Editor's note: This is the unedited version of the letter emailed to Triplicate reporter Adam Madison on Sept. 11 from Afghanistan by Capt. Bruno de Solenni of Crescent City.
Hi Adam, my name is Capt. Bruno de Solenni and I am writing you in regards to your article that I finally was able to read online.
I really wasn't sure what to expect, especially nowadays with some of the crap that you read in the news. I will say that I was surprised and pleased that it wasn't over-sensationalized and you kept a good theme on the topic.
I guess the main reason I am writing you is to thank you for your support and the point of view that you took on the article. I know that sometimes it is difficult to actually print something without being biased and taking just one side. But I will tell you the truth and give you an honest opinion about my life in the National Guard, about the war over here and many of the decisions leading to my third tour in the Middle East.
First off, when I first joined the National Guard, back in 1996, I had no idea that I would be here today. I do remember making the decision on Christmas Day when I was about 20 years old and felt like I was going nowhere with my life and needed to take a new direction. As my father and mother had stated earlier, I was always fascinated with history and the military, and was amazed at some of the hardships my grandfather endured in both WWI and WWII.
So the following Monday on the 26th I called a recruiter, and took the asvab test on the 27th in Eureka. Three days later I was down at the Oakland Meps station getting sworn in as a 62E (heavy equipment operator). When they asked when I wanted to go to Basic, I told them, "how about next week?" and they kind of laughed at me and explained that the soonest they could get me in was 30 days. On the 29th I boarded a plane and my life was forever changed, without me even knowing what lay ahead.
Eventually, a few years after joining, I did decided to go back to college at Southern Oregon University in Ashland, Ore., where there was a GOLD (Guard Officer Leadership Development) program that allowed me to earn a federal commission as an Army officer while I continued to work toward my degree (which the National Guard also paid for).
In a sense, I was doing exactly what the National Guard said I could do if I joined … Finally, on May 11, 2001, I received my commission as a young, immature, 2nd lieutenant full of piss and vinegar still not knowing exactly what I was getting into.
When Sept. 11 happened, it was then that I realized that things were going to be very different for me and the rest of this country. One month later our battalion received the alert order that we would mobilize the following year to fill in on the current MFO (Multi National Force and Observers) mission in Sinai, Egypt. After returning from Egypt, I was home for eight months before volunteering again to go to Iraq for OIF II. It was there I truly (became) an infantry officer and learned a lot about myself and people in general.
Upon my return from Iraq, I was positive about what was going on there but very resentful at the way the media was covering the war over there. In my own view, I personally feel that some of the media deliberately fueled that war based on their own biased political views and I still hold them accountable for their actions.
Something that still upsets me is the fact that they exploited some of the crimes soldiers committed over there as a reflective view to the rest of the world of what our armies stood for. I am not saying that we didn't make mistakes, we did make them and we have painfully corrected them.
After returning from Iraq I took a break and just stuck to the one weekend a month traditional Guard and used my experiences from Iraq to lead a recon/sniper platoon out of the Grants Pass Armory for about 2.5 years. Then I received the opportunity to come to Afghanistan and work as an Embedded Trainer with the Afghanistan Army.
Some of the biggest dilemmas that I think we have faced here are mostly the fact that Afghanistan seems to have been put on the back burner up until a few months ago when the casualties here began to exceed those in Iraq where there are four times as many soldiers. Our true problems here are definitely reflective of the Pakistani border and the lack of troops covering it, which has been an issue for years and is being exploited by the Taliban as they train freely in Pakistan, unopposed by anyone.
In my opinion, Afghanistan does need a troop surge of American soldiers as well, otherwise we will only be able to sustain combat operations with minimal effect of containing Taliban insurgents. As I speak about this, these are only my views and opinions based on my experiences.
Even though I am now recuperating in the rear and doing fine, much of my time along with other teammates has been spent in the Helmand Province working with a handful of British soldiers in small isolated FOBs conducting offensive operations with the Afghan National Army. Our task is to mentor them during combat operations and to provide both air support and indirect fire support, which seems to sometimes be a daily necessity over here.
The good days over here are when we are truly sticking it to the Taliban in a firefight that is in our favor and you just dropped 130 105mm rounds on their position. Or when a ... hot F-15 pilot flies over your head strafing the Taliban with his Vulcan cannons.
The (bad) days are when you are covering up your your sergeant major from being exposed to the dust-out of a Chinook helicopter that is landing to medivac him out. At the same time he cries because he doesn't want to leave his team as he lies there half paralyzed with shrapnel in him, while fluids are coming out of his eyes and ears signifying severe brain trauma, (meaning we cant give him morphine).
The bad days are when you put your buddy in a body bag and you don't even recognize him because his limbs are missing and there holes in him everywhere. The miracles are when his last words are, "tell my wife and kids I love them," before he dies in his best friend's arms after struggling for several agonizing minutes to get the words out because there is a fist-size hole in his head.
And last but not least, the best days are when an Afghan comes up to you thanking you for everything that you have done to help them and for making their (home) a better place now that the Taliban are gone.
If anything, this is probably the biggest reason why I proudly enjoy being over here. I can't explain it to anyone and there is no description of what it feels like, but it was the same feeling I got when I was in Iraq as well. And I am sure it's the same feeling that generations of American soldiers before me have gotten as they fought and sacrificed their lives for the freedoms that we enjoy today.
Perhaps the biggest thing that has made being over here much more bearable, is the amount of public support that we have received from people. Getting a care package or a letter of support when you are out in the middle of nowhere from a complete stranger, thanking you, does make the day seem a little better.
I would especially like to thank my Aunt Jan Martin, and The local Troop Support organization who have provided care packages to soldiers serving overseas and have volunteered endless hours of their time and energy making our lives easier. The British soldiers (who don't get anything) are extremely grateful as well.
Along with this, I would especially like to thank the members of the VFW who donated several hundred dollars of G.I. shirts to the company of Afghans that I have been mentoring. You have all truly made my life and my job easier. Without your support, life would not be as pleasant.
Last but not least I would truly like to thank everyone who has supported the soldiers and the efforts toward supporting these wars even when there wasn't an end in sight. Until about 6 months ago there wasn't a news outlet that was saying that the Iraq war was winnable and that this was another vietnam in the making. Had we let the politicians get ahold of this war it would have been.
Fortunately our president (who is not perfect) has stood his ground against the naysayers who deliberately exploited the death of American soldiers for their own political gain, showing no regard to their families and loved ones who are still mourning them to this day.
I can understand what it was like for Vietnam veterans who returned from the war and were spat upon for wearing their uniform and standing up for what they believed in. Unfortunately this is still all-too-true for many of the British soldiers returning home to their own country. There are even certain ethnic religious neighborhoods where they cannot even wear their uniforms because they will be beat up in their own country.
I pray to God we never come to that and thank the fact that what has changed drastically between Vietnam and now is that even if the public doesn't support the war, they still support troops which makes a huge difference. This is especially comforting if you are one of those soldiers walking through the airport wearing your uniform and coming home on leave or returning from a deployment.
Once again, I cannot thank everyone enough for their support and all that they have done …
Capt. Bruno de Solenni