a crazy person. Kissing him and caressing his face, looking up at him, staring at my baby like it was the day he was born. “Are you ok? You look ok. Are you sure you’re ok? Did you get hurt? You look like you lost weight. Are you hungry? What do you want mom to cook? “ “Mom, I’m fine, really. I’m good, don’t worry.” “Oh Honey, I’m your mother, that’s what moms do.”

Thank you for bring back my 26 year old baby back, Lt. Tinaz. Thank you, Thank you, Thank You.

I know I speak for every mother when I say thank you and may God bless you.

With much gratitude

P.L.

No. Thank you.

In closing, my friend Marty summarized it well in his blog: “Life is short, Break the rules, Forgive quickly, Kiss slowly, Love truly, Laugh uncontrollably, And never regret anything that made you smile…”

How true Marty, how true. And with that, I say…..

“You stay classy Iraq. I’ll catch you on the flipside.”

10 comments on “A Soldier’s Last 24 Hours in Iraq

  1. Dude. Seriously. Its too early to cry. Im sitting in a dark cold los colinas office while it rains all by myself being and acting all emotional. Or as I call it, Thursday.

    Get him home, may those still over there be safe and may the big bosses make the right choices that protect our men and women.

  2. Awesome. Thanks for sharing. True leadership extends way beyond the traditional boundaries. Lt. Tinaz gets it.

  3. Very touching. And as a mom myself, I totally get it. She is not a “nut bag” – she is a mother. Worry is what we do. Thanks for posting this, Tim. And thank you to Marc and all the others in service. You help make the world a better place.

  4. I was doing *really well* at not crying until I got to the part about “Come home, Daddy.” Off to buy some Kleenex. I can’t even imagine…

  5. Terminal D at DFW Airport. There’s always a group there to greet the returning servicemen and women. Take a day off and go help applaud and shake their hands. Make them feel like the heroes they surely are.

    Chicken soup has nothing on what that does for your soul.

  6. What a difference a couple of generations makes.
    My father was shipped out by the army after Pearl Harbor leaving a pregnant wife – my mother – behind. She did not see him for 3 1/2 years and they could only communicate through censored letters. She had no idea where he was or what he was doing. She found out when he got home that he was in Persia – known as Iran today. They were our ally then and they were supplying another of our allies, Russia.
    My friend’s father evacuated the wounded and the dead from Iwo Jima where we lost over 6,800 Marines in one month – more soldiers than we have lost in nine years in Iraq and Afghanistan combined.
    It is because of the sacrifices that our service men and women have made in the past that we have our opportunities today. My heartfelt thank you to Lt. Tinaz, to P.L’s son and all of the others past, present and future for their service to our country and to their families for what they endure. Let’s not forget them when they come home.

  7. Similar story to DB’s Dad, but my Dad was in the Navy in WWII. He and my aunt developed a location code based on his letter salutation. The family knew he was in Hawaii, and later, Saipan.

    Job and letter well done, Lt.
    Thanks for posting Tim.