Monday, May 31, 2010

A Chapter a Week - Sisters in Arms

Sisters in Arms on Facebook

I will be sharing a chapter a week from Sisters in Arms: A Father Remembers on Facebook.  Just click the link above. 

Now available at


John Witmer

Friday, May 14, 2010

It's Done

It's Done. After four years of work, "Sisters in Arms: A Father Remembers" is now in print. You can order the pre-release edition at the link below. Thanks to all of you for your encouragement and support.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Sisters in Arms: A Father Remembers

I want to share the first few pages of the book I've written and hope to have in print by the end of May. When I finally do get it into print, I will be shameless in asking all of you to help me get the word out...PROLOGUE
Raising five children has been the greatest adventure of my life, yet, when I started this journey, I never dreamed it would bring me to a day where I would say goodbye to all three of my daughters as they marched off to war—not as part of a women’s auxiliary, but as part of a fully-trained, fully-equipped fighting force. There was no fanfare to mark this change in the way the U.S. military operated; it came quietly, born of necessity. As America’s military struggles to recruit the soldiers it needs, America’s daughters have stepped in to the gap, training alongside our sons and taking their place among the troops. Yes, women are still barred from the infantry and other “frontline” roles, but these rules have little effect in wars without frontlines, like those we are, at the time of this writing, fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Just like their male counterparts our women are frequently under enemy attack and like their male counterparts they return fire with their M-16s or their turret-mounted machine guns.

In 2005, the House Armed Services Committee held hearings on the role of women in the Military. It was prompted by rising female casualties. At that time over 35 women had been killed in action in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and another 260 had been wounded. There was some brief grandstanding on the part of some committee members expressing their concern and proposing legislation designed to make sure female soldiers would be removed from harm’s way. But the controversy quickly dropped out of the news. I suspect it was the result of some four-star general giving the Representatives this simple math lesson: one in seven of the 150,000 troops stationed in Iraq at the time were female. Removing all of them from hostile fire zones would have crippled Operation Iraqi Freedom.

This book is not a political statement; it is simply my story, a father’s story about sending children off to war and waiting for them to come home and what it’s like if they don’t come home.
CHAPTER 1 – Up on My RoofBaghdad, Iraq, 2003
Rachel and her squad took their positions on the roof of the battered concrete building that served as the neighborhood police station. In recent weeks, insurgents had focused their assaults on these fragile beacons of law and order. In this war without frontlines, the 32nd MPs were given the task of providing security for the Iraqi Police, so attacks on police stations were both an attack on the post-Saddam regime and the U.S. government. Police stations were a convenient and efficient target.

The sun was low and the day-shift convoy had just pulled out heading back to Camp Victory after their twelve-hour watch. The police station, in Al Adamia, was just large enough to house a few cells and some dingy offices. It was far from inviting, and Rachel never completely trusted the IPs (Iraqi Police) she worked with; if she found herself in the unfortunate circumstance of needing to use the dilapidated commode, she kept her sidearm ready.

She began her routine, setting up her M-16 and scanning the streets below in slow, rhythmic sweeps, watching for anything that seemed out of place: a truck moving a little too slowly, a pedestrian moving a little too quickly, or a moment that was just a little too quiet. In the months that preceded this one, Rachel and her team had taken small arms fire and mortar fire and had dealt with their share of grenades. She was just a few minutes into her watch when she heard it, a sound she couldn’t place. It was like the sound of the surf in the distance.

Rachel struggled to understand where the sound was coming from. Her apprehension grew as she attempted to find an explanation. Her eyes carefully traced the streets below until she saw it—a wave of humanity, off in the distance, making its way toward the station. Not the roar of the ocean, the roar of the crowd, an angry, roiling, gun-waving mob.

Now she could make out the voice of the mullah (a religious leader) crackling over a loudspeaker. The rapid-fire words seemed to be urging the crowd on. Rachel could only imagine what was being said, but the words erupted from the primitive speaker with anger. The streets of Iraq traded in rumor and conspiracy, and this uprising could have been sparked by any one of the wild stories that routinely circulated about American soldiers: that they desecrated mosques, molested children, or spread pornography. It was clear that the gun-waving mob was heading their direction, hell-bent on taking revenge on this handful of soldiers, the most visible manifestation of the American military. The sergeant radioed the day shift and told them to double-time it back to the police station. Rachel was grateful for the reinforcements, but still, there was no way they could fend off an armed mob of this size.

As Rachel took her stand on the roof, time began to expand, seconds passing like minutes, altered by the adrenaline that now pumped into her bloodstream. In that heightened state of awareness, in a moment of clarity, Rachel accepted the fact that it might end here, that this might be her last stand, her last day on Earth. As she prepared herself, she was suddenly calm. Peace came over her as she reflected on the people she cared about, bringing their faces to mind, one-by-one, as the pounding of her heart subsided.

Her sisters came to mind first. Michelle served with her in the 32nd MPs. Michelle’s platoon was pulling the same kind of duty in a different part of Baghdad. Then Charity: she was a medic with the Company B 118th Medical Battalion, stationed at BIAP, Baghdad International Airport, on the other side of town. She brought her brothers’ faces to mind, little brother Tim, just two years younger, and baby brother Mark, now a senior in high school. Then she thought about Mom and Dad and aunts and uncles and dozens of cousins. She wondered what it would be like for them if it all came to an end, here, on this rooftop in Baghdad.

This was not the first time Rachel had experienced this: time standing still, recalling the faces of those she loved, making peace with death, bracing herself. There had been a mortar attack on her barracks, in the middle of the night, that had shaken her awake. As she lay on the floor calculating how long it would take the insurgents to dial in the next strike, which would likely be dead-on target, this same sensation came over her. Fear left her; she was resolute, ready to accept her fate. Then the choppers came in and she heard the report of a big gun and she knew the insurgents would not fire another round. The threat had been neutralized. The chopper hovered, standing watch over the barracks, and the sound of helicopter blades sang Rachel to sleep that night.

A new noise pulled her back into real time: the unmistakable thudding of helicopter blades. The Blackhawk hovered above the crowd, and all forward motion stopped as its guns were trained on the crowd. The mob continued to shout and wave their weapons, but now tanks were rolling up the side streets, blocking the way to the police station. The standoff continued as the sun inched toward the horizon. But slowly and steadily the crowd thinned, melting into the twilight.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Book Update

To all who still, occassionally, stop by, I want you to know that, as I write this I'm holding a draft of the manuscript. The working title is "Letters to Madison." I've written about 60'000 words and I've got about 5000 more to go before it's done. When it's finally in print I'll post a notice here.

After four years, it's gotten easier but we don't miss her any less. Madison has been a joy and we feel Michelle in her smile and that makes the parting just a little easier.


Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Book

A lot has happen in the last year. Your niece was born. Charity named her Madison Michelle, after you, and we can all see a part of you in her: big brown eyes; strong; great disposition. Charity’s a great Mom and she fusses over that baby something awful.

Mom and I sold the old house and moved into a condo. We traded in our cars and got different ones. We threw out a lot of junk. And the family went through some really hard times. But we got through it. And we’re still a family and we still love each other very much.

Your Mom is encouraging me to write a book. She wants me to write the book you would have written. She even sent me away for a week, to a retreat center, so I could get started. And I’ve decided she’s right. I will write this book. I can’t think of a better way to remember you.

Some day, when Madison’s old enough she’ll pick up that book and read about her Aunt Michelle; about your courage, about your compassion, about your smile and warmth and bright laugh. And she will sit on the couch and read that book to her brothers and sisters and cousins and someday, to her children. And they will know. They will know that they had an Aunt Michelle and that she was a wonderful person.

And that memory will hold us. It will hold our family until we each, someday, one-by-one, come to join you. And I know that when we do, we will pick-up right where we left off.

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