Letter From Iraq: This 'old' soldier has faith in the younger generation

I'm down here in North Carolina at Ft. Bragg. I'm in the process of demobilization. Hopefully, I'll be home by Saturday or Sunday. Since we arrived here just before the Fourth of July, we were on hold as far as outprocessing until the staff retur...

I'm down here in North Carolina at Ft. Bragg. I'm in the process of demobilization. Hopefully, I'll be home by Saturday or Sunday. Since we arrived here just before the Fourth of July, we were on hold as far as outprocessing until the staff returned from the holiday.

This meant that we were given four days off ourselves. Almost everyone left the post, checking into motels just outside the base.

My wife and I are planning on buying a home in the Duluth area, so we made the decision to forego the early reunion, as well as my deciding to stay in the barracks to save a little money.

I've made several discoveries in my time down here -- none particularly profound. First, I discovered a lot of cockroaches around this place. Thankfully, all the ones I've found, mostly in the bathroom, are dead. Second, I've found that the weather is rougher here than in Iraq. Dry heat versus humid heat really does make a difference. I'll take Baghdad's 115 degrees to 85 degrees and humid here at Ft. Bragg.

Finally, I've discovered that at age 43 I'm old. Now I know, I know, many readers will tell me this is not old. You're right. Yet, this is how I felt when during our physical portion of outprocessing they segregated the over 40 men from the group. Our over 40 group was just a small handful of eight out of the total group of approximately 150 soldiers. We took it all in good stride as they led us off for our physicals, joking about needing to speak up because of our hearing and asking for our canes.


We began outprocessing before the holiday. Our first day involved "death by briefings" during which we covered many of the same topics, only from a different perspective, as the briefings we had before deploying. The brief-ings included: finance, medical, legal, handling the media and reuniting with family. The second day included the first day of the medical outprocessing. We received a series of medical tests: hearing, vision, urinalysis, blood, X-ray and EKG. I pased the hearing and vision tests without problems. Two of the five soldiers I tested with in the hearing booth, both in the over 40 group, had significant hearing loss identified.

I was impressed with the gentleness and speed by which they drew blood. As I've gotten older, I've become more squeamish about giving blood. Other people's blood I can handle, just not my own. Still, this went off without a hitch. All of these medical tests were completed within a three-hour period. We finished the day by turning in gear.

We returned Wednesday for the second day of medical outprocessing. Day No. 2 involved re-ceiving any necessary shots and a final consultation by a doctor or physician assistant. Fortunately, I've always been blessed with good health and my results were good. Unfortunately, since many soldiers are so focused on getting back home to family, they sometimes rush through the medical part of outprocessing. This can be unfortunate for soldiers down the road as it might hamper their ability to receive military medical attention later for problems arising from injuries sustained or exposure to harmful agents during earlier duty. Now, our last two days of outprocessing will be largely spent on paperwork.

On the Fourth, I watched the Ft. Bragg fireworks, which are billed as being the third largest in the East. They were nice, but I feel no match to Duluth's.

The strongest impression I was left with from the fireworks was the composition of the audience. Again, here I was, surrounded overwhelmingly by youths, consisting of individuals 18-25, many young couples with one or two young children.

Frequently, we hear criticisms of this younger generation being a "couch-potato generation," largely obsessed with playing Game Boy and watching television. This criticism is off the mark for those I observed at the fireworks.

It's true that some of the young soldiers among that fireworks audience joined the military because they saw few better options. Yet, even if this were their sole reason, shouldn't these individuals be commended for showing personal responsibility, relying on themselves for support rather than their parents?

They are learning discipline, learning teamwork and usually earning financial aid for later schooling. Then, what really blows me away are the large number who have a sense of patriotism and duty for country among their top reasons for joining the military.


When we are continually bombarded by messages from outside our country about how decadent and weak America is and how we are on the decline, I look to the patriotism and energy of these young men and women I serve alongside. As I passed that Fourth of July on the Ft. Bragg parade ground, I knew in my heart that some 200-plus years after this country's founding that America is alive and well, with some of its best days yet to come.

God bless America.

Duluth attorney Chris Dahlberg was stationed with the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division in Baghdad.

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