Saturday, August 21, 2010
Chapter I - Monday:
I wipe the sweat from my brow as the crew and I walk into the entryway of the guard shack leading into the dining facility (DFAC). I hand my ID to a Ugandan guard in a SOC uniform. He adjusts the loaded AK-47 on his shoulder, glances up at my face to ensure I am who I say I am and returns the card to me. I walk around the corner and into the DFAC to wash my hands. The paper towel saturates and rips leaving remnants of wet paper stuck to my fingers as I open the door into the dining facility. For some reason all the paper towels over here are the consistency of toilet paper. One of the small annoyances that whispers in your ear not so reassuringly reminding you that you are not in the comforts of home.
I scan my ID as I enter and am hit with the smell of DFAC. It is not an entirely bad smell but the multiple visits a day cause the smell to become an all too constant presence in the groundhog day that has become my life. I grab a tray, a plastic plate and silverware, and make my way briskly over to scan the line.
"Chicken sandwich day dude!" Heichs yells from behind me. Like a bird returning to the flock I swiftly alter course and head to the chicken sandwich bar that has become a regular on Monday's. We spread out and grab our various drinks, salads, and other items and reconvene in the back hall that somehow has a bit better air conditioning than the main area. We find and open table and plop down for a much welcomed break from the monotony of the contracting workload.
We sit down and start catching up on the few hours we have been dispersed carrying out our separate niches within the organization. The hustle and bustle of the various troops and contractors in the DFAC provides a backdrop of noise and movement that at first was overwhelming but is now the norm. The conversion inevitably turns to stories about contracting, another glaring reminder that I am deployed. Our job serves as our lowest common denominator of shared experiences and thus is often the topic of conversation. This is out of necessity and definitely not out of enjoyment. I have recognized a pattern in our conversations though. We often start with a contracting story. The story then leads to complaining. Not the type of complaining that comes from tainted and bitter people, but the kind that arises from those that are hungry and impatient with bureaucracy, injustice, and plain idiocy. The topic of conversation inevitably leads to higher ideals and principles that transcend our common deployed experiences and align more with our common human experiences and values.
I am amazed at how no matter where we start we end up talking about very high level, simple shared topics. We start bitching about contracting, navigate our way into strategic discussion on the way the war is being fought and how we fit into it. We then talk about what we would do if we were king for a day, and inevitably end up talking about our life goals and values like happiness, the importance of family, fulfillment, cultivating human relationships, and experiencing this gift of life that we are given.
I am no Socrates or Aristotle, but some of my best memories from this chapter of my life will definitely be centered on those shared discussions with my peers. People will want to hear about my travels to the desert. They will want to know how hot it was, how the palaces looked, and if I met any 'real' Iraqis. I will patiently answer their queries as these experiences will undoubtedly be cherished. But my foresight tells me that my best feel good moments will be the connections I established with my buddies and those moments in time where we got a glimpse into each other's souls and recognized the ideals we all shared; the things that are truly important to living an amazing and fulfilling life.
"You guys ready?" I ask the group. We stand up in concert and take our trays over to the industrial garbage cans lining the exits. I push open the swinging door and am once again blasted with a combination of dust, intense sunlight, and heat that pulls me back to the reality of where I am at. We head back to the vehicle and make the drive back to the office.
To Be Continued....