Operation Iraqi Freedom (11 years later)

It’s hard to believe the War in Iraq started 11 years ago this week.

(I wrote this last year for the 10 year anniversary, so if it seems familiar, that’s why)

I was a Second Lieutenant attending the Transportation Officer Basic Course at Fort Eustis, Virginia, when the invasion began.

SFC Milanio used his Photoshopping skills many years ago to do this for me.

SFC Milanio used his Photoshopping skills many years ago to do this for me.

Initially, it looked very promising as the Iraqis seemed very eager for a new day—a day without Saddam Hussein in power. We all remember the toppling of Saddam’s statue followed by the obligatory flip flop slaps to his sculpted face.

Saddam was no longer in power and was now on the run.

In July 2003, his heartless and ruthless sons, Uday and Qusay, were killed in a raid in the northern city of Mosul by soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division.

Years later, on my third tour in Iraq, I would often see what was called the Perfume Palace, which is where Uday and Qusay committed most of their atrocities against women.

I know there is a special place in hell for them.

By December 2003, my unit, the 3rd Brigade of the Army’s 2nd Infantry Division, also known as the First Stryker Brigade, was at Forward Operating Base (FOB) Pacesetter near Samarra, a major city within the Sunni Triangle. It was perhaps the coldest, wettest, muddiest places I’d ever been.

I remember when the news broke that Saddam Hussein had been captured near his hometown of Tikrit, just 30 miles from our location.

We were sitting in an old bombed out hangar when one of my esteemed colleagues said that he’d read where Ted Nugent was offering a $1,000,000 reward to anyone who captured or killed the brutal dictator. I quickly chimed in by saying that I’d read the same thing.

We were looking at each other like two dogs exposed to high pitched sounds when I quietly asked where he’d read that vital piece of information. It turned out that we’d both read it from the same source—the wall of a porta-potty in Kuwait.

As you can imagine, rumors were running rampant. We were in an austere environment so communication with the outside world was extremely limited.

We got to call home one day but due to the length of the line, each call was limited to just five minutes. I called my mother, but because of the time restraints and the fact that I stuttered, I let her do most of the talking to maximize the time.

Soon after Saddam’s capture, the rumors of our early departure spread like wildfire. Some soldiers were really excited that we’d be going home sooner rather than later.

Of course that was not the case. We would be in Iraq for eight more years.

After Samarra, we moved north to the city of Mosul to replace 101st.

On April 4, two of my soldiers were hit with a daisy chain IED while out on a convoy in Mosul. SPC Philip Rogers was killed instantly, while SPC Tyanna Felder would succumb to her wounds just three days later.

Felder rogers

A month later, our battalion lost another soldier as SGT Isela Rubalcava, known by most as SGT Ruby, was killed when she was hit by flying shrapnel from a mortar while leaving the chow hall.

The brigade as a whole would lose countless others on that first deployment.

In all, there were roughly 4,487 casualties of war during Operations Iraqi Freedom and New Dawn. In previous wars and conflicts, that number would have been much higher but was mitigated by advancements in medicine, training, technology, and transportation.

Between Iraq and Afghanistan there are well over a 1,200 amputees.

Over 32,000 soldiers were wounded in Iraq alone, not to mention the thousands who suffer internally with PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

The American people supported the soldiers in Iraq unconditionally for the duration of the war and we are forever grateful for that support, but for many, it’s not over. The battle has just begun, and they need your help now more than ever.

You can do your part by contacting your representatives to ensure they work with the Department of Veterans Affairs to end the backlog for those veterans filing claims.

Getting involved with worthy organizations such as Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) and the Wounded Warrior Project are also ways to show your support for those who served voluntarily so you or your loved ones wouldn’t have to serve involuntarily.

IAVA

Wounded Warrior

Although we did have few bad apples amongst the ranks over the years, the overwhelming majority of soldiers served in a noble manner and made Iraq a better place for its people. Of that, I am certain.

So, on behalf of each and every soldier who has ever had the honor of wearing the uniform, I offer a sincere thank you for your past, present, and future support. We simply couldn’t do what we do without it.

We’re just hoping you don’t forget about us when we’re no longer wearing that uniform.

Jody Fuller is a comic, a speaker, and a soldier. He can be reached at jody@jodyfuller.com. For more information, please visit http://www.jodyfuller.com.

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“Misery is only temporary”

Near the Syrian border in Iraq in 2004. FYI, it does get cold there.

Near the Syrian border in Iraq in 2004. FYI, it does get cold there.

I have a love-hate relationship with cold weather. On one hand, I hate it. On the other hand, I love it, as long as that hand is wearing a glove.

Actually, I don’t mind cold weather as long as I don’t have to be stuck out in it. Unfortunately, I have a history of being stuck out in it.

My earliest memories of being stuck in the discomfort of the elements took place at the bus stop in the late seventies. On cold mornings, while other kids were sporting their Isotoner gloves, my brother and I stood there with tube socks on our hands. If it rained, we kept dry by wearing trash bags. Trendsetters we were not.

Waiting for the bus was the only time I was forced to endure cold weather during my childhood. It wasn’t until I joined the Army that I really learned to detest it.

When I first started basic training at Ft. Leonard Wood, the dog days of summer were in full swing, but by the time I finished, it was colder than the proverbial well digger’s behind in Alaska.

One cold night, I was lying in the prone position on the ground while pulling guard duty on the perimeter of our bivouac site. I was extremely miserable, so I eventually closed my eyes trying to escape the misery. Apparently, I dozed off, which is not a good thing to do while pulling guard duty.

Sometime later, I heard heavy footsteps slowly approaching as they cracked their way through the fallen leaves. Once they stopped, I slowly opened my eyes fully expecting to see the spit shined combat boots of my drill sergeant but that was not the case. When I opened my eyes, there was a masked critter no more than 18 inches away staring right back at me. The cold weather didn’t seem to faze the raccoon at all, but the raccoon definitely fazed me. I’m sure I woke up half the camp…

My first day in Germany was one to remember, because it snowed. My buddy from Pittsburgh laughed at me when I told him “I don’t think it’s going to stick.” He laughed because he’d never heard accumulation referred to as “sticking.” Where he was from, it always stuck. Luckily, this Army medic was stationed at a hospital and never went to the field one time.

I wasn’t as fortunate on my next assignment at Ft. Sill where we seemingly spent half the year in the field. Perhaps it wasn’t that much, but it sure seemed that way.

I first went to the field there in February 1996, and between the low temperatures, the rain, and the wind, that was likely the coldest I’d ever been in my life. My feet were like blocks of ice. One of the old-timers introduced me to an old Army trick and told me how to keep my feet warm by wearing panty hose.

I was all about keeping my feet warm, so I had no problem donning the hose. The only problem was that he failed to tell me I was to wear them in conjunction with my regular socks, so there I was running around the woods in combat boots and panty hose. Not only were my feet colder, but they also had blisters and I had a run in my hose. That was not one of the highlights of my military career.

Shaving on cold mornings was pure torture. Oftentimes, I’d skip the shaving cream and water altogether and simply dry shave. Sometimes, it would become a bloody mess, but at least I didn’t have cold water running down my chest.

It even got cold in Iraq. Although it can reach 130 degrees in the summer, it can be extremely cold there in the winter. In fact, it snowed during each of my first two deployments, but I only experienced misery on the first one.

Our convoy trying to deliver supplies atop Sinjar Mountain in NW Iraq. We didn't make it.

Our convoy trying to deliver supplies atop Sinjar Mountain in NW Iraq. We didn’t make it.

Riding in a Humvee in the freezing rain and snow with no windows is enough to make anyone hate cold weather.

Riding in a windowless Humvee on a cold, wet, and snowy morning in Iraq in Feb 2004.

Riding in a windowless Humvee on a cold, wet, and snowy morning in Iraq in Feb 2004.

The good thing is that I know how blessed I am. While it’s a bit wet and chilly out this morning, I’m writing this article from the comfort and warmth of my home.

For most of us, whether it’s enduring the elements, a losing football season, or things that really matter, misery is only temporary. Life can be difficult for many this time of year, so even if you have to throw some tube socks on your hands, hang in there and hold your head high. It will get better.

Jody Fuller is a comic, speaker, writer and soldier. He can be reached at jody@jodyfuller.com. For more information, please visit http://www.jodyfuller.com.

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Veterans Day: A Day of Celebration

Veterans-Day-image

Last year, I took a character strengths survey for the Army. It is a 240 item, scientifically validated, questionnaire that provides a rank order of an adult’s 24 character strengths.

While the ranking of some of the character strengths left me baffled, the top character strength did not. Topping the list for me was gratitude.

Take your own survey now. You’ll find it interesting.

Gratefulness is November’s character trait for Opelika, a City of Character.

I have so much to be grateful for, but with Veterans Day upon us, I want to focus on our veterans, for whom I give thanks to every day.

Recently, I told a forty something year old friend of mine that had the U.S. not defeated the Axis powers in WWII, we’d all be speaking German. His reply was classic. “Not me. I can’t speak German.”

Last Sunday, I had the honor of attending the birthday party of 90 year old Husky Kirkwood, a Navy pilot during WWII. Not only was it an honor due to his rightful place in The Greatest Generation but also because according to him, it wasn’t a “phonebook crowd.” He didn’t just scroll through the phonebook looking for folks to invite; he only invited select personnel. Like I said, it was an honor.

Husky in his new birthday suit.

Husky in his new birthday suit. I wore a Navy shirt in his honor, which was tough for an Army guy.

This is the P2V5F, one of the planes Husky flew in the Navy.

This is the P2V5F, one of the planes Husky flew in the Navy.

As one can imagine, the “phonebook crowd” drives a lot of Buicks. I believe there were more Buicks at Husky’s house that day, per capita, than anywhere else in America.

Also, as you can imagine, the “phonebook crowd” consisted of many Veterans.

I know there were multiple WWII Veterans in attendance, as well as those from Vietnam. There was at least one from Desert Storm and even a couple of us from Iraq and Afghanistan.

It’s ironic that I didn’t mention the Korean War, which sadly is referred to as The Forgotten War; however, I didn’t forget about it and neither should you. I assume some of the guys served in Korea but it never came up in conversation. Perhaps they’ve tried to forget and for good reason. War is hell and Korea ranks right up there near the top.

While many people see Veterans Day as a sad day, I do not. I see it as a celebration for all who have served; those for whom deserve our unwavering gratitude.

It shouldn’t be confused with Memorial Day; Veterans Day celebrates the service of all U.S. military veterans, while Memorial Day is a day of remembering the men and women who died while serving.

I missed out on a well-paying Veterans Day speaking engagement in California this year, because I stood my ground. I told the event planner that I could speak about anything but to expect a few laughs along the way, because Veterans Day shouldn’t be a somber day; it should be a day of celebration. Apparently that was too much for him to handle, but I’m ok with that and that’s what ultimately counts. You got to stand for something.

But for many, the celebration will soon be ending. According to the VA, we are losing 800-1000 WWII veterans each and every day, so the time to show your gratitude is now.

In recent months, many of my friends from around the country have been showering veterans with birthday cards.

My friend from Fairhope told me about her uncle who fought in WWII. He is 91 years old and blind. His wife died 15 years ago and all he has left is my friend and her mom.

As of Monday, he’d received 26 birthday cards and was deeply moved and brought to tears by the love and gratitude sent his way. He feels special knowing that he is not forgetten.

Uncle Bill message

It doesn’t have to be a holiday for you to reach out to veterans.

We are also losing Korean War veterans at an alarming rate.

Vietnam veterans were loathed by many during their era, so the time to sincerely thank them for answering their nation’s call for a very unpopular war is now.

I deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom three times, each time coming home to a bigger celebration. Sadly, the guys from Vietnam were spat upon and advised not to wear their uniform upon their return. The time to thank them and welcome them home is now.

I’m not forgetting about my generation of vets, I just ask that you focus on the older ones first. We plan on being around for a while, but if you see a younger veteran who is struggling, please reach out to him or her.

I encourage you to do something special this Veterans Day weekend. Make a phone call or two. Send a card. Drop by to see a friend. Visit your local veterans home. Bake some cookies. Who doesn’t like cookies?

I plan of taking a veteran or two to lunch on Monday. Heck, I might even drive them in style. Does anyone have a Buick I can borrow?

My "grandpa" is a WWII veteran and pinned on my lieutenant bars at Ft. Benning in Jan 2003. He's not really my grandpa but that's what I call him.

My “grandpa” is a WWII veteran and pinned on my lieutenant bars at Ft. Benning in Jan 2003. He’s not really my grandpa but that’s what I call him. He has a Buick.

Jody Fuller is a comic, speaker, writer and soldier. He can be reached at jody@jodyfuller.com. For more information, please visit http://www.jodyfuller.com.

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Imagine…Reflections on the National Stuttering Association’s annual conference

As one can imagine, joining the military and deploying to Iraq on three different occasions has had a profound impact on my life that I oftentimes have trouble putting into words.

The same can be said for joining the National Stuttering Association (NSA) followed by my attendance at the last three annual conferences, the most recent being last week’s conference in Scottsdale, Arizona.

This year’s conference featured inspiring keynotes from fellow stutterers Katherine Preston, author of Out with It, and NFL cornerback Trumaine McBride of the New York Giants.

Additionally, Morgan Lott previewed his new film, “This is Stuttering.”

It’s a four day conference. For any other group, it would likely be just two days, but I’m so thankful to be able to spend that extra time with so many amazing people.

Until recently, I referred to my fellow NSA members as my “stuttering” friends, which was a mistake on my part. They are awesome friends with whom I share a special bond who just happen to stutter.

My friend, Daniel, from Canada.

My friend, Daniele, from Canada.

My friend, Christine, from Indiana.

My friend, Christine, from Indiana.

I’m sure by the end of the National Pickling Convention that most people are just ready to go home, but it’s not like that with us. We truly hate saying goodbye.

I have a circle of friends there who inspire and motivate me throughout the year, and each year, that circle grows.

Make no mistake about it; the convention is not a pity party. On the contrary, it’s a fun and inspiring celebration filled with education, awareness, acceptance and empowerment.

Because of my upbringing and military service, I’ve always been a “suck it up and drive on” kind of guy, but by attending the NSA conferences, my eyes have opened up to see the challenges that many of my brothers and sisters face each and every day.

I’m always amazed at the attendees who assert to have never met another person who stutters prior to attending a conference. Imagine the shock and awe.

Growing up, I knew two other kids who stuttered, not to mention my brother and Bo Jackson.

Although I’d met countless stutterers throughout the years, I, too, was in shock and awe when I attended my first conference in Ft. Worth in 2011. Can you imagine a conference where close to 850 attendees talked like me?

Well, I need to be a little clearer about that. None of them talked like me. You see, a person’s stutter is as unique as a fingerprint or snowflake, as no two are alike.

Only 1% of the population stutters, so there’s a chance that I am the only one that some of you know and you might be saying to yourself that it’s not much of an affliction. Well, for me, at this point in my life, it’s not that big of a deal, although I still face many challenges. For others, however, it remains a very big deal.

Imagine not being able to say a loved one’s name.

Imagine not being able to order what you want at a restaurant.

We know that clear and concise communication is essential in most lines of work, so imagine being a super intelligent person and not being able to get your words out in an articulate manner.

For some of you, that’s hard to imagine.

Some stutter, stumble, or stammer on every word, whereas others speak fluently for two minutes straight and then get “stuck” for the next solid minute.

It’s not always a pretty sight.

Some close their eyes, stick out their tongue, or make seemingly exaggerated facial expressions, while others slobber and punch themselves in the leg trying to get the words to flow.

When I was in junior high school, I went through a phase where I stuttered so badly I had to literally beat the words out of myself. Oftentimes, I’d have bruises on my right hip and upper thigh. When having to read aloud during class, I’d often beat the underside of the desk. It was all good until I started beating my friends on their arms and shoulders during conversation.

My friends shied away from me and I really can’t blame them. Who wants to get beat up during a friendly conversation?

It’s tough being a stuttering kid.

In fact, it’s tough being a person who stutters, period, which is why the NSA is so vital.

The NSA is a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing hope and empowerment to children and adults who stutter, their families, and professionals through support, education, advocacy, and research.

The NSA helps to empower awesome kids like my buddy Nate.

The NSA and its members help to empower awesome kids like my buddy Nate from Arizona.

Next year’s conference will be held from July 2-6 in Washington DC.

I get to do some pretty cool things throughout the year, but I’m here to tell you that the convention is always the highlight of my year. It blows me away each time. If you stutter, I highly encourage you and your family members to attend.

Speech-language pathologists are also highly encouraged to attend. Not only is it beneficial from a personal stand point, but it also qualifies as continuing education.

The beautiful and “normal” Marilyn Munster lived at 1313 Mockingbird Lane along with Frankenstein, two vampires, and a werewolf, and she was the person who was considered odd by the rest of her family. The same can be said for fluent speakers who attend the NSA conference, but just like Marilyn, we welcome them in and treat them like family.

Please join us in 2014. You won’t be disappointed, and you’ll leave there a different person.

The possibilities are endless.

Imagine.

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Find out more information about the National Stuttering Association at http://www.westutter.org.

Jody Fuller is a comic, a speaker, and a soldier. He can be reached at jody@jodyfuller.com. For more information, please visit http://www.jodyfuller.com.