Honor your hero with thoughts, memories, images and stories.
In May, 2000, as a high school senior, Michael wrote that he wanted to be a soldier or something of that caliber. He wrote that he often dreamed that he was a soldier in a war. In that war he was helping to liberate people from oppression. Michael wanted to live forever, he wrote that the only way a person could possibly do that in this day and age is to live on in the lives of the people you have effected.
In May, 2001, having completed a year of college, Michael was unsatisfied with the speed in which he was achieving his life's goal. Following finals, he returned to the Army Recruiter's office and enlisted. 1 week later he was at Basic Training at Fort Benning, Georgia. 9/11 found Mike at final inspection, angered that someone dared to attack his country, but even more angered that we allowed it to happen. He was more determined that his life's mission was to defend and protect his country from all enemies – foreign or domestic.
Mike was next based in Vilseck, Germany where he became the machine gunner in a Bradley Fighting Team with the 2-2 of the 1st ID. He became an expert with his machine gun 'Christine'. 2003-2004 the Unit went to Kosovo. After a short break and the option to transfer to another Unit, Mike chose to stay with his buds of the 2-2 and prepared for Iraq.
On his 22nd birthday, Michael and his buds boarded the plane for Kuwait and Iraq. His platoon was separated from the 2-2 and paired with a tank platoon from the 2-63rd tankers. Two new platoons that were half brads and half tankers were assigned to the 82nd Engineers and sent to the Diyala Province, FOB Thunder and later FOB Gabe. The Ice Platoon was born.
Michael believed the movie character 'Shrek' was designed after him. He was always willing to do the hardest dirtiest task, work longer than anyone, and smile while doing so. His buds tell stories of snipers catching them on rooftops in Buhriz and other locations. They tell about Shrek using his immense strength to rip or kick doors off of buildings to get the men undercover. They tell of the time he was slowly crawling across a sniper fired rooftop only to reach his buds and simply grimace 'bees'.
On January 24, 2005, the men were tasked with the mission to take out two bomb-making facilities near Baqouba. On the way to the checkpoint, the ground gave way under Michael's Bradley and it rolled over backwards into a culvert filled with 40 degree water. We are told that Michael wedged one of his buds into an air pocket he had found. He then repeatedly dove into the cold water using all his energy and air to open the rear hatch on the Bradley. This being done, the Unit was able to open the Bradley quickly once they arrived on the scene and two of the men survived.
On that day, Michael gave his life. He gave his life for his buds in the Bradley. He gave his life for the children of Iraq. He gave his life to defend and protect the people of the United States. Michael has had a deep effect on the world – he changed everyone he met and everyone who hears his story. May we be worthy of Michaels gift.
Michael's Credo Paper – Written 5/11/2000 as a senior at Cretin-Derham Hall
I was born in Wisconsin. We lived in a town called Webster, on a road called Lavern Lane. Since then many things have changed, but many more remain the same. We no longer live in the country, we only go to church once or twice a year, and we no longer struggle to make ends meet. Today we live in the city, but we still have a Junk Yard, my dad still works sixteen hours a day, everyday. Today I am a man not a seven year old child. There are still cars every where. We own over 90. About twenty of them still run and twelve of those we store in the city. No we don't have a parking lot. What we do is borrow our neighbors' unused stalls for fixing their cars and doing other little things for them.
I admire my Father more than any other person on this planet, not for being a mechanic, not for being a tough guy. I admire my father for his ambition. For thirty years he has gone to work everyday, for thirty years he has come home, gone to the garage and worked ten more hours. I don't know how he does it but I do know why. He does it for us. He wants my brother and I to have everything we need and most of what we want. Lots of people say that the best way to learn is by the example of others. Well, then I have one of the best teachers on how to be a man, how to treat others, and work ethic there is. I mean he is not perfect by any means but is anyone really perfect! I think that he is pretty close.
Sometimes I wonder if my dad ever thought of college. I wonder if he is happy. I sometimes even feel sorry for him. What I mean by that is that I look at him and see a guy that has spent his entire life working. That is what he does. He works. If my mom never brought up the idea of a vacation he would never think twice. He would work to the day he died. I love hard work, but how do you go to the same dead end job everyday knowing that you will be doing it forever.
Every now and then someone that had my dad fix their car will stop by and need something, and every time I talk to them they always start talking about my dad's work. They compliment him on paint jobs he did twenty years ago that still look like they are brand new. That reminds me of another trait I have taken from my dad, besides my hard work ethic. 'If you are going to do a job, do it right the first time, because a job not done well is a job not worth doing', so the saying goes. I take that personally. If someone has a honest complaint about my workmanship, I will bend over backwards to make it right. If people are going to pay you good money to do something then you had better do a darn good job. That is why I usually work alone, then, if there is a problem I know whom I can blame.
My dad hasn't taught me everything though, a lot of it I have learned on my own too. I still got a lot to learn still, but I have figured out things like how to deal with people you don't like, or those that don't like you. I also learned why, when cutting a frozen bagel you cut away from yourself; I got the scar to prove it. My dad calls this type of learning 'the school of hard knocks'. Some of the knocks are harder than others.
I love sports. I love football, wrestling, weight lifting, skiing, and hockey. I love the thrill of competition, the roar of the crowds, the agony on the faces of your opponents as the final second tick off the clock. However, I don't want to do it as a profession. I think it would be fun for a little while then it would get boring. I guess the point that I am trying to make is that when I am on my deathbed what am I going to look back on? Will it be thirty years of playing a game that in reality means nothing, or will it be thirty years of fighting crime and protecting the country of all enemies, foreign and domestic.
I want my life to account for something more than just a game. In life there are no winners, everyone eventually loses their life. I only have so much time; I can't waste it with a game. I don't want those close to me to look at me and tell me that I was good at a game. I want to be good at life; I want to be known as the best of the best at my job. I want people to need me, to count on me. I am never late; I am either on time or early. I want to help people. I want to fight for something, be part of something that is greater than myself. I want to be a soldier or something of that caliber, maybe a cop or a secret service agent.
I want to live forever; the only way that one could possibly achieve it in this day and age is to live on in those you have affected. I want to carve out a niche for myself in the history books. I want to be remembered for the things I accomplished. I sometimes dream of being a soldier in a war. In this war I am helping to liberate people from oppression. In the end there is a big parade and a monument built to immortalize us in stone. Other times I envision being a man you see out of the corner of your eye, dressed in black fatigues, entering a building full of terrorists. After everything is completed I slip out the back only to repeat this the next time I am called. I might not be remembered in that scenario, but I will have helped people.
I guess that I want most of all is to be a part of the real world, not an entertainer. I want to have an essential role in the big picture. I want adventure, challenge, danger, and most of all I don't want to be behind a counter or desk. Maybe when I am a hundred years old I will slow down and relax, till then, I have better things to do.
Sergeant Mike Carlson died January 24th, 2005 in Iraq and was interned in Arlington National Cemetery. Unable to reach his parents, the military informed next of kin, Brother Daniel Carlson, on January 28th, 2005. Daniel read Mike's Credo at his eulogy, which was then reprinted in the Wall Street Journal after having traveled to the desk of President Bush. http://www.opinionjournal.com/editorial/feature.html?id=110006753
I too was born in a place called Webster, Wisconsin and lived on a road called Lavern Lane. My brother Mike and I enjoyed many days in that country town, basking in the innocence of sunshine. Since then, many things have changed, but many more have remained the same. We have both exchanged our working tools, football helmets, and brotherly squabbles for the challenges of the life we chose. Using the best of what Mommabear and Father gave us, Mike went on to be published in the Wall Street journal and I in some industry magazines.
Reflecting on the past, I see that both Mike and I were destined to touch the world, to travel through life on unique roads. His led to a bomb factory in Iraq, mine through a refinery to develop technology. In his Credo, Mike wrote exactly what he would do and he did it. I consider his life fulfilled, which is contrary to what one might think for a young man who watches over us from Arlington. Ultimately, he sacrificed himself for his brothers in the Big Red One, our family, our country, our way of life, and for me; I guarantee he saw us all when he made his choice and gave his life. He did it anyway. Freedom is not free. Mine is paid in full. I have the receipt chiseled in a white stone that sits among many others to prove it. I wonder how long any one of us would live if we did everything we said we would do? Mike, rest well for a job done right and on time; none will question your work; you helped people; you have affected others; you live on through me; you are immortalized in stone.
I alone bore the weight of military cadence drilling into my head, over and over and over and over, that Mike was dead. Like a fighter, I took on the chin what the Army gave me and used a son's tenderness to break the news to our parents, his fiancé, and our families. I did everything wrong after that first day. For almost five years I drank and ate and sat over the pain. I isolated myself on airplanes, office chairs, and bar stools; buried deep my guilt for living. I thought I was healed from visiting Mike, after several failed attempts, and having an Iraqi General whisper in my ear that he too had lost his brother; my pain was no greater than that of any other. This helped, but the guilt was still there; which I learned when I had no room for the love of a woman whom I hoped would be my wife. I love her dearly, but she could see and feel I was not complete; my body responded like something was missing; I needed to be complete in order to have room for her; I was clueless until I loved her. There is no instruction manual for life, especially for us tough guys who can see suffering in others, but not in the mirror.
So what do I believe? I told you what I know.
I believe life is a lot like riding a motorcycle across country where we choose the road we ride, seek the pleasant banking of twists and turns, meet characters along the way, and manage our gear through the storms and detours. The last five years has been the detour from hell and I have been running my bike with only fumes in the gas tank. The Road, in a most peculiar way, brought love into my horizon that taught me I was not ok, that I am lovable, that my heart works, and if I simply open my eyes, then I will see that Mike lives on. To her, to my Darling who reignited my engine, who taught me to talk, who brought me back to my family, I am most grateful for using womanly ways to point out that the gas light was on. Typical man, I know; humility goes a long ways for us tough guys.
Like any detour, I believe I can undo my wrongs if I ask for help. Turns out, it is ok to change directions. I have stopped drinking, balanced Life and work, cried, and sought professional relief from grief...sometimes we don't know how to fix our own bike, but that sure does not keep us from trying! So far, after 24 days of riding clean and a couple of therapy sessions I feel better, not great, but better. There is recovery ahead, but I can be happy and healthy; like any car Father touches, I am fixable. I know again what it is like to feel complete, and now I am undeterred to ride a pleasant road that has the occasional storm and detour along the way.
I will rediscover passion for riding motorcycles across country, for drawing, for friends, and for the quirky things that only make me smile. I believe I can be an amazing husband, and father, and son and give others the confidence to ride good roads and teach from my experience. I love my job and can do better, but there is no excuse for family not being my number one priority; starting with a love that chooses to saddle up. I am worthy of what Mike gave me and worthy of sharing our story and worthy of him living on through me and worthy of all the good things in life; but I must first take care of myself. I don't want to be on a detour anymore. I want to ride home and smile and laugh at my mistakes. I want to hang up the saddle bags until my butt doesn't hurt and then head out to chase another sunset. These things I want.
We are each granted the inalienable right to pursue happiness, but are not given any self-evident road signs to sustainable joy; sometimes we take a wrong turn; sometimes we miss the exit to Wall Drug . My experience has left me with an empty gas tank and a wallet full of receipts. I now push the proverbial bike to the gas station, but my tank will be full again with the positive energy life gives when we love and laugh and be true to ourselves. I want the adventure, challenge, and danger of riding through life as a family man who spends freedom well with a perspective earned through many miles; and spares some gas now and again. I will create a map of the path I travel and pass this treasure on to my future children with well wishes for seeking their own happiness; and clearly indicate the boundaries of the unexplored in order that they know where the path they choose will start. When I am done, when my map is full, when all those I love know I love them, then I will want to ride on through those I have affected. Maybe when I am 100 years old I will slow down and relax. Till then, I have riding to do.