Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Belle of Badgag

Here is an update from our friend Lt. Col. Dave (Big Mac) McCarthy, on the left, beginning with a letter of recommendation written by an Army Special Forces Colonel (John) who is a legend in the Special Forces community for his work in Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, Desert Storm, Afghanistan and Iraq and who served with Dave in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Lt Col David "Big Mac" McCarthy is dark, wild and very, verrry different. He is an incredibly intelligent and articulate person of excellent breeding and education. His father was a USMC veteran as well and, other than having a son that became a lawyer, he was proud of his offspring. Dave not only is an excellent USMC Officer of some repute within the SF community, he looks like a Marine (the guy exudes professional Marine Corps bearing). He is the kind of man who (again, other than the lawyer thing) you would be proud to call friend. I am honored to include him among my personal Brothers-In-Arms. He is a good shot (as any good Marine), he is as loyal as an old hound dog (which his facial features strongly resemble), and he is unflinchingly brave. All those (true) glowing accolades having been recited, he is a dark creature whose wildness is barely held in check by his strong self disciplined will. “Big Mac” is a warrior.

Those who know and love Dave agree that he is different. A tiny example:

“Yes, I know the city I'm in is spelled ‘Baghdad’ but I refuse to write it that way, opting to write it as ‘Bagdad.’ I suppose it's kind of similar to the way I refuse to say ‘Venti’ or ‘Grande’ or whatever the heck else Starbucks thinks is chic - I will always say ‘Large, medium or small.’ With Starbucks and with Bagdad I'm probably just spiteful.”

Gotta love the guy! In Dave’s honor, I’m spelling it Badgag! Back to Dave:

Because I mentioned that I had attended a morning brief with General Petraeus, some people have asked if I know him or what he's like. I hope I didn't give the impression that he and I are drinking buddies or that we have meetings; the truth is that he has meetings and in some of those meetings I am one of about 50 or more people attending. Usually the Army SF Colonel I work for attends, but occasionally I have to. I say "I have to" because I'm not a big fan of meetings, or of sitting in front of a computer, or of having to go to the Palace where the Battle Update Assessments (BUAs) take place; I would much prefer to be out in Bagdad with the men. When I'm out in one of the Bagdad neighborhoods or somewhere else in Iraq I feel very alive; my senses are heightened. Part of that feeling alive is because Enthusiasm is a leadership trait, and part is because I like adrenaline. By the way, that's why I never submitted a promotion package for full Colonel: I would much rather be a Lieutenant Colonel in the field with the men than a Colonel behind a desk having to go to meetings (not to imply that the Marine Corps would have promoted me even if I had submitted a package, which is o.k. - it's in line with "I wouldn't want to belong to any club that would have me as a member).

Getting back to General Petraeus, bottom line: No, I don't know him. However I can tell you from having been in meetings he has held, that he is not only incredibly intelligent, he is also very personable and has a great sense of humor. BUAs take place in what's called the JOC - that's the Joint Operations Center, pronounced "Jock". The JOC is an amphitheater in one of the big rooms of one of the palaces and on each level of the amphitheater going all the way around are work stations, each with three computer screens and three telephones; each one for a different function. At each work station there is a representative of one of the different sections of the war fighting machine: Ground Operations, Air Operations, Medical, Legal, Logistics, Weather, Intelligence, etc, etc, etc; even the chaplain's office has a liaison officer/chaplain in the JOC. It's sad though because he is the one who has to put a damper on things when he addresses the JOC and talks about a soldier or Marine who was killed in action; I usually get misty-eyed when he talks about the family of the fallen hero, especially when that family includes young children. If I weren't in the JOC I'd be crying like a baby when I hear those talks (Remember, I'm a big rough, tough Marine on the outside, and a big marshmallow on the inside).

As I'm sitting here listening to machinegun fire and explosions in the distance I'm reminded of the fact that I had mentioned that there are generally 140 attacks daily in Iraq, and 60 in Bagdad. For clarification, those numbers are only major attacks or complex attacks. If the figures were to include every rocket or mortar attack, every I.E.D that detonates and every incident of sniper fire or small arms fire you can bet that the figures would be in the thousands, probably the tens of thousands. Although not every attack is written into the statistics, almost every attack has some horrible consequence. Earlier today there was a sniper attack - just one round fired - where an Army full Colonel was hit; the bullet entered the Colonel's lower back, exited his groin, took off one of his testicles and entered the other side of the groin before stopping in his thigh. Although that attack was not major or complex, I'm guessing that to the Colonel it was significant.

I finally caved and am wearing blackened rank insignia. You may recall that I said I'd never wear it, that I'd always wear silver oak leaves. Well, I'm wearing the blackened stuff. I wasn't ordered to wear it, which is what I had always thought it would take me to switch from silver to black; it was that the men finally got through to me that they were genuinely concerned about me being a bigger target than I already am. Sometimes when we’re under fire and I was being particularly targeted I half-expected them to shout out "YOU SEE SIR . . . IT'S THAT DAMNED SILVER OAK LEAF!!" They asked to speak to me about it, and they were very sincere in our discussions about their concern for my well-being. I decided that my aversion to blackened insignia wasn't worth them fretting about my wearing a big target on my chest (the silver Oak Leaf), so I switched. The smiles on their faces made the wearing of the blackened insignia, despite my distaste for it, worth it.

I'll see if I can't get someone to take another photo and you can compare the two photos - with silver and with black; see if you think I'm a lesser target now. When you see the photo note that I added a Marine Corps Eagle, Globe and Anchor to the ensemble; surely I'm now the Belle of the (Badgag) Ball.
Speaking of silver, I always carried a silver rosary ring in my pocket, perhaps thinking that it counter-acted the silver oak leaves and other things that put me in more danger than I otherwise would be in (things like the fact that my head sticks up higher than the rest of the men). I'll continue to carry it even though I switched to blackened insignia since we're never really “safe” here - last night I was almost knocked out of my cot by a mortar landing really close by. It's funny (not Ha-Ha funny, but interesting funny) that although I carry the rosary ring I don't use it: as with the camera shutter release, since my fingers are more useful on a trigger than on the rosary ring I don't get to say too many Hail Marys and Our Fathers, at least not on the ring - you can be sure they're going through my head. You know the old saying: there are no atheists in a foxhole.

I don't know if the newspapers back in the states are running this human interest story; it's bittersweet: A soldier rescued a dog here and had written to his family - parents and fiancée - about the dog, which he and his unit adopted as a mascot (yes, it's against regulations to keep mascots, but sometimes you just gotta look the other way). Tragically, the soldier was subsequently killed in action. His family wanted the dog as a remembrance of the soldier, since because he had no children the dog was their link to the soldier. The family contacted their congressman, who contacted the Department of Defense, who contacted the Department of the Army, who contacted Multi-National Force Iraq, and right now, as I am writing this, an order is being staffed to have the dog retrieved from up north and brought to the nearest Forward Operating Base where it will be transported to a place where it can be examined, vaccinated and ultimately flown back to the States to give to the family. You just know that that dog will be the most pampered and loved dog in America.

Well, that's about it for this “Greetings from Bagdad” message. Please take care and be well. You are in my thoughts and in my prayers.
Dave (McCarthy, LtCol, USMC, 1 ea.)

I’ll close this post with a video about remembering our troops, sent to me by my good friend Linda Henson (Shortyks1 on Zone Bridge). Lizzie Palmer who put this YouTube program together is 15 years old.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bill My heart is breaking for those that lost loved ones and it is swelling with pride for how our young men and women carry themselves!!!!!!!!!!! his was a FANTASTIC video and I am passing it along. Great writing also!!!!!!


9:35 PM  

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