Saturday, July 31, 2004


July 31, 2004

It’s 1:08am on Saturday morning and I am awake because a huge explosion catapulted me violently from the comfort of my dreams to the reality of my life.

The last few minutes unfolded like this: I attempt to figure out my right foot from my left as Linda (my roommate) hops out of bed, trips over combat boots and flack vests in the darkness, and stumbles out the trailer door in an attempt to find out what has happened. As is usual she sees nothing, hears nothing, knows nothing. We don’t duck for cover, reach for ammo, or scream out in fear. We go outside for answers and come inside with questions. The only apparent chaos is in our rapidly beating hearts and wandering minds because outside we see only the calming blue sky outlined by palm trees and highlighted by the moon.

Welcome to Iraq – where hell unfolds before the eyes of few and the ears of many.

I hear the bombs, explosions, mortars, and gunfire in the distance, but I rarely see anything. On occasion, I’m close enough to pick up shrapnel that becomes a tangible war memory. Sometimes it’s scary, particularly when it forces me out of much needed sleep. Other times I don’t even flinch, but I shudder as I think of the absurdity of the now ‘normal’ natural sounds of my environment.

There are times I would rather be nowhere else in the world than right where I am. I love having this experience. Clearly, it’s not always easy. In fact, it’s 80% hell. But I wouldn’t trade the other 20% for anything. A nice car can’t replace the feeling I get when I tell a soldier’s story. A flat screen television can’t replace the feeling I get as I make people laugh over the radio. A day at the beach can’t replace the feeling I get when I give a kid a new pair of shoes. New clothes can’t replace the feeling I get when I see a newly renovated school. While it’s no secret I miss the luxuries of home, none of it really matters because those tangibles are fleeting. I will have these feelings forever.

In spite of the explosion tonight, I’ve had a great week. My radio show is going great, I am having a fantastic time making friends, and I had an incredible epiphany.

Last Monday I was one of three soldiers nominated to be the enlisted military aid to Ambassador John Negropante. My job would be to handle the logistics of his life. Basically, I would be his personal assistant. While that didn’t sound very appealing to me, the ‘perks’ of the job did. I would travel with him everywhere, I would get to meet very ‘important’ people, and I would get to learn more about the humanitarian side of the story. I would also have to extend my tour for three additional months. I had mixed feelings. I really didn’t like the idea of being here through another holiday season, but I knew it would be a great way to establish contacts (I am a journalist, mind you). I also knew that it would give me another three months to make a difference in the lives of the Iraqis – and let’s not forget, I would work daily for a man who is assuming tremendous responsibility for one of the most perilous countries in the world.

I met with General George Casey (Commander of ground troops in Iraq) and with Ambassador Negropante. I liked them both immediately. I had no idea what they were looking for in a military aid. I knew the interview went well but I also knew my lack of military experience was an issue. I have 2 years, SSG Scott has 17, and SSG Williams has 22. Hmmm, a military aid? I wonder….

Long story short, SSG Scott got the gig. He deserves it. Both he and SSG Williams deserve a cool job like that. I haven’t earned my place as a military aid yet – especially to an Ambassador. Being here now, though, is teaching me. The bombs, the smiles, the heat, the M16 - all learning tools for young SGT Collins.

I can go through the usual “it was a pleasure being nominated” blah blah blah, but that’s not entirely true. The truth is I was a little disappointed. I thought I missed an incredible opportunity. It wasn’t until the next morning, though, when I assumed my position behind the mike in the radio studio that I realized I am exactly where I need to be. My job right now is to entertain my fellow troops and to remind them how important their job is. I can make contacts with ‘important’ people some other time.


My time will come. Their time is now.

It’s now 3:23am. I’m going back to bed.

With Love,


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