Monday, May 10, 2010
I reached up weakly, my arm shaking from stress, starvation, and a lack of sleep to wipe my sweat soaked brow. I gazed down at my drenched palm and eventually looked past it through the netting of my jump seat down to my dusty backpack. Suddenly the weathered C-130 I was crammed into with forty other people from various services and agencies simultaneously took a hard banking turn and started an intense dive. As we spiraled downward I knew we were making a combat landing into Baghdad and that this was fairly routine. But I couldn't help but feel a bit uneasy as the iron lung that held my life within began to groan and creak like a dying steel mammoth taking its last agonizing steps on a journey too far. I looked around the steamy innards of the beast and was struck by the intense silence of everyone on board. The faces of my comrades reassured me that my emotional duress was shared. Then suddenly I heard a loud crash. I felt my chinstrap clinging intently to the Kevlar helmet resting on my head, and I choked mildly as my flack vest rose with the impact. We had landed safely......I was in Iraq.
Not only did my over dramatic description above actually happen in the last week, but it also serves as a metaphor to my entire deployment experience since landing in Baghdad, Iraq. A combat landing is a short, intense and overwhelmingly new experience. As has been my five days or so in Iraq. There are a few things that have really hit me in my first week over here.
This isn't your Grandpa's war story - One of the most striking contradictions to my deployment expectations was what a modern base looks and functions like. I was expecting more of a tent city feel like in the movies. GI's walking around in greasy t-shirts playing cards and hanging out. Not here. There are government and contractor vehicles everywhere. There are contractors from around the world living and functioning alongside the various countries various service members. There are a lot of the things we have in the States, but everything in this "world" functions in a little different manner. It is really hard to describe, but the best I can do is say that nothing is really intuitive when you are plopped down into your new world. Which leads nicely into my next observation.
We take a lot for granted - As I said, nothing is intuitive over here if you have never deployed. I felt like and still feel a bit like a little kid. I went from being fairly self reliant to totally dependent almost overnight. It is a very fragile and frustrating feeling. I literally can never recall ever being so dependent because I was probably too young to remember. My coworkers and friends literally had to teach me how to eat, sleep, shower and more. It was during my initial transitory phase that I started to realize how much I take for granted in American society. Reliable, clean running water is a start. Housing that has most of my health and hygiene needs at my disposal is another. Mostly I took for granted the incredible amount of choice I had back home. Especially the choice of what to do with my time. Here most time is spent on basic health and work, and everything is laid out for the military guys. I can't imagine actually being an Iraqi national and having to do whatever it takes to make a better life for myself and my family. Obviously what choices you have with your time are much more limited. It almost makes me feel a bit guilty for the way I have viewed other countries in the past. As if their actions and interests should always be taken through an American filter. But that is not the case. Each nation has a unique past and a unique set of values that shape and define their existence. To think that others think the way we do is not only false but dangerously naive.
Good people can always get you though - Like most other tough times in my life I have been lucky enough to be surrounded by good people. When you surround yourself with good people life never really gets too shitty. And when it does at least you have some solid people to help get you through it. My deployment so far has been no exception and I have a good group of people that I can laugh with, complain with, talk with, work out with, and pass the time with until that lovely day that I get to go back home to my wife and the life we have built together.
I would love to hear any other observations or lessons from other deployers and how your experience has been different than mine thus far.