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From: Lt. Colonel Rick Simmons
Date: May 8, 2006
Re:  Hello from Baghdad
I'm in Baghdad on temporary duty inside the  Greenzone at one of SaddamHusseinsPalace's.  

This morning I went on my first convoy into downtown Baghdad for a meeting with some Iraqis.  Two of the Iraqis spoke very good english - one older man and a young Iraqi women Maria's age- she was the interpreter.  The gave us Chai (Tea) to drink in little cups and also coffee - in very tiny cups.  The Iraqi man offered me a cigerette, and as it would have been impolite to say no, so, I accepted and he lit it for me - and so I smoked a cigerette for my country - God Bless America!  ha! ha!  What I discovered is that these Iraqis are very good people and brave - they hate the terrorist and want the USA to help them even more to defeat these murderers  so they can live a normal life. 

I relayed to these Iraqis that Maria had lived with terrorism in Peru with the Shinning Path and so the Iraqis told me that they knew I understood their situation. I also told the Iraqis about my cousin Marwan {he married into my family}  who was born here in Baghdad, so they felt more comfortable with me.  

We talked about the problems with Iraq - the women  told us that democracy was coming too fast for them - the Iraqi people need more time to learn and that the US should only gradually turn over the government to full Iraqi control after they have had time to rebuild and adjust to the new ways. 

The meeting and convoy there and back was fine.  But I did hear some gunfire in the street while we were in the meeting, but I was never in any danger. 

Yesterday, when we arrived here , I could see the smoke from the carbomb that went off and killed a bunch of folks - however - Baghdad is big - its an enormous city - I saw it from the air - and as terrible as the bomb is for the people killed and wounded, one carbomb - even a handful - going off in this city - the effect is only good TV news in the US - it has almost no effect otherwise - as the event is only a "speck" in this vast metropolis.

Today was a good day and it validated my beliefs that this war is worth fighting!
Tomorrow, I'll fly back to Fallujah to be with the Marine Corps, however, for the time this afternoon, I'll be swimming in SaddamHusseinsPalace pool!!!

From: Lt. Colonel Rick Simmons
Date: May 13, 2006
Re: Memorial Day in Fallujah, Iraq    

Memorial Day in upstate South Carolina will be a time of reflection and barbecue, parades of Veterans and skiing on our lakes.  Here on the battlefield in Fallujah, Iraq, for me, Memorial Day will be celebrated by looking at the map of this war-torn city, as my eyes instinctively pin-point on the site where my good friend from Easley was shot down and killed two years ago. Just a few miles from my camp, just off the main highway crossing the Euphrates River going into Fallujah in a Date Palm orchard, Captain Kimberly Hampton made the supreme sacrifice for all of us back in South Carolina.

Flying into Fallujah, from Al Taq A Ddam Airbase, known by the military as just TQ, my stomach tightened as I thought about Kimberly’s last OH-58D Kiowa flight from the same runway I had just taken off from enroute to Fallujah to spend the next year.  And more so for my own mortality - the thought of dieing here, too early and too far from home made my breathing, already restricted by the 70 pounds of body armor, ammunition and equipment more burdensome.  My sole comfort on that flight was knowing my God and believing in the righteousness of my duty to help bring peace to Iraq.

Just three weeks earlier, I had been back in Pickens for one last visit and one last night out on the town in Greenville with my wife.  Knowing then, what was to come for me in Iraq, I soaked up the sights and smells of  the azaleas, the friendliness of the people and the love of family and friends, so that on occasion, I could recall those moments for a bit of respite from the harshness of  Iraq.  Arriving at Camp Fallujah and studying the battlefield maps of where the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers meet, the memories of upstate South Carolina would be my Garden of Eden. 

Ancient Mesopotamia where the Garden of Eden is believed to have been located is known as the cradle of civilization and today the Iraqi people are standing the test of history to bring about a new and just society.  No less significant than the new Europe formed out of the ashes of Nazi Concentration Camps, Iraq has a chance, albeit difficult, to join the nations of justice and democracy.  Earlier this week, on temporary duty in Baghdad, I took my first convoy into the city to meet with some Iraqis. And I found them to be good and decent people - wanting of a better life as we know in South Carolina.  After meeting with them, I know that Captain Hampton’s sacrifice and my duty here in Iraq are not in vain.

As an Army officer assigned to the United States Marine Corps’ 3rd Civil Affairs Group here at Camp Fallujah, I have responsibility for the reconstruction of government and public infrastructure here in the Al Anbar Province of Iraq – this job, not so different than my work with the County of Pickens Veterans Affairs Office – offers me a chance to help people.  In the military civil affairs community, we often joke that we are “tree-huggers in uniform”, but here in Iraq, it is no joke that the US military is fighting and sometimes dying to help Iraqis have a better life.

Greenville and Pickens counties have offered their best, as they always have in every war for freedoms sake, and not just for our own people, but for our neighbors on foreign shores. The Iraqi people never knew Captain Kimberly Hampton or Sergeant Tony Jones and the Afghanis never new Captain Dan McCollum, Specialist Crystal Stout or Sergeant Eddie Heselton, but in the upstate of South Carolina, we know them as heroes who made the ultimate humanitarian sacrifice for us and a foreign people.

Four years ago, when I was serving with Captain Kimberly Hampton in Afghanistan, little did I know,  that after she and I both returned home to Pickens County, our lives would continue to be intertwined as I helped with her military honors from the Pickens County Veterans Affairs Office.  Now, I serve on the same field of battle in Fallujah where she fell.  And each time I uncontrollably jump at the sound of cannon and rocket fire, I am comforted knowing that a pretty young women from Easley was here before me doing her duty.

This Memorial Day, I will look at a battlefield map of  Fallujah and remember that my good friend Kimberly Hampton died a few short miles from me here in a Date Palm Orchard by the Euprhates River trying to make Iraq a place where freedom, justice and democracy reign.

From: Lt. Colonel Rick Simmons
Date: January 31, 2006
Re: Pickens VA officer to Iraq 

There is a Bugle calling me. I have heard the sound before, but now it grows louder from an eastern ocean's far shore. So I must go to answer the call...with kit bag and pistol in hand, my khaki uniform pressed and orders for a distant land, duty more important than me, so somewhere, someone can be made free.

Life is often made beautiful by poetry and, even the most anguishing of experiences such as war can be elevated into the essence of humanity, but words alone do not save or elevate the physical man. And so, I am taking a leave of absence from the Pickens County Office of Veterans Affairs to return to the battlefield in The Global War on Terrorism in Iraq. Shortly, I will report to Fort Bragg to process into the active Army for the next 18 months. Once overseas, I am slated for a joint assignment with the United States Marine Corps in the Al-Anbar Province of Iraq, a privileged duty. Once my military service is completed with the Marine Corps, I'll be released back to the Army and discharged and then I will return to Pickens County to resume my duties as the Veterans Affairs Officer.

I volunteered. I go to Iraq to ensure no more mass graves and to help a fledgling democracy take hold. In short, the humanity of the Iraqi people is more important than any sacrifice in my life for the next 18 months. Some people would argue that any notion of smiting out evil and establishing justice is an idea lost to the antiquity of former centuries, but it is the reason I choose to go to war.

Two very good friends of mine have been killed in Iraq, Captain Kimberly Hampton of Easley and Lieutenant Colonel Tom Wren of Alexandria, Virginia. Both served with me in Afghanistan and Tom was also with me in Bosnia-Herzegovina just before 9/11. In fact, Tom, a member of my staff in Afghanistan, also knew Kimberly through me. These two fine officers believed in their duty and so I take their memory and dedication with me to the battlefield as well as the memory of CPT Dan McCollum, CPT Mark Stubenhofer, SPC Crystal Stout, SGT Tony Jones and SGT Eddie Helselton who all had ties to the County of Pickens. These fine Soldiers and Marine with their ultimate sacrifice give me my courage that I will need in the very near future.

During my absence, my assistant, Master Sergeant (Retired) Martha Dorset will serve as the Acting Veterans Affairs Officer, as she did previously when I was in Afghanistan and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Helping her will be my other VA Claims Representative Rebecca Scarbourgh. While deployed in Iraq I will have email and occasional telephone contact with the VA Office. If you need direct communication with me in Iraq, you can email me at ricks@co.pickens.sc.us and the email will be forwarded to me or you can give Martha and Becky your name and telephone number and they will get it to me in Iraq and I will telephone you as soon as time allows. As before and as I can, I will email reports back so you can get a "boots on the ground" view of the war.

It is a privilege for me to serve the Veterans and good folks of Pickens County in the Office of Veterans Affairs. As a public official, I more than most, have a greater responsibility to you, the citizen, to serve our Nation during wartime, so now I will continue from the battlefield as a Soldier for the next year and a half. Years ago as a Cadet at The Citadel, I was taught that "Duty is the most sublime word in the English language", and so my duty calls in Iraq with the United States Marine Corps. Until I return, AIRBORNE ALL THE WAY and SEMPER FIDELIS!

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