This week is the anniversary of President Bush's infamous "mission accomplished" speech. When he gave that speech, I was in Baghdad. My new book Chasing Ghosts: A Soldier's Fight For America From Baghdad to Washington hits the shelves on May 1 nationwide to correspond with that notorious date.
I wanted to give HuffPost readers an exclusive look at a bit of the first chapter. I wrote Chasing Ghosts to help wake people up--and to help them better understand the Iraq war. I also wrote it to explain what our newest generation of veterans is facing once they come home. If the title of this blog didn't give you enough of a hint, I think Chasing Ghosts is going to piss some people off. But I also hope it motivates the public to ask tougher questions, and to get involved in the discussions concerning Iraq and veterans issues.
Here is a sample from the beginning of Chapter One:
"If you don't like obscenity, you don't like the truth. If you don't like the truth, watch how you vote. Send guys to war, they come home talking dirty." -Tim O'Brien, The Things They Carried
George Bush had better be fucking right.
That's how I began my journal on April 3, 2003. Writing in pencil on an Army-issue notebook with mint green pages, leaning in on deliberate, hard letters, I underlined "better" and penciled over the words again and again until they wore through the tactically-colored paper.
On March 19, just two weeks earlier, the US had launched the first air strike of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Troops on the ground had invaded Iraq the next day. And now I was off to war for reasons that I feared were bullshit.
I reclined in the first-class section of a civilian 747 bound for Kuwait with an M-16 wedged between my legs and my gut firmly stuffed with all the Krispy Kreme doughnuts I could scarf down in twenty minutes, courtesy of the old Red Cross ladies who saw us off at Hunter Army Airfield, Fort Stewart, Georgia. It seemed a bad omen that the Red Cross was the last organization to see us off to war. The Red Cross sends emergency notifications to deployed soldiers when something urgent happens back home-like when someone is in a car accident or a grandmother dies. Everyone shuddered whenever word came that a Red Cross notification was on the way. It was the soldiers' equivalent of the knock at the door.
Sitting in a cracked faux-leather seat with In Flight Magazine's glossy pictures of Hawaii poking out the seat pocket in front of me, I considered the absurdity of the situation.
"Gentlemen, please ensure your seatbacks are in the upright position," an older woman's voice crackled over the PA system.
What? We were geared to the teeth with the essentials of combat. Bullets, grenades, rifles, knives, rucksacks, scowls, Copenhagen, cigarettes, hatred, the Penthouse March 2003 edition with Lilly Ann on the cover-the whole Army deal. I was cranked up and ready to run through hell, already bracing myself for incoming explosions, and going over indoctrinated checklists in my mind. And I had to worry about the seatback being upright?
I was going to war, with the greatest military force the world had ever seen, on a jet snagged from a recently bankrupted airline. I wondered if we'd get the little bag of peanuts.