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'The War Goes on, One Day at a Time'

Legislator's Letters Tell of Hope and Homesickness, Weather and Food, and Sights New and Unvarying

Thursday, February 24, 2005; Page PG16

Prince George's County Del. Anthony G. Brown, the Democratic majority whip, is a husband, father and lawyer. Now, he is also one of thousands of soldiers on duty in Iraq. He serves there as a U.S.-appointed consultant to the Ministry of Displacement and Migration.

Lt. Col. Brown, 43, an Army reservist, left in the fall for a nearly year-long tour of duty. Like many other soldiers in Iraq, he uses e-mail to communicate with his family and friends. He has written letters -- some funny, some sad, all candid -- to his wife and children and to his constituents. He writes early in the morning or late at night, when he has down time. In his e-mails, he has described to his wife an encounter with a woman from Fallujah who lost her twin daughters in the conflict and discussed his bout with homesickness. In one, he asks his father to keep his mother away from newspapers and television news so she will not worry about his safety. In another, he asks his 10-year-old daughter, Rebecca, about her Barbie collection and whether she has read the Harry Potter books.

The following are letters that Brown has authorized Anne Arundel Extra to publish.

To a Harvard Classmate

Thanks for the e-mail. I've been in Kuwait for about three days now. The temperature reaches 115 degrees in the shade between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. I experienced my first sandstorm today. It was a small one but it felt like being sandblasted. I move north to Iraq on Monday. Will most likely be in the International Zone working with the Ministry of Justice. However, nothing is certain and everything changes daily. I will keep you posted on developments and activities from Baghdad.

Take care. AGB


A Reply E-Mail To a Maryland Friend

You need to stop messing around and come over here to Baghdad, Iraq. The weather's great, the work is interesting, the people are nice and the pay . . . well let's not go that far.

I apologize for not writing you that e-mail that I promised about what's happening in B'dad. Well, it's going all right. I do wear a uniform every day, although my State Department counterpart asked me yesterday if I could wear civilian attire when I meet with the Iraqi ministry people. I told him I'd check it out, but the truth is that the military knows it's in Iraq, the Iraqi people know we're in Iraq, as does the State Department, so we ain't about to hide it behind civvies. Some higher-level people do wear civilian clothes, but only very high level.

The quarters are adequate. Air conditioning everywhere in the International Zone. All U.S. government personnel, civilian and military, who work in the embassy compound live in trailers on the compound. Two rooms and a bathroom in each trailer. Two people per small room (maybe 12 by 12, and two rooms share one bathroom -- one shower, sink, toilet). Overall, much, much better than the barracks at Fort Bragg and slightly better than the tents in Camp Buehring, Kuwait. Water stoppages, shortages once or twice per week for several hours at a time. Hopefully not immediately following physical training. The trailers are huddled up next to the Republican Palace and are well protected with high walls of sandbags to protect against the occasional mortar fire. The food is okay, and I've been told that it is much improved since earlier this year. The food is trucked in and prepared by contract civilians. Last week, rationing was in effect because security issues prevented convoys moving from the airport to the IZ. We didn't starve. Plenty of inventory of food and water. Water is everywhere. Everywhere you go you see pallets of cases of water. With temps at 108 degrees, water is a must. . . .

My duty day is basically 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. I take time for breakfast and lunch, and usually skip dinner in order to maintain my weight at 170 pounds. I work out five to seven mornings a week for an hour, usually starting at 5:30 a.m. Everything is in the nice gymnasium: treadmill, Cybex weight machines. I don't run outside for fear for my safety. It's still dark and I'm alone without my pistol. During the day, I will leave the compound to go to various places within the IZ. I'm always armed and we travel in pairs, or more. In the evening, I return e-mail (which I do occasionally from my desk during the day), write letters to my kids and wife, read, and sit by the pool. I don't do the pool thing that much because it's an incomplete experience. My experience around a pool, and believe me the palace has a beautiful pool and grounds, includes a beer or three, my wife and kids and/or friends, a grill, and the absence of black smoke and the sound of explosions in the background. Sometimes I can fake it. . . .

My mood is generally positive. I recently recovered from my first bout of homesickness. While at McCoy and Bragg, there was always the feeling of being just a few hours from home. The climates were just as humid in Wisconsin and North Carolina as it is in D.C., the only sand was at the beach, and I always knew I'd see Patty and the kids before I left. Well, I've left and it'll be nine months until I'm back home. So I got homesick. Most people do. As I'm getting deeper into my work, I think less and less about not being home, although I constantly think of home. . . .

The separation is tough. Between the two of us, I'll never deploy again. My son Jonathan is taking it hard. He's my Buddy Boy and I could never have dreamed of a better relationship with my son. I hope that the nine months does not destroy that. It will change it, and I can accept that. But anything less than a great relationship with my boy would be a big regret. Rebecca's handling it very well. Patty is busting her ass at work and at home. She's holding down the fort like a real trooper. I'm very proud of her. We joke that she has a more difficult job than I have. The truth is that I feel closer to my family today than ever before. Distance makes the heart grow fonder.

I think about what's happening in Maryland, Busch, the governor, local politics, etc. But I think I'll really miss it when session starts. Two favors: First, please keep sending me stuff from the papers, etc. I want to stay informed and I might even give you some guidance on a few issues. Second, work with me, when I prepare to redeploy and when I finally return, to get back into the game. It won't be easy, and I'll need the help that you've always so generously given me. I appreciate your help.

Take care and keep in touch, AGB


To His Former Reserve Unit, The 10th Legal Support Organization In Upper Marlboro

You caught me at my desk this afternoon. It is 2:30 p.m. and I am reviewing background information on the property disputes issue in northern Iraq primarily between Kurds and Arabs. Ninety percent of my time is allocated to Civil-Military Operations duties and 10 percent to traditional JA [judge advocate] work (Article 15s, GOMARs [general officer memorandums of reprimand], administrative separation boards, etc.). The temperature is cooling a bit. High of 104 today in Baghdad, lower in the mid-90s next week. Need to call home for some more outerwear! As you know from the news, the violence in Iraq is on the rise.

The International (Green) Zone continues to be a distance from the action, but occasionally a mortar round makes it into the IZ. No small-arms clashes in the IZ, but there have been IEDs [improvised explosive devices] and VBIEDs [vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices] found in the IZ. We owe our safety and security to the professionalism and commitment of the soldiers of the 1st Cavalry Division. Hooah!

I've been on two convoys through [hostile territory], neither of which was eventful. Pucker factor: Extremely high. Adrenaline: Flowing. Also been on one UH-60 flight to Tikrit and back. One hundred twenty miles at 140 knots, all of it low-level flight, with an occasional climb to avoid the high tension wires.

The Tigris River valley is a sight to see. Date-bearing palm trees for miles. Entire villages vacant and/or demolished throughout the land. Got off at the wrong FOB [forward operating base]; fortunately there was a small convoy going in my direction. Extend a heartfelt hello to everybody. I look forward to seeing you guys in the 10th when I return next summer. Also, e-mails are welcome.



An Open Letter To His Constituents

I want to take the time to let you know that I am well, and to wish each and every one of you a joyous and peaceful holiday season. By now most of you are aware that in July I was called upon as a United States Army reservist for deployment to Iraq to assist in the rebuilding of that country. At that time, I promised to return safely. I intend to keep my promise. Now, almost five months later, with Thanksgiving just a few days away, I wanted to give you an update along with the holiday greetings.

First of all, you should know that because of the tremendous support from so many of you, my wife, Patricia, and children, Rebecca and Jonathan, are fine. We are eternally grateful for you being there for us.

Today, I am in the Green Zone in Baghdad. I work in the palace annex of the U.S. Embassy. While no place in Iraq can be considered safe, I am able to rise from my bunk each morning, in large measure, because of the professional, dedicated effort of the soldiers of the 1st Cavalry Division who work tirelessly to secure the streets and neighborhoods of Baghdad. They are true American heroes. To them, their families and their loved ones, we owe a great deal of respect, appreciation and admiration.

My work here in Iraq is much what I expected when I left home last summer for training in Fort McCoy and Fort Bragg. I am participating in the reconstruction of a war-torn country that has also experienced decades of neglect. Since the fall of the former government, three new Iraqi ministries have been created, one of which is the Ministry of Displacement and Migration. I serve as the public administration consultant to that ministry. My work involves assisting the ministry in building its capacity to provide and coordinate services for the 1.4 million internally displaced persons and refugees in Iraq. I travel into the Red Zone several times a week to meet with ministry staff and officials as they undertake the arduous task of building the ministry from the ground up. The work is interesting and challenging. It is equally frustrating and slow.

Since arriving in Iraq on Sept. 14, I have visited two Iraqi cities outside of Baghdad. Traveling north approximately 100 miles up the Tigris River valley, I first visited Tikrit. I did not have an opportunity to see much of Saddam Hussein's home town, but I was able to view what some call the "cradle of civilization" from the back seat of a helicopter flying 140 miles per hour, 100 feet above the treetops. Several weeks later, I traveled again by air, this time along the Euphrates River to the southernmost region of Iraq -- the Basra governorate, home of the Marsh Arabs. Basra City is perhaps the poorest city that I have ever visited and there are ample signs that the poverty has been decades in the making. I hope to visit other regions in Iraq to better understand the people whom we serve.

My daily life for now is confined to a small area around the palace annex in the Green Zone. The trailer where I sleep with four other soldiers is less than two minutes from the palace where I work with several hundred people. Between my trailer and the palace, I pass the post office, the laundry facility and the dining hall. The cashier (there are no ATMs, nor is there a need for an ATM) is in the palace and the mini-Post Exchange and barbershop are a three-minute walk across the parking lot. I can walk from one end of my world to the other in five minutes. I haven't seen downtown Baghdad since my arrival and I doubt that I will ever see it during this deployment.

While I am honored to be serving in Iraq, I look forward to returning to my Maryland to continue my service to our community.

Yesterday I participated in a Brown family tradition. I purchased four new Christmas music CDs that I will play almost nonstop between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day. Rest assured that the holiday season will not pass us by in Baghdad. There will be turkey in the dining halls on Thanksgiving day; there probably will be a few gifts under my bed in the trailer on Christmas morning; there might even be sparkling cider and a chorus or two of "Auld Lang Syne" sung on New Year's Eve. I have no doubt that there will be plenty of goodwill among the men and women who will spend Christmas, Hanukah and Kwanzaa in Iraq. For us, the holiday season will be truly special. And for you and yours, may this holiday season be truly the most wonderful time of the year.

Sincerely, Anthony/AGB


To His Daughter

Dear Rebecca,

Thank you so very much for your multicolored e-mail that you sent to me the other day. I was very interested in reading about the wonderful things that are going on in school ("rutabaga" and first row violin) and at home ("Black Stallion" and broken crops).

My days are busy and I try to keep them interesting. Do you remember me always saying that I'm going to start my physical fitness program to get rid of my belly? Well, I finally started. I'm running three or four times a week and doing a lot of sit-ups. The other day I even played basketball with my roommate. That was the first time in many years that I picked up a basketball and played a game of two-on-two. We (my roommate and I) won all three games. Needless to say, I was extremely tired after the games and was aching the entire next day. I need to keep working out!

Did you know that Jan. 30 is election day in Iraq? A lot of what I'm doing over here is helping them prepare for the elections. Since they haven't really had free and fair elections in this country for many decades, they have much work to do to prepare for the big day. We all hope that it goes well.

So, tomorrow is your big party to celebrate your 10th birthday. What an exciting birthday. I remember when I turned 10. Mrs. Bury was my fifth-grade teacher and I met my friend David Sarich (who you've met but might not remember) for the first time. My friends were David, Kevin Lawrence, Joe Files and Todd Jamison. Our favorite recess activity was kickball. David was the artist, Kevin was the guy with the best ideas for things to do, Joe was the funniest, Todd was the best athlete, and I, of course, was the smartest. I enjoyed fifth grade. According to your e-mail and what Mommy tells me, you too are enjoying fifth grade.

I need to go now. Maybe the next time you send me an e-mail you can tell a little bit about what books you are reading these days. Have you read all the Harry Potter books that are in the bookstores? I hear another one is coming out this spring. What magazines are you getting in the mail? How's your Barbie collection? Is My Scene the in thing these days? Maybe you can have Mommy take a picture of you with all of your Barbies and send it to me.

Take care, Sweetness.

I love you very much, Daddy


To His Father

Dear Dad,

Well, the elections have come and gone. Freedom and democracy are on the march. I'm not sure whether we'll see any noticeable differences in the short term, but this is the beginning of the Iraqis taking charge over their own affairs. The Iraqis with whom I've come into contact are extremely enthusiastic and optimistic. Two necessary ingredients for progress.

The elections were just one day, one event in a long line of daily events that are needed to bring stability and representative government to Iraq. While the insurgent violence dropped off during the first few days after election day, it seems like the violence might resume its pre-election-period levels. We saw the same thing immediately after the June/July transfer of sovereignty to the interim Iraqi government. Very difficult to build a robust economy, reliable infrastructure and legitimate government and civil institutions in a shooting gallery. Nevertheless, each day I wake up and I tell myself that today will be better and that we will move one step closer to the day that Iraq will be a self-sustaining country free of the crippling effects of insurgent violence. Only then will American soldiers finally leave this country.

The weather is great. It's been in the mid-60s for the past week or so. Feels like spring in Maryland. My Iraqi American translator tells me that the weather will be nice through April and that by May and June we'll see temperatures rising through the 90s and into the 100s. Hopefully, I'll only experience a few hot summer days and be home by early summer. I won't know that until later this spring.

I hope you and Mom are well. Keep her away from the newspapers and television. Although I can no longer convince her that the Green Zone is as safe as walking down a dangerous street in New York, it's not the most dangerous place in Iraq. And while I know that her concern is for her own son's safety, remind her that there are 150,000 other soldiers here in Iraq who are committed to seeing each other return home safe and secure to our families. Like I wrote to you and Mom in September, the war goes on, one day at a time.

"People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf." -- George Orwell. The soldiers of the 1st Cavalry Division in Baghdad stand ready on behalf of those of us who live and work in the Green Zone.

Love, Your Son Anthony


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