In November 2003, we received an email from a Minnesota reservist (originally from Iowa), an Army Major named Curt Decker, who was stationed in Afghanistan. As recorded in this post, Curt said he was a Power Line reader:
I’ve been following your web site for over a year now. It has been especially important to me this last year having been deployed as an Army reservist to Afghanistan. With limited computer time, I can keep up with what is going on back home by reading Powerline and Realclearpolitics. I was called up from my home in south Minneapolis this past February to go to Iraq, but ended up here. We are scheduled to go home in late March. I am the engineer responsible for building a ‘facility’ for my unit – the 327th Military Police Battalion.
We were all excited by the idea that soldiers serving in harm’s way could find our site useful. Over the ensuing months, we got a series of emails from Curt, which contained fascinating information direct from the front lines in the war on terror: here, and here and here. Curt even went so far as to and mail me a flag that flew over Bagram Air Force Base. Here is the flag, beautifully boxed as received from Curt:
The inscription says:
So that all shall know, This flag was flown in the face of the enemy, and bears witness to the capture, interrogation, and detainment of terrorist forces threatening the freedom of the United States of America and the World. It was flown for 9 hours and 11 minutes during Operation Enduring Freedom…at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan.
We also corresponded with Curt’s wife, who was here in Minneapolis with the couple’s two young daughters, and were delighted to learn that Curt was scheduled to return home, still in one piece, in the spring of 2004.
In July 2004, John and I, with our wives, took Curt and Sheila out to dinner as a thank-you for Curt’s service and his family’s sacrifice. (It is noteworthy that Curt’s younger daughter was only nineteen months old when he left for fourteen months in Afghanistan.) At our invitation, Curt also invited his friend Captain Martin Naranjo and his wife Maria, who turned out to be a native of Bulgaria. We arranged the dinner at Manny’s, one of the country’s great independent steak houses, and one of Mrs. Trunk’s favorite spots.
The first indication that we were in for a treat came when we called the restaurant to verify the time of our reservation, and the man who answered the phone said, “Oh, that’s the group with the returning servicemen.” So the restaurant was ready for us.
The dinner was delightful. Martin, like Curt, is an engineer. He had just returned from a year in Iraq, where he headed a group of engineers who worked with the 101st Airborne in Mosul. Coincidentally, we found that the Naranjos are neighbors of Mr. and Mrs. Rocket, living only a couple of miles away in the same suburb.
Both Curt and Martin had fascinating stories to tell about their time overseas. Curt’s experience with prisons in Afghanistan was interesting in light of the controversy over prisons in Iraq. Not surprisingly, to us at least, Curt reported that the average Afghan detainee eats better in our custody than ever before in his life, with the result that they typically gain twenty or thirty pounds. Martin’s engineering group was an important part of General Petraeus’s creative effort to build ties to the people of Mosul; he told a funny story about supervising the effort to get Mosul’s swimming pools operational again.
The food was great and, to say the least, plentiful. But what was really touching was the sincere appreciation that Manny’s showed for the returning servicemen. The restaurant comped us with two superb bottles of champagne and a splendid seafood plate that led off the dinner for all eight of us. Restaurant manager Randy Stanley came to our table and led a toast; our waiter took pictures of us on our way out of the restaurant. So if you’re in Minneapolis, eat at Manny’s.
Equally heart-warming was the reaction of the diners who were seated around us. Our group was a bit boisterous at times, and a foursome seated next to us got wind of the nature of our celebration. They stood up and toasted Curt and Martin, whereupon the neighboring tables broke into a spontaneous round of applause.
The photo below shows, from left to right, Captain Martin Naranjo, Maria Naranjo, Sheila Decker, and Major Curt Decker. It’s a pleasure to know them and an honor to be able to express our appreciation for their service.
The paragraphs above are adapted from John’s account of our “night to remember” last year, brought to mind by today’s Seattle Times story: “Diners have sweet surprise for soldier, girlfriend” (thanks to reader Mark Fleming). Coincidentally, our friend Major E. is heading back to Baghdad after a few weeks in Washington with his wife. He writes today regarding Col. Kurilla:
Thanks for bringing attention to the exploits of the Stryker troops up in Mosul, including the 1-24 IN led by Erik Kurilla. I know him and have been out with his troops. They are in a tough fight and performing above and beyond the call every day. Thanks for helping your readers stay informed about what is really going on out there. It can get bloody, but we are winning.
Also, I am heading back to Baghdad next week so I will be in contact, though I do not yet know how long I will be there. I should find out more soon.
These guys deserve a helluva lot better shake recognizing the nature of their efforts and their sacrifice than they are getting from the lamestream media.
UPDATE: Major Decker writes:
I wanted to let you know that our good friend Martin Naranjo is headed back to Iraq for a one year tour. He is on some leave right now, but will report to his mobilization point in the middle of September. Actually, he is not sure exactly what he will be doing, but there is a good chance it involves trainng the Iraqi Army. He may spend some of his time in Kuwait too, or other countries in the area.
I met Martin a few weeks before our dinner last summer. We have become good friends. I have met a lot of officers in my career, but I can truly say Martin is the finest person I have ever worked with. I never heard Martin complain once about his deployment. Although it is difficult for him to be away from his family, he is embracing the challenge ahead of him. I know he will do well.