My War In a Nutshell

I find it rather ironic that I was more nervous about going to Basic than I was going to war.  I understand there there were certain issues governing each individual departure--for example, when I was leaving for Basic, it would be the longest and farthest I had ever bee from my family.  On top of that was the fact that I would have no friends there, and making friends is not one of my fortes.  On the other hand three (nearly four) years had rolled by once the war came to me, and in the interim I had been to Germany and Korea for a month each--and I had a friend in the Army.

I regarded my departure to Basic with much trepidation, not only due to the aforementioned reasons, but, I think, also because my joining the Army was almost a folly.  My entrance to the Army was due, in part, to my infallible ability of being unable to lie.  When the recruiter called and asked if I had ever thought about joining the Army, I answered  truthfully.  Yes, I had thought about it.  I had thought about it because when I had lived in Arizona, my friend and I had talked about joining the Army together, but I moved away before we could.  I felt that, by joining, I was holding up some part of our pact.

Ah, but I digress.  My entrance to Basic was unnerving because as soon as I stepped out of the sanctity of my home with the recruiter, I was in an unknown world.  I knew virtually nothing of the Army, and what I did know was based off dated World War II knowledge and what little truth seeps through movies.  As it turns out, my anxiety had a root I did not yet know of.  I discovered that I hated the army even before I officially got to Basic.  But that is not my point.

Now that I think about it, I was never worried or upset that I was going to war until we convoyed from Kuwait to Iraq.  Well, no that's not entirely true.  I was initially upset when I read my orders--and even then, not until I read the duration was 545 days--but that quickly gave way to irritation, and then a noncommittal sense of neutrality as I applied my I'll-worry-about-it-when-the-time-comes attitude toward the situation.  I wasn't even upset when I parted with my parents for what may have been the last time.  Although I'm quite positive that much of that had to do with the fact that Jennifer was there with me.

We make almost a cliche pair, Jennifer and I.  Although almost exactly a year younger than me, she is street-smart, savvy, independent and all too willing to tell you her opinion.  I, on the other hand, am the quiet, reserved, humble problem solving one.  It's almost laughable when you think of such a pair going off to war.  Isn't that the kinds of people comics make use of?

As it would turn out, we almost did not go together.  It came about that instead of our entire unit being deployed, groups of us were being pulled to fill holes in other units.  Jennifer had been assigned to the 221st, whereas I got put into the 266th.  My despair presented itself in full force when I learned of this, but Jennifer reassured me that she wasn't going to let it happen.  I don't know what she did, but she was true to her word--though I have little doubt that it had something to do with her city-girl savviness that this country girl does not posess.  We later learned that our unit did get deployed, which galled us to no end because we got stuck with one who didn't know a mortar from a rocket.

While we were being mobilized, getting all our gear and last-minute training, I was "volunteered" into a Combat Life Saver class.  I knew a lot of what we went over already, seeing as drill every month consisted of a first aid or other medical class despite the fact that we were ammunition specialists.  There was, of course, quite a lot I did not know--a lot of which I felt could also aid the common soldier, but then I could see why much of it was held back since the IET (Initial Entry Training) Soldier's Handbook is 300 pages long, and the Soldier's Book of Common Tasks is 400 pages long.  So, it wasn't like we didn't have enough to learn and remember anyway.

The last thing we learned in CLS class was how to administer an I.V.  I was one of only two (maybe three--maybe) people who got the entire procedure correct on the first try--which includes actually putting a needle in someone.  (I actually did not have to get stuck because my veins are so small a special needle is required.)  One of the instructors noted this and the lead instructor complimented me, saying, "She's quiet, but she knows what she's doing."  This sparked something in me, and I began to think that maybe my Purpose here was to save someones life.  But this was not to be so.  I never had to pull anything as benign as aspirin or as serious as atropine from my little green bag that had become my constant companion.  I was sad and a little disheartened when I had to turn it in.  If my Purpose hadn't been to save someones life, then why had I been there?

The convoy from Kuwait to Iraq was spectacularly uneventful--but all the more notable for that very reason.  It started out with almost a sense of wonder, as small mud-brick houses broke the nearly-flat expanse of desert that surrounded us, and children in too-large clothes guides small herds of goats while mothers watched from the doorways.  It gave a sense of having, almost literally, driven back in time.  But the uneventfulness that was so remarkable, is the fact that we got lost in Baghdad three times--yet nothing befell us.  Although I did experience one terrifying moment...

He had to have been maybe six, no more than eight, and was sitting on a half-wall along side a building on the other side of the road.  Most of the other kids were waving, but he was not.  I saw him make a motion, looking like was raising a gun.  Oh ****, I'm going to have to shoot him, I thought as I prepared my weapon.  But then I saw the bright orange tip of a toy gun, and a relief so great it made me tremble swept through me.

I never did have to shoot anyone.  As a matter of fact, I never used my weapon once during my year and a half.

Another remarkable even is the fact that we encountered three or four IEDs (Improvised Explosive Device), but not one was activated--IEDs are one of the biggest killers, especially for convoys.  We even started making a bit of a joke of it, playing with the Army's over use of acronyms.  "We need the EOD on the MSR for and IED ASAP!"  Translation: "We need the Explosive Ordnance Disposal on the Main Supply Route for and Improvised Explosive Device as soon as possible!"

But all this lack of... anything thoroughly convinced me that someone on that convoy was important enough to keep alive.  I was even more convinced that it was someone in our platoon, when our platoon was the only one of the entire company to have returned without losing a single person--be it to combat, depression, ill-health, whatever.  We went in with 42 people, and came out with 42 people.  I just wish I knew how it was and what it is they are destined to do that is so important.

When we first got to Iraq, our base was mortared every day for the first few months.  Then we got some Howitzers and started shooting back, and the mortars were very few. Funny how that works.  It was utterly terrifying at first, knowing that any second a mortar just might land right next to you.  But just as with anything else that is repeated over time, I got used to it--except when they came close.  And you know when they are close because you can feel it.  Not so much the trembling in the earth, but the wave of energy that rumbles in your chest and races through your veins.  It's always the feeling that gets me more than the sound.  This was demonstrated to me perfectly a scant few days after I got home.  My dad was leaving for work in the morning, and must have accidentally slammed the door, for that feeling jolted me awake and my firs thought was, "Mortar!"  I even started to reach under the bed for my flak vest.  Even three years later it affected me.  Some time ago at college a door slammed, or someone dropped a book or something and I sat bolt upright, my mind crying, "Mortar!"

In every chapter of life, there is always an event that will never be forgotten, and Iraq was no exception.  I am an Ammunition Specialist, but my specific job is to drive a giant forklift--giant as in, the tire is almost as tall as I am--moving around pallets of ammo in the ASP (Ammunition Supply Point) and loading and unloading trucks of ammo.  One morning I was on my way to work when I stopped at an intersection and heard a great kr-clunk!  My first thought was, Great, now what broke?  I stuck my head out of the window, not really sure what I was looking for, not even sure if something had broke or even if the clunk had originated from my vehicle.  I certainly did not expect to see that my rear tire had fallen off.

Yes, tire, wheel, the whole ensemble--off.  The only thing that kept my forklift from tipping was that the axle had caught on the inside of the rim.  I, needless to say, was rather shocked and devastated.  A million thoughts ran through my head, but at the fore was, God, I am going to be in SO much trouble!  And, How the HELL did that happen!?  I got out to assess the extent of the damage, and promptly began to cry.  Not weeping or bawling, but just leaking ears, because that's how I deal with extreme emotions, regardless of which emotion it is.

As people began to file past, they asked if I needed help.  I mumbled something about my people being along soon.  I always leave early (I can't abide being late), so I figured it was rational that they would be.  No one did come, however (I learned later that they took a different route than what I used), and I eventually accepted a ride back to my barracks.  I don't remember much of the interceding events, except that I was extraordinarily upset.  At one point the platoon sergeant took me over by the other forklifts and gave me some speech about why it's important to do a PMCS (Preventive Maintenance and Checking... uh, System, I think) every day, still crying with fraught emotion as he did so.  I did do a PMCS every day, but I figured it wouldn't make a difference if I told him.  And besides, I was too upset and trying not to cry and look like a sissy girl to say anything.

I talked with the mechanics after my forklift returned, and they told me that since the forklifts bounce so much (you can feel every pebble you run over, and many of the roads are dirt roads), the holes that held the bolts had been worn out of shape, so the bolts unscrewed themselves as I bounced down the road, allowing the tire to fall off.  The mechanics were very sympathetic and made me feel a lot better, saying that even a PMCS could not have prevented this, since it was a slow working over time.  One of them was angry, literally angry, at the platoon sergeant, because he htought the platoon sergeant had made me cry.  I thought this was rather amusing, but was too busy calming myself to correct him.  Besides, it was nice to know someone was on my side.

But they still sent me back to work after my forklift was fixed.

Some part of me wishes that I had recorded everything that happened during my deployment, but at the same time, some part of me is glad I did not...

 

Harui Harui
26-30, F
Feb 21, 2009