Guest Commentary

An improvised explosive device: on the death of a young soldier and best friend

Tears, silence broken only by the sniffing of two young women in front of a computer.

My daughter pulled Josh's last e-mail out of her inbox and reread it.

"As for does this war have a point? Fuck no," the soldier wrote from Baghdad two days before Christmas, four days before his death. "There really is not too much going on except a few gunshots here and there (mainly due to the fact that the 'good ol' US' is here). Mainly however there is a shit load of [improvised explosive devices] out there. We have been here for about 1.5 weeks and we already got hit with one. Nobody hurt, it hit right behind the tanks. I was way in the front. I am pretty sure that all will be OK, and yes I sure do hope that there will still be many more good times left between us. Miss ya, ttyl." "Put it away, Tabbie," Sarah said. "I can't look at it."

Roger, a roommate who'd been staring at a silent TV screen, went to the kitchen for paper towels. He handed them to the girls.

"I can't believe this," Sarah said. "I thought he'd be OK. I didn't think he'd die. And for what?"

No one tried to answer her question.

"He shouldn't have been there," she went on. "He didn't have any of that macho thing. He just liked to sit on the couch and hang out with friends. And they gave him a gun and said, 'Go to Iraq.' Why?"

Sarah wanted to turn on the TV. Suddenly, news about the war seemed urgent.

But the story of two soldiers who died in Baghdad Dec. 27 when "an improvised explosive device detonated near their dismounted patrol" barely made a blip on the journalistic radar. It wasn't until Dec. 29 that Googling Army Pvt. Joshua Morberg's name produced an account of the event. Even then, it was hard to believe that Josh wouldn't be coming home, that this was real.

Tabbie met Josh, a lifeguard, when she was 14. He was a lanky blonde who taught swimming lessons and was great with kids.

When not on duty, Josh dressed in black and shared Tabbie's love of shopping at Hot Topic.

"He was the hot 'goth' guy," she recalled. The two attended the same high school. Before long, they were fast friends who liked to spend time together talking, listening to music and making art. While in high school, Josh won awards for computer-animation projects. His future seemed bright.

After graduation, Josh joined the U.S. Army. He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, Fort Hood, Texas. He'd only been in Iraq a couple of weeks when he and another soldier encountered what the military calls an "improvised explosive device," or IED, while on patrol in Baghdad.

My daughter, 18, learned of Josh's death via a message left on her cell phone. She asked to leave her job at Barnes & Noble in mid-shift and went home to tell her roommates.

Hysteria was followed by silence, then action. Tabbie set up a memorial to her friend on a coffee table in the apartment shared with other young adults who like to strum guitars, surf the Internet and play "Halo 2."

She propped up a photograph of Josh and arranged candles around it. She played a CD she's owned since high school, sinking into the couch as Ozzy sang:

"I'm not the kind of person you think I am / I'm not the Antichrist or the iron man / I have a vision that I just can't control / I feel I've lost my spirit and sold my soul / Got no control."

As I listened, I couldn't help thinking that if we'd all worked harder to hold this administration accountable, Josh might not have been shipped to Iraq the week before Christmas.

I realized I've been overly complacent, an anti-war passivist, not an activist. This needs to change. Before more mothers lose sons, more sisters lose brothers and more children lose parents. Before more teenage girls lose best friends.

"As for does this war have a point?" Josh wrote in his last e-mail to Tabbie. "Fuck no."

Three other young men arrived at the apartment, all silently chain-smoking. The room was engulfed in a smoky haze that almost hides the tears of the guys.

Josh, your friends will miss you. TTYL.