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Letter from New York
Mathew Tombers is Managing Director of Intermat, Inc., ( a television company which executive produces programs and consults with industry companies on a variety of issues. Intermat, Inc. is currently involved in approximately thirty hours of television in various stages for a variety of networks. He is one of the Executive Producers of OFF TO WAR, a ten hour series for Discovery Times and for a one hour on international adoptions for Discovery Health. He has consulted a variety of companies, including Ted Turner Documentaries, WETA, Betelgeuse Productions, and Creation Films, Lou Reda Productions as well as many others.

Strangers On A Train!

February 27, 2006

Tag Line: Tombers has an encounter with an unknown soldier!

Every train, pretty much, has a quiet car - cell phones and loud conversations not allowed, a place to rest and recoup, a quiet enforced by conductors and other passengers, a mutually accepted dictatorship.

Returning from D.C., I plopped myself down in a seat on Amtrak, not in the quiet car. I settled in with my newspapers and magazines, looking for something that would strike a cord, inspire me to write my column. There was little to inspire me; my muse was not whispering words into my ear. I closed my eyes and surrendered to the moment, putting down my Washington Post, Newsweek, and Financial Times. Opposite me, a man was talking, in a deep, authoritative voice, chatting away into his cell phone. I paid little attention but having laid down my diversions, his words washed over me.

He was recovering from some injury; his leg had been hurt. He was youthful, athletic, wearing a down jacket. A ski injury, I speculated. The folks in New York I see on crutches are generally victims of falls in Aspen, Telluride, Wyndham Mountain, and Catamount, rare but present. I didn't think much of it until I heard the word "shrapnel" and then I knew he had been in Iraq.

Wanting to speak to him, I wondered if I would have the guts.

During a pause in his calls, I did speak to him, telling him friends were recently back from shooting a documentary in Iraq. They had been at Ibn Sina, filming the trauma center. He had been there; though he didn't remember it - he had been put into a drug induced coma while he was evacuated from the Syrian border to Baghdad to Walter Reed. Wounded by one of the infamous IED's, he was being carried away on a stretcher when the team rescuing him was itself ambushed. His last conscious memory of Iraq was firing his pistol, giving cover to the medics, "like something out of the movies," he said.


When he woke, nine days later, his mother was at his bedside, holding his hand, gently caressing it. As he struggled into consciousness, his first words were, "Mom, what are you doing in Iraq?"

Briefly, I turned away; tears were burning in my eyes. I told him I appreciated him and what he was doing; I may not support the war; I do support the men and women who serve in Iraq, even more so after speaking with this unnamed Marine Captain. He was forty, though not looking it, a veteran of the first Gulf War. The doctors told him he was lucky. If this wound had happened in that war, his leg would be gone. This time they saved it; battlefield medicine is a rapidly advancing field.

He told me of the young men and women under his command, scared to death, who carried out their orders and how proud he was of them and the country from which they came. Listening to him, I could almost see those soldiers, see their faces. [I cannot deny Abu Ghraib though I believe this man and his subordinates are more representative of our forces than those folks.]

He told me he wasn't sure of the news coverage but felt the long form documentary makers were doing a good job of telling it as it was.

He told me that even if it had cost him his life, he was not sorry that he had gone, though he was glad he had both his life and his leg. He felt that way because of the people he had met, had worked with, the living, those wounded and dead. He might have been ambivalent about why he had been sent there, he was not ambivalent about the individuals with whom he served.

A Marine public relations officer had asked him, as he was being discharged, if he agreed with the war. He told that officer that this country was like a bus, and that the President was the driver and the military and citizens were passengers. If the passengers felt it was going off the road, they should tell the driver.

It was, after all, a bus that was not a quiet car.