Felipe Perez (class of 1999) has recently been deployed to Iraq. He occassionally finds time to write emails and has granted me permission to post them. The full text of the first email he sent on June 25 is posted in the extended entry.

Just a little background: Felipe graduated from the Kennedy school of government a year ago. He turned down extremely lucrative offers to work political campaigns in order to enlist in the Army Reserve. He explained the decision to me over a few beers. He reasoned that the United States has a moral obligation to help rebuild Iraq after attacking it. He also didn’t want to ask someone else to do a dangerous task he was unwilling to do himself. Thus, he refused a desk job with the Reserve and requested to be one of the boots on the ground.

The whole email is full of rich detail on the mechanics of getting trained and prepared to be shipped out. However, the emotional core is at the end:

Although I believe it was a mistake to invade Iraq, I believe we now have a responsibility to remain until order is restored, and, as such, I am proud to be a part of the reconstruction effort. I have my share of fears, doubts, and misgivings, but I have no regrets.

For all the weddings, anniversaries, births, birthdays, and holidays I will miss, my apologies, best wishes, and love in advance.

Keep safe, Felipe. We’re pulling for you at Ephblog (me especially).


Felipe’s Letter from June 25, 2004
————————————————————————————-

Subject: The Next Chapter (hint: it’s in Arabic)

Dear Friends-

I know I’ve got an annoying habit of dropping off the map for months at a time. Sorry. This is the first time many of you have probably heard from me in a while, so excuse the mass e-mail.

Most of you probably knew that I joined the Army Reserve last year, and that I spent the latter half of last year and the beginning of this year in training. It’s a good thing I was paying attention.

I’ve been called up to active duty and am on the next rotation to Iraq. On July 10th I put the uniform back on, and keep it on for the better part of 13 months. My tour begins with a four week training at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, called “Shoot, Move, and Communicate.” As I understand it, this one picks up where basic training left off, taking our basic soldier skills and refining them for the Iraq campaign. From there, it’s back to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where we can expect 2- 4 weeks of “mobilization.” I’m not totally sure what that means, but I’m guessing it has to do with standing in long, long lines to get equipment, shots, and briefings.

In late August/ early September, we take a long flight to Kuwait, where we’ll spend a week or so getting acclimated to the desert (from what I hear, that pretty much means learning how to drink gallons of water a day). From there, my unit heads to Mosul, in and around where we’ll spend the better part of a year.

My unit is the 426th Civil Affairs Battalion, based in Upland California. We are 150 soldiers, men and women, rookies and veterans, students and professionals, whose mission is to aid in the reconstruction of Iraq, to provide coordinate humanitarian relief, and to provide a link between the American military and Iraqi civil society during this period of transition. Since we are considered support troops, rather than combat troops, upon our arrival to Northern Iraq we will be farmed out to the different combat units there on the ground. So, the 150 of us will be spread around in 5 soldier teams, acting as the civil affairs experts and advisors to various commanders within the 25th Infantry Division. Some teams specialize in refugee management, some in damage and needs assessment, some in construction, and some in planning. As of now, I am assigned to a headquarters planning detachment, and to tell the truth, I’m not entirely sure what that means with regards to my day to day activities.

As I said, the plan is for most of us to be in and around Mosul, which is good news in many ways. First, it borders the Kurdish region, which has thus far been one of the friendliest areas of the country. Second, at Mosul the landscape shifts from desert to mountains, meaning the climate should be much nicer, reducing the misery factor. What that means to me is that, besides the comfort and relative safety, I may actually be able to go there and do work which meaningfully impacts people’s lives, which brings a little stability and hope to their lives. The last thing I want to do is spend a year in a foxhole, afraid of my own shadow- I want to work. But I’m not naive. I know the situation is dynamic. I know friends can quickly become adversaries. I know that safety must always be my first concern.

Although I believe it was a mistake to invade Iraq, I believe we now have a responsibility to remain until order is restored, and, as such, I am proud to be a part of the reconstruction effort. I have my share of fears, doubts, and misgivings, but I have no regrets.

For all the weddings, anniversaries, births, birthdays, and holidays I will miss, my apologies, best wishes, and love in advance.

Much love,

Felipe

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