Staying Sane In Iraq: A Soldier's Story

I got a remarkable letter last week from a soldier in Iraq named Shaun Feingold. I found his words so inspiring, I asked him if I could post them, and he agreed.
06/25/2008 05:12am ET | Updated November 17, 2011
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I got a remarkable letter last week from a soldier in Iraq named Shaun Feingold. I found his words so inspiring, I asked him if I could post them, and he agreed.

At the start of the letter, Shaun says he had read some articles describing me as a humorist. He continues:

"I thought to myself, 'What exactly is a humorist' and as far as I can tell, it's someone who finds the little everyday things in life that make you smile.

I have now been in Iraq for many months and I have found myself to be what I believe is a little bit wiser. One of the things that this wisdom has presented me with is what I think of as little pictures and big pictures. It's very easy to look at the big picture over here and be pessimistic. I'm away from my wife and family for over a year. Every day when I roll out I might get hit by an IED. It's hot. It smells. I can't just relax and drink a beer or a glass of wine. The average American cares more about their $600 tax rebate than the War in Iraq. Just writing that kind of makes me depressed.

That's why I don't look at the big picture. Every day, without fail something happens, something small, that makes me smile. And that's all it takes, that one laugh a day, the little picture, makes it all doable. It's kind of like ignoring the forest so you can see the flowers.

There was one time when myself, another soldier, and an Iraqi Policeman were manning a small traffic checkpoint. It wasn't very busy, maybe a car every ten minutes or so. Mostly it was boring and hot. Anyway, a car pulls up and I said to the driver 'salam.' He looks up at me and says 'How are you, sir?' I ask him if he speaks English and he gets this smile on his face and says to me in a chipper British accent, 'I was on the faculty of Oxford, I bloody well hope I speak English, friend.'

Another time we were patrolling, and of course it was hot. Suddenly in the canal next to us we saw and heard a puppy that we thought was drowning. My company commander, ever the dog lover, unhesitatingly jumped into the waist deep water with all 70lbs of gear on. The puppy was so startled by this that it swam to the other side of the canal and ran away. My commander climbed out of the canal soaking wet with this smile on his face and said, 'Well, I guess I got him out.'

But my favorite moment was one day when we were doing a patrol through a village. There had recently been some sectarian violence and so all of the villagers were scared or angry, none of the adults were out to greet us like they usually do. Anyway, we're walking through this village and I looked over this short stone wall into someone's back yard, and I saw this group of little kids, maybe four or five years old. And they were just being little kids, playing with dolls and toy cars. The violence, the war, the US Army, Sunni, Shia. They didn't know and didn't care.

I could go on, about things like how our two pet dogs always sleep in front of our vehicles, so before a combat patrol we have to wake up or drag these lazy dogs out of the way, or how the wives' club still manages to circulate rumors about and to us from half way around the world while we're in a combat zone. Or how I was pulling security outside of a Nahia Council meeting (think: City council), and one of the Iraqi Policemen we were with pulled out his cell phone and started playing that Celine Dion song from "Titanic." (It was funny at first, but then he played it three times.)

Maybe I'm just optimistic, maybe I'm too young, but maybe I'm a humorist myself in a way. Even over here there's always a reason to smile, that one little picture a day, and it helps break that big, ugly, 15 month long mural into a bunch wallet sized smiles. Sure, there are still a lot of frowns, but I don't concentrate on those.