Saturday, August 25, 2007

Things I can't tolerate

One thing I have realized I have a hard time tolerating are people who are curious about the way things are in battle and then roll their eyes or scoff as you try to describe it. There were many times when I was with friends, family and strangers that the war came up and though that was the last thing I wanted to talk about, I often did.

The heat usually started the topic as many people were complaining about the heat wave while I was home. It was often 98-101 degrees and they were saying how it was too hot to do anything. I would chuckle and mention that I loved the “cool” weather and smile. They’d usually ask and I would mention it was 145 degrees the day we left Kuwait and often in the 150’s at our base in Iraq. I would go on to say that it is too hot to do anything without air conditioning, but sometimes the AC breaks down and you have to press on. Sometimes you drive all night and get to a tent with no working air conditioning like on the mission I went on. It was 130 degrees inside the tent which made it hard to sleep. “That’s bull!” or “It’s a dry heat, it’s not the same.” would be the reply.

I love to eat and was looking forward to gaining 15-20 pounds while I was home. I ate a lot. I ate good food and I loved it. While laughing, I would say it’s better than eating from a bag all the time and that sometimes, long hours, location or the mission keeps you out of the kitchen for a bit and bags of food are all you have. “That’s bull!” would be the response. “The Army has to provide you at least one hot meal a day!” or “Hell, the MRE’s you guys eat are gourmet now days, compared to the ones I had to eat!”

When talking about how much fun I had on my trip to the space center in Alabama with my kids, and that the trip was only 7 hours; I heard how that was a terribly long drive. I laughed and commented that comparatively speaking it is a short trip and I didn’t even get bombed one time. I went on to explain that some of our guys are on the road for 8-15 hours without much of a break depending on where they have to go. “That’s bull! “or “The Army has to give you a half hour break every 4 hours! They can’t make you drive that long without a break!” would be the rebuttal.

So, here you go. If you are just going to roll your eyes, scoff or call me a liar, quit asking what it’s like over here. Unless you have been here, you can’t even fathom what I am talking about anyway. Peacetime veterans are often the worst! I know, because up until seven months ago, I was one. Like them, I had no idea what the conditions were like and tried to relate it to my peacetime experiences. Summertime is hot in Iraq. Dry heat be damned; 150 degrees feels like your face is burning off.

One hot meal a day? It is 150 degrees; that IS a hot meal! Even if it wasn’t, we are in the middle of the damn desert in a place where people are trying to kill us. We can’t say, “Hey guys it is lunch time. Who wants Mickey D’s for our hot meal today?” Gourmet? Just because we get melted M&M’s and Chicken Alfredo, which is better than the meatloaf you ate in 1976, doesn’t make it gourmet!

A half hour break for every four hours of driving? Again people, we are in the middle of the desert, conducting missions that run along some of the most dangerous roads in the world, where bad guys are trying to kill us. The only break our guys get is when they find a bomb, get blown up by a bomb, break down or get attacked!

If you can’t open your mind a little bit and try to comprehend that there is a huge difference between serving in peacetime and serving in combat, then so be it. Try to understand that the conditions on the battlefield change almost daily and that the conditions we have now are even better than the ones the soldiers had on the initial invasion, but just because your arrogance, ignorance or bull-headedness can’t relate the two, doesn’t make me a liar! I make no misconceptions that I have the most dangerous job, the longest hours or the most combat experience in our unit. I do, however, know the guys that do. They are my friends and my brothers.

They suffer extreme hardships, adapt and overcome them. If you can’t realize that conditions in combat today aren’t even able to be compared to you hanging out in garrison back in 1989, then grab your rifle, strap up your boots and come see “how easy we have it now days!”

Friday, August 17, 2007

A couple weeks at home

A few weeks ago I mentioned that I feel I am in the Vietnam of my era. Though I only meant that comment in regard to the conflict itself and not the treatment of soldiers, I failed to clarify that. I received a lot of comments and words of encouragement after that and I must say that I am so grateful of the support we soldiers are receiving. I have just returned from my two week “vacation” back to the US and I must say that I was constantly welcomed with smiles, handshakes, and hugs and thanked for my service to our country. As I began our journey home we stopped in Kuwait for a day for out processing. It was such a pain that I wanted to write about the hassles and hardships. I wanted to complain about the very long, hot day, stuffy conditions of the processing tent, 150 degree heat, pain in the butt customs procedures and other things. We finally left Kuwait and stopped in Ireland after nine hours for a short stop before heading to Dallas which was another eight hours I think. All of that changed however when we landed in Dallas after an extremely long, exhausting two days.

As we landed in Dallas, they met us at the terminal as we pulled in with water trucks and sprayed the plane down in a “salute” to the service men returning from abroad. As we gathered our gear and headed through the terminal to the customs area, I was honored and amazed at the welcome we received from hundreds of passengers and workers as we were routed along the top of the terminals in a glass walkway. Employees came out of stores, an old man in a wheel chair stood and cheered; children waved flags and held signs that said “Welcome Home – We Love You”. Average Americans, veterans, policemen; everyone seemed to stop what they were doing and waved, clapped and cheered.

I am usually sedate when it comes to receiving praise for my service and offer a smile or nod in a humble way as I do not feel worthy of such admirable recognition. That day though, that welcome overwhelmed me and as many soldiers hurried by to get first in the customs line, I took my time and waved, smiled and pointed to the crowd below; feeling obligated to try and make eye contact with everyone. I laughed as I felt much like a beauty queen in a parade. I wanted each one of them to know I saw them and I cared and I appreciated their “gift” to me that day.

As the four hundred or so of us were ushered through customs much like a herd of cattle, we came out into the lobby to go home or catch another flight. This time we weren’t hovering above the crowd, we were in it. Dozens of people gathered around to shake our hands, pat our backs and thank us as we left. Again, I felt so moved I had to shake every hand, smile and look each one of them in the eyes as I thanked them for being there. Though some soldiers again brushed by with more important things on their minds, I wanted to give the greeters there my undivided attention. As we got outside it was getting hot and young adults smiled widely as they handed out cold bottles of water. Several of us gathered around in small groups waiting on shuttles. One of the soldiers walked by and commented he never wanted to shake another hand again. I was infuriated, but was so caught up in the moment I didn’t stop to discuss it with him or tell him how I felt about his ungratefulness.

Even our small, short flight from Dallas to Fort Smith was pleasant. The flight attendant was cute and gave the soldiers a little more attention it seemed; both of us. She smiled and thanked us as well and I enjoyed it. When we landed, my family was waiting anxiously. My children smiled, my mom and sister cried; hugs and kisses flowed freely. Outside, my new Mustang Convertible was parked at the doors to carry me home.

Some soldiers say that it was too hard to go home. Some say they will never do it again and that next time they will go somewhere other than home. I, on the other hand, wouldn’t change a thing. I had a great time with my children, visiting with family and friends and feel refreshed. I was in a dark place before I went home and feel at peace and renewed. I know bad times will come again and I will enter dark places in my mind before this is all over with, but for now I have peace, love and fresh memories that will last a lifetime.