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I get a lot of incoming commo – e-mail and snail mail – regarding this column, usually at least 2,000 pieces a week.

While most of my mail is intelligent, interesting and often encouraging, occasionally I take a hit from angry rascals and rascalettes hurling obscenities and crude personal attacks from a safe distance because they don’t agree with what I’ve written.

Through the years, I’ve been accused of everything from being misogynistic or “gay” to being illegitimate, a pinko – even a Nazi jackbooter. And this is just the printable abuse.

Occasionally, I find myself thinking, “Hey, at your age, you don’t need the pain.”

Then I get an inspiring message like this rare jewel from a young infantry soldier who knows the truth from the recent visit he’s paid to the Widowmaker. A kid who embodies what America and our Army are all about. And once more, I’m recommitted to do everything I humanly can to make sure our heroes are well-led, well-trained and well-equipped so that they have the best shot at making it through the sheer horror of close combat.

Have a read:


April 21, 2003

SOMEWHERE IN IRAQ

Col. Hackworth,

My name is Pfc. GI Joe [name changed to protect the innocent], and I am currently serving in Iraq as an M-240 B machine-gunner in a mechanized infantry company.

One of my buddies happened to bring a copy of your book “Steel My Soldiers’ Hearts” over with him. Reading it over the past few days, I’ve noticed striking similarities between your experiences and observations in Vietnam and my own experience here in Iraq.

Ninety-nine percent of the fighting we’ve done has been in an urban environment. While concrete and buildings are a far cry from the jungle of Vietnam, they present nearly congruent problems of disorientation and vulnerability to ambush.

I wish my chain of command would have read your book before we deployed. Our CO came to us from a maintenance slot [Battalion Motor Officer] about seven months ago. Not only is he inexperienced in infantry, but arrogant as well.

It’s a combination that has bred an atmosphere of total distrust and doubt within our company. Personally, I don’t think he’s fit to lead a latrine-burning detail. Back in the States, he was more worried about shined boots and razor-sharp creases than preparing for war.

For example, we deployed with eight out of 15 SAWs [Squad Automatic Weapons] broken. One of my buddies’ SAW had no safety. Just a hole in the pistol grip where the safety was supposed to be. The only reason we haven’t suffered more casualties is the result of a squared-away sergeant armorer who begged, borrowed and stole what parts we needed before we crossed the Line of Departure.

On the flip side, we have extremely competent sergeants who have taken us through and never stumbled. If it wasn’t for our E-5 and E-6 types [midlevel sergeants], I don’t know if I’d be writing this letter. More likely, I’d be on my way home in a body bag.

It was not my intention for this to be a bitchfest. I want to thank you for writing your book in a way that a grunt like me can understand. As you stated, the basics of war never change. With all the laser-guided bombs and high-speed tanks we have, I still had to run my butt off dodging bullets and RPGs [Rocket Propelled Grenades]. And let me tell you, these guys don’t die easy. You can pump 15 or 20 rounds into them, and they still try to whack you.

It is my hope that when I become an NCO [sergeant] that I can combine my firsthand knowledge of war and the insights of good leaders such as yourself and those you describe in your book, to mold a kick-ass squad that will make it home despite pretty-boy officers and a politically correct environment that pervades today’s Army.

You have my thanks for your book and your candor, and sir, I know you get a lot of mail, but if you could possibly let me know how to get hold of your tactical publications I would greatly appreciate it.

With greatest admiration and most of all respect,

Pfc. GI Joe

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