Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Deployment Mirror - Part I

I was talking to my wife the other day and she asked me why I never write about being deployed? I didn't really have an answer for her. I guess I don't really think that my day to day activities are that exciting. When I told her that she said that she is constantly getting asked by friends and family what my life is like over here. She explained that she often did have answers to the little questions that people ask. That moment kind of made me feel bad like I hadn't let the ones I care about into my life over here enough. Perhaps I had been too concerned with my own sanity by wanting to know everything that was happening "on the outside" without me, and not concerned enough with giving my family and friends a glimpse into the world that has become my own over these last three months. After than conversation I actually started to get excited about the possibilities of writing a week in the life of post. My vision is to have the post read much less like a checklist of events and more like an experience through my senses. I haven't written in this fashion very often and I do not really know where this is going, so hopefully it turns out to be good. If you have any questions feel free to ask them in the comments and I will do my best to answer them.

Chapter 1 - Monday:
The wave is bright and swift. Dragging me upwards like a powerful fluid vine ascending rapidly towards a destination unknown. The awful noise started far off at first. A repetitive wailing that approached me with a hunter's precision. Familiarity crept into my mind, yet I still could not place the sounds flooding my memory. The light pulling me upwards increased its intensity and my pace exponentially increased. I could feel my heart beating faster as the pulsating far off noise that plagued my mind intensified. As my rapid heartbeat hit a final note my eyes clicked wide open in unison. I was awake. My Westclox battery powered alarm clock had reached the second stage alarm that was even more annoying and awful sounding than the first set of beeps.

I had been having intense and very strange dreams since arriving in Baghdad almost three months ago. Some weird, some good, and few awful night terrors. It is amazing how diet, long hours, and intense workouts can change your sleep patterns. I leaned over and turned off the alarm and saw that it was 6:22 AM. I had made it through two minutes of my mind piercing alarm while struggling to surface from my ethereal dream. I reached for my laptop and cracked it open. My email account, left open from the night before, had six new messages. After deleting a couple LinkedIn updates and a promotion I started to read an email from Chris, a friend who works with me on Checking For Charity. As great as it was to see the charity I helped create flourishing in my absence, it also stung a bit being separated from it. The opportunity to be a part of something like my charity is just one of the many things I took for granted just three short months ago.

I open my Skype account and double click the Heidicell icon. It rings three times and I hear the voice I love hearing every morning. Luckily my room is equipped with wireless internet capability, which has made Skype a godsend for myself and countless members of the armed forces before me. I quickly think of the experiences both my Grandfathers had during World War II and feel a bit of guilt for my "wartime" amenities. My guilt is rapidly washed away by my wife's voice. We are on a ten hour time difference so the call times actually work out relatively well. We talk during my morning time and at least once during my night hours. I wonder how much harder my experience would be if I didn't have the chance to talk to her at will?

We catch up on her day and what her plans are for the week. She asks what my plans are for the week. I say little and quickly change the subject. For some reason it has proven difficult to share to her and my family back home. Maybe their lives are my only escape? Maybe I am just to lazy to try explain experiences out here that are relatively mundane and do not exactly lift my spirits? I tell her I love her and that I have to get ready for work.

I get out of my bed catch the unpleasant whiff of whatever chemical they use while boiling my laundry. My legs are still stiff from Saturday's workout. I walk over to the small TV that was left behind in my room that is used more for a nightstand than anything else and I grab my electronic razor. I step around to the side of my wall locker where I have taped up a cheap mirror from the base exchange and I begin to shave. My beard has been ridiculous out here. I have five o'clock shadow by noon every day. I attribute my enhanced beard growth to shaving seven days a week. No full days off out here. I finish shaving and gather a few clothes off of the floor to place in my laundry bag. I look around my CHU (containerized housing unit) and think how appalled my wife would be if our room looked like this at home. I have had little free time since I arrived at the Victory Base Complex almost three months ago and even less time that I am willing to spend organizing my trailer. For me, it was good enough.

I threw on my bathrobe and flip flops, always a conversation starter out here, grabbed my shower caddy and opened front door to head towards the showers. My face is slapped with the thick desert air. Baghdad is hot. There is no way around it. I have been to Arizona, California, Mexico, Jamaica, and numerous other places all of which are pretty hot during their summer months, however there is not a place on earth that I have found that has hotter air than Iraq. Every day feels like a hot blow dryer is being directed right in your face. Luckily, I have just left the confines of my CHU where I have had an oversized air conditioner pumping in cold air since I arrived in May. The warmth actually feels good against my face. I turn around and lock my CHU door, not out of fear of theft during my time in the shower, but because my Beretta M9 and clips of ammunition are laying on the empty bed on the other side of my room. Another reminder that life is a little different out here.

I walk through the dusty gravel that has become my city's concrete out here and across my 'street' to the shower trailer. I weave through the giant concrete T-walls used to protect the CHU's from mortar and rocket attacks. The door slams shut behind me and I am greeted by the overpowering stench of mold and sitting water. I see Heichs' and Sheeman's towels and shorts hanging from their respective favorite shower stalls. "What's up rookies," I shout out. "Did you check out the new quotes," asks Heichs. I quickly gaze over to the wall and see the picture of a not so loved senior officer that recently returned home. Someone put up her picture with some quotations next to it. We gave up trying to figure out who did it a few weeks back. The weekly addition of new quotes next to the picture speaks volumes of the impact she had on the culture and morale of the office, especially since her peers frequent these same showers and had yet to take her pseudo shrine down. Her mocked persona is a blunt lesson in leadership, just one of the many I have been exposed to in my short time in the desert.

I jump in the shower and begin the challenging task of adequately washing in the 2x2 foot shower stall. The water pressure is good but it is difficult to wash without banging loudly against the cheap plastic stalls. I am grateful for a daily shower though. I rinse off and brush my teeth in the shower and crack a few jokes with the boys before walking back to my CHU. The heat has become a bit less pleasurable as my hours of nightly air conditioning exposure begins to wear. I unlock my CHU and catch a glimpse of the clock that plagued my dreams just a short while ago. It reads 7:01 AM. I had nine minutes to get dressed and head to breakfast.

I throw on my ABU's (airman battle uniform) and curse the bastard who designed it. The winter weight denim texture is a slap in the face to those out in Iraq. We can spend billion's on a war effort but we can't even give deployed troops a non-winter weight uniform in Baghdad. The Navy did it right by adopting the Army's lightweight, athletic cut uniform. The Air Force tried to develop their own identity and instead developed a camouflage horse blanket. The uniform had become a constant gripe amongst our crowd. I think back to the other amenities I have and the fact I am walking into my own room and immediately feel the guilt creep back into my psyche. I wash down a daily vitamin and cruise Facebook for a few minutes before the guys stop by and grab me on the way to breakfast. The social networking site is both a blessing and a curse while deployed. It can be a great way to remain connected to people stateside. It is a way to feel that you are still a part of people's lives stateside. But it can also serve as a constant reminder that your time over here is time away from the life you have built, and it is time that you will never get back.

My guilt is eased slightly by the realization that with the new ways of war come new challenges. My Grandfathers' way of war is gone, and with it the unique challenges they faced. My situation is what it is and all I can do is get by the best I can. The true sacrifice is being away from those you care about. It isn't the lack of everyday conveniences we as a nation have become so accustomed to. People always say that life is like a roller coaster. You are always faced with the ups and downs. If life is like a roller coaster, then deployed life is the biggest damn roller coaster I have ever been on. The ups and downs are much more frequent and they seem to be more intense, if only just in my mind. My morale and daily mood is of constant importance and I try to actively ensure that I am balanced mentally. I cannot imagine the effects that some of my Army brethren are going through 'outside the wire'. Once again, I feel bad for my self pity. Be grateful for what you have, I tell myself before....

Bang, bang, bang. The door handle rattles back and forth after the obnoxious knock of my friends. I stand up and shut down my laptop. It is time to head to breakfast.

To Be Continued.....


Steve Kasperson said...

Badski, what I would like to know is how is your current experience different from your initial time when you enlisted, and what things are different from what you expected. So far, what you are describing makes me think of a combination of going to summer camp and a semester of study abroad.

I can tell you that you are missed back in Jersey.

Matt Bader said...

I never really planned on getting into the military. I always new I wanted to play division I hockey and I dedicated my life to reaching that goal. When the opportunity arose at the AF Academy I didn't immediately jump on it. After a while and a visit to the school I thought the team was a good fit for me and I thought I could step right in and have an impact. The military thing came with that decision so my expectations are really hard to remember.

As far as deployments in Iraq go, my deployment is the summer camp experience. There are a hell of a lot of guys out here and even more in Afghanistan that do not have it anywhere near as good as I have it here. But one of my goals in writing this is to try and show people stateside that we are in fact at war, and just because someone like me has an ice cream bar in the DFAC and a pool I sneak off to for an hour a week doesn't mean that there aren't a lot of people making sacrifices out here.

No matter how good and comfortable it gets over here it is still not your life. You make some good friends that get you through but other than that you are away from the majority of things that you truly care about. That is what I am trying to portray by saying that it is not my Grandfathers' war. People still have this Hollywood image of a Saving Private Ryan war and the truth is that is just not the reality anymore. There are new realities and with those realities come new challenges. In a sense I think things were much more straightforward back then. It seems like more and more actions out here are a reaction to a congressman stateside, not a reaction to those we are fighting. Hopefully I can write a few more of these and share some more observations and experiences.