July 13, 2007
I first met Major Ian Tudlong in July of 2003 when Ora Seyler and I passed by Salinas, California (on our way to Los Angeles) to participate as a booth vendor for Barlin Real Estate Group in the Monterey-Salinas region’s yearly Filipino American outdoor festival. As I distributed marketing materials to the other booth vendors, I dropped by Marie Romero’s Arkipelago Books’ booth. Marie introduced me to Honolulu-based Dr. Eric Casino and then-Monterey-based Captain Ian Tudlong. Of course, at that time, I had a commuter marriage that allowed me to travel back and forth between San Francisco and Honolulu every month — and Ian was also on his way to Hawaii for foreign language studies.
It was in Hawaii where my husband, Eric, Ian, and I sometimes met for afternoon drinks — and whenever we congregated, we had some pretty intense discussions about Filipino American political empowerment. As the years went by, and when Ian was transferred to the Monterey Peninsula, to the U.S. Embassy in the Philippines for a year, and Roswell, New Mexico — we kept in touch. I made sure Ian met some of NaFFAA’s leadership (National Federation of Filipino American Associations) and other friends who were pivotal in critical activities that exemplified Filipino American political empowerment history: from Loida Nicolas Lewis, Alex Esclamado, Hawaii State Senator Ron Menor, then-Hawaii State Representative Felipe “Jun” Abinsay, Greg Macabenta, Rodel Rodis, Viki Bamba, Larry Flores of Seattle, Gloria Navarrete, to Ben Menor.
It was a pleasure watching a young “officer and a gentleman” (who grew up in the Mountain Province) learn all he could from these friends about our Filipinos’ triumphs and struggles in American society. I observed Ian closely when he participated in our role-playing at Northside Community Center on “how to moderate a discussion” in preparation for the upcoming NaFFAA Region 8 conference. There were some students with us in the room that night. I’m sure they benefited from the lively session and their rare interaction with a soldier.
During one of our dialogues, I asked Ian how he personally dealt with the paradox of war and his job of saving many lives. Talking about war is a very sensitive topic — but nosy me, I wanted to know what a soldier’s mindset was like. Ian gave me a simple statement that reflected his training in the US Army: “Mission first, people always.”
I had an epiphany when I repeated his answer. I realized that our soldiers like Ian Tudlong are brave and courageous — and they fight for all the noble reasons that exist. What Ian was referring to was the holistic worldview that “the human spirit always prevails” even during times of war.
When Ian left for Iraq a few months ago, he took the time to inform his friends. He had been very busy in Roswell, New Mexico training new officers for the past year. I used to tease Ian that he had been assigned in Roswell to watch over Area 51 and the UFO’s.
Ian was ready for his new assignment: “Training, mentoring, and teaching the Iraqi Army to be an effective fighting force.”
I asked him during one of our recent online chats: “How long will you be stationed there?”
“If we are successful, we will be able to hand over most — if not all — the security responsibilties to the Iraqi Forces, thus allowing our forces to withdraw gradually,” Ian replied.
I ventured to ask, “What’s your life like right now?”
“I work 16 to 18 hour days. Sometimes, I get so exhausted. Today, it’s 11:30 p.m. and the weather is at 97 degrees Fahrenheit. And forgive me if I sometimes disappear from our chats. The internet connection can be slow sometimes.” He paused. “I am really enjoying my job here but the frustration level is unbelieveably HIGH — but it is very rewarding.”
“Egos?” I queried.
“No,” Ian replied. “I am very deeply touched when I am asked by an Iraqi commander to talk to his soldiers especially when morale is low. A few days ago, when I was talking to a group of soldiers through an interpreter, I could sense the soldiers beginning to feel uplifted.”
“That’s great, Ian. I’m glad that you are not telling me, ‘I am here to inspire them, to impact them, and to touch them.’ Rather, I get the feeling that you’re saying, ‘I am here to help them get through this with honor — and help them reach their greatest potential as professional soldiers — through my skills and talents.’ ” My fingers were effortlessly tripping over my laptop computer’s keyboard as I empathized with Ian’s difficult responsibilities.
“That is correct. It’s really tough seeing the Iraqis suffer,” Ian disclosed.
Ian gave me a quick description about his group’s efforts. “I have a team of 11 officers and NCO’ s — non-commissioned officers — and I am the Team Chief. I have five CPT’s (captains), five Sergeants plus myself. We work with and live with the Iraqi soldiers.”
I dared ask, ” What do you eat? Army rations or local cuisine?”
Ian quickly answered, “Both. Iraqi food prepared under austere conditions can do some tricks to your stomach but it is important to eat what they eat in order to build that all-important rapport and relationships with our Iraqi counterparts. We have third-world sanitation standards here. We have to be careful about having stomach problems due to Montezuma’s revenge — that is, Saddam’s Revenge! The local food is good.”
Ian decided to e-mail me some photos during our online chat.
“Hey, Ian. That’s a lot of equipment you’re carrying. How much does all of it weigh?” I asked.
Ian’s remarks made me feel as if I complained too much about my heavy laptop computer’s case. “That gear weighs about an additional 80 pounds with the ammunition, body armor, and other things, not including my rifle and pistol. It gets really hot, wearing all that stuff in 120+ Fahrenheit degrees heat. I sometimes feel as if I’m carrying another person wherever I go.”
“One last question, Ian. Are there many Filipino American officers stationed in Iraq at this time?”
His reply was emphatic. “There are not that many officers who are Filipino American, period.”
“And where can I send you a care package, just in case I decide you need a home-baked cake?” I couldn’t resist dispelling the seriousness of our chat.
I could sense Ian laughing in cyberspace.
“Here’s the address. And if anyone wants to write me, please give them the address too,” Ian answered.
And so, there it is. Maybe it’s a good idea to send postcards or cookies to our U.S. soldiers in Iraq. Maybe there aren’t too many articles written about them but we can certainly give them care packages to uplift their spirits.
If you want to connect with my friend, Ian, here’s where you can reach him:
MAJ Ian Tudlong
MiTT 0441 / Predators
C Company 3/8 Cavalry
APO AE 09391
Thanks for the online postcards, Ian. My prayers and good thoughts are with you. Stay safe. We’ll be waiting for you to come home so you can embark on new adventures.