War takes toll on Lombard soldier's column

By Matt Spartz
Updated 3/22/2011 5:56 PM

Editor's note: Army Lt. Matt Spartz, a lifelong Lombard resident, was deployed to Afghanistan in May with the 101st Airborne Division. A 2008 journalism graduate of University of Illinois, he is submitting occasional reports for the Daily Herald.

For some time I have thought if I were writing something, it should be worth reading. During the past few months I hadn't written much, and in fleeting moments I simply figured I didn't have anything left worth reading. I also had a shadowy fear that I couldn't write anything worth reading after the fall campaign that claimed six of our soldiers, and the winter passing of my grandpa.


But after nine straight months in combat, I finally had my two weeks "R&R" vacation. I was concerned that being reunited with my family and friends would be a barrage of questions and heart-to-hearts. They were all very understanding, and never pushed an issue farther than I wanted to talk about it.

And that's when I realized that I could have had plenty to say over the last few months. Sometimes it's just easier to shut off our brains.

It took actually coming home to realize that I was at a point at which I didn't even want to come home. I was more than caught in the daily grind. At one point in January, I was filling in for two other officers on their vacations and working 20 hours a day, seven days a week. I could have cared less if I came home or stayed in Afghanistan another year.

My brain was shut off, the cruise control was on.

Coming home did more than hit the dusty reset switch in my brain, and my soul. It gave me a chance to again be on the reader's end of the war. For example, one tragic incident in my Pech Valley reportedly claimed the lives of nine Afghan children.

One of the few times I spewed some noxious commentary on the issue to my dad and girlfriend, they stared at me in deep thought. They had never considered, for example, that it was a little more than an odd coincidence that a herd of boys were collecting firewood in the mountains during a rocket attack on one of our bases, and that they stayed long enough for helicopters to respond to the situation. They had never heard of boys being used to aid insurgent attacks on coalition forces.

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Now, I am in no way saying that is what happened in this incident. This time, I was not there. However, these relative details of Pech Valley fighting are usually glossed over in standard coverage. A U.S. military mistake usually makes a better story than the recent report that civilians killed by the Taliban (75 percent) have risen sharply this year while the numbers accidentally killed by coalition forces have decreased by more than 20 percent.

During my brief home stint many people graciously complimented this column. Here I'd like to apologize for taking the easy road these last few months and turning off my brain. I would like to continue advancing my readers' depth of understanding of this complex war.

Heck, if I told you I completely understood it I'd be lying.

But now I've entered the fourth quarter. One thing Glenbard East football instilled in me was to "play to the whistle." Let's just consider the last few months my half time water break. Of course it was my family and friends who reminded me the importance of finishing what you started, even when it's the hardest thing to do.

So, my brain is back on, and I plan on taking you all with me these last two months to the final end zone.