I know I promised a letter before this – but I am finding it particularly it difficult to write. I must admit to a feeling of disjointedness – the time I spent in Iraq was so different; that the time I spent there does not want to settle easily into my mind and memory. It’s almost like the time in Iraq never really happened. I feel I never left and things here should be just the way they were when I left. No changes. Everything the same. In fact, in my clinic, MOST things ARE the same, so when I discover something different – it’s jarring. Intrusive. Disconcerting. I wonder if it would be easier to really understand the time lost in Iraq if I had something concrete to measure it against – like a growing child. I don’t know. I am back at work, trying to build a client base for myself. One of my friends down the hall is getting very used to me asking – OK, how are we doing this NOW? - I have to be careful not to fall back into the old routines, or to assume old routines are still the way we do it. I can understand how husbands, coming back from Iraq have problems adjusting and blending back into their family. They left a year ago a wife who was dependant on him, certain routines of behavior, rewards and punishment in the kids, and come back to a household where the wife (spouse) has been “dealing” the entire time, making the decisions, changing the routines as the kids grow and change. And now the soldier is the intruder. He is the outsider who has to fit himself back into a family which has changed – at times in unexpected ways. I understand why this can lead to abuse. I am also angry. I saw things there which I feel no one should ever see. We are so lucky in this country, that we are so isolated from so much of the nastiness that takes place in some countries. Do I think we should have gone into Iraq – yes. Do I think we should stay? – yes. Despite.
Talking about abuse, I promised a word or six about the dreaded CIF equipment turn in. CIF – Central Issue Facility – is where us soldiers get all of our matching wardrobe and accessories. The soldier goes in with nothing (Chippendale review?) and comes out the other end with 4n pairs DCU, 2 pairs boots, one set cold weather gear, onset rain gear, 4 duffle bags, one helmet, one helmet cover, 3-pam-choride injects, doxycyline (anti malaria), equipment vest, bullet proof vest, 9 mm, web belt, 4 sets long underwear, wool hat, sleeping bag, welllllllllll, you get the idea…
Anyway, CIF wants their equipment back when we get through using it. They want it clean.
And in the SAME condition they issued it in.
Think about this.
Never mind that we just been using it for a year. In the dust and mud of Iraq. Everyday. The equipment got shot at, burned, tossed onto various means of transportation – ship, plane, jet, helicopter, 5-ton trucks, HUMMVs, tossed off again, piled up in the mud, dust, rained on, sandstormed on, dragged across the mud, slug under the cot, and generally USED.
For a year. Normal wear and tear, right? Nope, not to the anal retentive minds at CIF.
When I got back I had ½ day in my house, then sent to the barracks at Ft Bliss. The next day we had CIF turn in. Now I tell ya – exactly WHEN did I have time to take this all to the cleaners? I did wash a lot of my gear at home, then stuffed it back into the duffle bags. Which, by the time the bag was slung under the bus on the ride to CIF, then stood on end while we waited in line, got a bit dusty. Dusty. Not stained, not dirty – a BIT dusty.
And those disciples of the unattainable objective decided it was not acceptable - I would have to pay for them. Now if the duffle bag had been ripped or something, THAT would have been acceptable – no matter HOW dirty it was – it would have been accepted and trashed – but a functional duffle bag with a little dust? REJECT!!!!
Of course, no soldier would EVER get the idea to - uh oops, put a rip in it themselves. Just so he wouldn’t have to pay for a stained duffel bag. Or for a duffel that his unit INSISTED he stencil his name onto for identification purposes. To discriminate it from a thousand others.
Heaven forbid if you DARE to ARGUE with the kind and gentle folk at CIF. My friend did. HIS web gear was – golly, dare I say it? - DUSTY. So it was rejected. But the guy’s in front of him was accepted. In the same condition. My friend protested. The CIF personnel decided to reject ALL of his equipment.
My pistol holder disappeared IN LINE at CIF. They wanted me to pay for it. I basically said I was NOT paying for something that disappeared while I was in line, actively turning in equipment! I then proceeded to have an asthma attack – remember I was quite sick when I got home, kept have airway problems. Well the CIF person decided she didn’t want me to expire in front of her so she signed off on my paperwork and accepted my stuff as is.
Huh, should try that again next time.
CIF is primarily run by civilians, with a few soldiers helping. If you really have a problem – go to one of the soldiers – THEY will solve your problem. They understand what it’s like living on a soldier’s pay.
About 3 days after I got home for real – that is I could STAY there (in my bathtub) I was woken up in the middle of the night by a big BOOM which rattled the windows. I live near Ft Hood’s tank training grounds, so it’s not uncommon to hear exploding ordinance.
I darn near rolled off my cot onto the floor to take cover. Which would have really hurt, as my bed is MUCH higher than my cot was! It took a while for my brain to get through the adrenalin surge to convince myself that I WAS NOT in Iraq, and nobody was going to yell “BUNKERS! BUNKERS! BUNKERS!”
I really had to laugh at myself, because the reaction surprised me. I really didn’t expect it. Dumb, I know – I mean you read about it all the time, but HEY, not ME! D’oh!!
I still look around for trouble when I hear the cup-cup-cup-up-cup of 50 calibers in the hills. I still find helicopters with their nav lights on jarring. And, golly, they come in different colors! – not mat green.
I’m wearing regular fatigues now, no longer do I have the distinction of wearing the desert fatigues to separate me from the crowd. It’s an identity, a distinction I had to give up. It almost feels like a loss. Here at Ft Hood, I am one of literally thousands who have returned from Iraq – this is not only the home of 4ID, who just got back, it’s the home of the 1st Calvary – who just left. Interesting tidbit – at III Corps Headquarters (4 ID and 1st Cav ‘s higher headquarters) The flag is not put away for the night. At retreat, it is lowered, and then it is raised again to the top of the flagpole – and will remain so as long as any soldier of III Corps is deployed.
The president decided to attend Easter services here at Ft Hood – and, of course, visit the 32 wounded soldiers who arrived at our hospital on good Friday (our hospital is starting to take casualties to lighten the load on the hospitals in Germany and D.C.). Talk about a mess – security had almost EVERY street leading too the hospital blocked off. I had to drive 3-4 MILEs out of my way just to get TO the hospital. Guess it could have been worse – I could have been a laboring patient. They (security) just don’t realize life does go on in spite of presidential visits and you DO need to leave some sort of access to the ER! Of course, the visit was not announced – but when I was trying to make my way to the hospital – I was thinking – OK, what’s going on? – add the fact the security was tight, we got the batch of wounded on Friday and Crawford (Bush’s ranch) is less than 40 miles from here – hey, hey, hey PHOTO OP!!! Lets schmooze for the media! I left as soon as I could – had enough of the media while I was in Iraq.
Life is beginning to settle back to normal. I think I finally got enough bath time to make up for the lack of baths in Iraq – my skin is never going to Unwrinkle. It’s such a luxury to be able to walk to the refrigerator and grab something to eat. Getting into my truck to drive where I want to. When I want to. Trees. Grass. I planted a new garden – we’ll see if it grows.
Had a family get together at the end of March – was able to see my brother and sister and their families – we reaffirmed to each other that we were all alive and breathing.
And that I was home.
With the same number of holes I left with.
I guess that’s what counts.
Take care, everyone,