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Stella On My Shoulders

by James Dowmen, an IAVA Vet

Greetings from a different war & generation. I was born on September 16, 1968, three years and some days after my dad's first shit-storm in Vietnam, Operation Gibraltar at An Ninh, 1965. While you guys were rucking in the boonies, I was sporting diddes and making a mess with Gerber baby-food.

Anyways, fast forward to the arse end of January, 2008. I found myself waiting on a bird out of Afghanistan after completing my second tour of duty. One of your comrades, a D 4/3 Soldier, Master Sgt. Johnny Bethel was running the transit tent at Bagram airbase. I turned in my M-4 carbine, 9mm Beretta, and body armor plates to him. He was trying to extend his tour because he had a well deserved gig working the transition tent. Bethel congratulated me on making it out of Afghanistan in one piece. The sentiments were genuine and well received.

The weather was 35-45 degrees and drizzly. Spent most of my time after checking flight schedules wasting time at the PX and internet cafe at the rec room or at the Pat Tillman USO near the airfield. Finally, I got confirmation that a C-17 flight to Manas, Kyrgyzstan had my name on it. I double checked the 50 tons of crap Uncle Sugar issued me because I didn't want to have anything that might excite the MPs who did the customs check on the way out of country. Bethel hooked me up with a pickup truck ride to the terminal. I dropped my crap off and awaited the inspection. No problem there. We palletized our baggage and waited. Thank God for Gameboys and laptops, such gizmos would make waiting in hell palatable.

Anyways, we finally boarded our flight and took our seats, the cargo doors of the aerial colossus shut and we taxied and took off. 'Yaaay, Yee-haw, I ain't never coming back to this shit hole', and other choice celebratorial shouts of glee as the fat cargo jet went airborne. I wisely packed a poncho liner and took a nap. On to Manas, Kirgizstan. When we landed, the doors opened and we were bitten by the cold. We're talking Siberia cold. I was glad I packed enough snivel gear to avoid the Stalingrad effect. When you feel -30 below zero temps in the former USSR, it isn't hard to fathom what Fritz went through in WWII.

It took about four days to get out of Manas, but the military had decent recreation facilities to move the time along. I even hopped off the wagon and had two Russian beers, the limit for deployed G.I.s. These brewskis were pretty potent, I got a hellacious buzz and went back to the transit clamshell and slept off the Russian alcohol hammer nicely. Bought a guide to Kyrgyzstan, it said basically that there wasn't much going for the country. Too much political corruption and most of the resources had been squandered. On the bright side, when it's sunny out, Kyrzygstan has some of the bluest skies you'll ever see.

As we were transitioning out, support troops from the 101st Airborne were arriving. I wondered how their tour would go. I think they were transportation troops, so, they could definitely count on an 'interesting' tour of duty. Even without Taliban, foreign fighters, or HiG busting caps at and using IEDs on you, convoying in Afghanistan is dangerous. I wished them well.

Got back to the U.S., out processed Fort Bragg, N.C., yada-yada. Finally got home to snowy Michigan and my Wife, Becky and Father-in-law Jerry picked me up. When we got to the house, I went to the dog kennel and my four-legged friend, Stella, a medium sized Black Lab went nutso. I took her inside and sat on the couch. Stella hopped across my shoulders and draped herself like a scarf on me. She stayed like that for half an hour. Guess that was a dog's way of saying 'Playing fetch and walking with me in the woods makes more sense than going off to war.'

Americal Division Unit Patch
The Americal Division is the only army infantry division to be formed outside the continental United States. The Americal division is also the only named army Division. All other army divisions have a number designation. The army later added the number designation of the 23rd Infantry Division to the Americal title. The four stars represent the constellation Crux. Crux is referred to as; 'The Southern Cross'. The Americal Division motto is 'Under the Southern cross'. The patch has been worn in combat by Americal Division veterans who served in the Pacific theatre during WWII and by veterans of the Vietnam War.

This patch (above) is symbolic of the 'Jungle Warriors' of the 11th Light Infantry Brigade. The 11th LIB consisted of the following units:

The 3/1, who declare themselves to be, 'Always First'
The 1/20, who carry the name, ‘Sykes Regulars'
The 4/3, who are 'The Old Guard'
The 4/21, are 'The Gimlets'

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