At some point in the future, soldiers will pack up their rucks, equipment will be loaded into huge shipping containers, C-130s will rise wheels-up off the tarmac, and Navy transport ships will cross the high seas to return home once again. At some point — the timing of which I don’t have the slightest guess at — the war in Iraq will end. And I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately — I’ve been thinking about the last American soldier to die in Iraq.
Tonight, at 3 a.m., a hunter’s moon shines down into the misty ravines of Vermont’s Green Mountains. I’m standing out on the back deck of a friend’s house, listening to the quiet of the woods. At the Fairbank’s Museum in nearby St. Johnsbury, the lights have been turned off for hours and all is dark inside the glass display cases, filled with Civil War memorabilia. The checkerboard of Jefferson Davis. Smoothbore rifles. Canteens. Reading glasses. Letters written home.
Four or five miles outside of town, past a long stretch of water where the moon is crossing over, a blue and white house sits in a small clearing not far from where I stand now. Chimney smoke rises from a fire burned down to embers. A couple spoon each other in sleep, exhausted from lovemaking. One of them is beginning to snore. I want them to wake up and make love again, even if they need the sleep and tomorrow’s workday holds more work than they might imagine.
Who can say where that last soldier is now, at this very moment? Kettlemen City. Turlock. Wichita. Fredricksburg. Omaha. Duluth. She may be in the truck idling beside us in traffic as we wait for the light to turn green. He may be ordering a slice of key lime pie at Denny’s, sitting at a booth with his friends after bowling all night. What name waits to be etched on a stone not yet erected in America? Somewhere out in the vast stretches of our country, somewhere out in Whitman’s America, out among the wide expanse of grasses, somewhere here among us the last soldier may lie dreaming in bed before the dawn as the sun sets over Iraq. [complete article]
Note about the author: Brian Turner is a poet who has served seven years in the Army, most recently in 2004 as an infantry team leader in Mosul with the Third Stryker Brigade Combat Team, Second Infantry Division. His book of poems, “Here, Bullet,” won the 2005 Beatrice Hawley Award and was a New York Times Editor’s Choice selection. He lives in Fresno, Calif, where he teaches poetry at Fresno State.
Uneasy U.S. diplomats yesterday challenged senior State Department officials in unusually blunt terms over a decision to order some of them to serve at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad or risk losing their jobs.
At a town hall meeting in the department’s main auditorium attended by hundreds of Foreign Service officers, some of them criticized fundamental aspects of State’s personnel policies in Iraq. They took issue with the size of the embassy — the biggest in U.S. history — and the inadequate training they received before being sent to serve in a war zone. One woman said she returned from a tour in Basra with post-traumatic stress disorder only to find that the State Department would not authorize medical treatment.
Yesterday’s internal dissension came amid rising public doubts about diplomatic progress in Iraq and congressional inquiries into the department’s spending on the embassy and its management of private security contractors. Some participants asked how diplomacy could be practiced when the embassy itself, inside the fortified Green Zone, is under frequent fire and officials can travel outside only under heavy guard.
Service in Iraq is “a potential death sentence,” said one man who identified himself as a 46-year Foreign Service veteran. “Any other embassy in the world would be closed by now,” he said to sustained applause. [complete article]