Sunday, February 18, 2007

Perspective: 'I... lock the door and cry by myself'

Branden Cummings was one of four who died on Valentine's day

At Camp Warhorse, on the outskirts of the city of Baquba, news of death comes to the colonel's office with a gentle knock, a note and a quiet whisper. The faces of the officers who bring the messages say it all.

On Valentine's Day, the awful news kept coming. Since arriving last October, the fatality rate for this unit was a death once every fortnight or so. Now in the past nine days it has lost eight soldiers - four of them on February 14.

Lieutenant Colonel Morris Goins, the 41-year-old commanding officer of 1st Battalion 12th Cavalry Regiment, is - like many of his men - on his third tour since 2003. A thoughtful African-American whose uncles fought in Korea and Vietnam, Col Goins talks about loss, grief and the responsibility of command. He talks about managing the anger too. He says he is thinking about taking his tank to the highway to try to catch someone in the act of planting a bomb, to pull the trigger.

It is not rage, he insists, or personal. But the grief, he acknowledges, is something else.

"Sometimes you can't keep it together," he says. "I don't have the strength. I am human just like you. But these dudes, they need you to be calm and thinking straight, not getting angry and wanting to kick down some doors.

"That does not mean I won't come back and lock the door and cry by myself. I have eye drops on my desk to clear my eyes. I have my Bible and I do a lot of praying. Then I can go back out again and do what I need to do."

Read the rest at the Guardian