Wednesday, October 18, 2006
Time Is Getting Short
Leaving the wire one last time
With only three or so weeks left till I return home I am having some of the same thoughts I had at the end of my first deployment. While I am ready to go home and get away from the army for a while I feel a bit hesitant about leaving Iraq. It may sound funny to an outsider but part of me wants to stay here and continue doing my job, although admittedly a smaller part of me wants to stay this time than I did the first time. I suppose the best way to explain my feelings would be to say that I don’t like leaving a job halfway done. I would like to be able to come over here and see through what we came to do till the end but with our forces seemingly committed until at least 2010 I know that isn’t a reality.
Just when we started to feel like we had all aspects of our job down pat the time has come to pick up and leave. Months and months were invested in our training and figuring out our job. Mistakes were made in abundance but now we are to the point where we can seemingly run down the road without problem. Sure we have our minor mishaps but for the most part we are an experienced crew operating as the army wants us too. If a convoy could be a thing of beauty ours are. Okay that last statement might be over the top but you get where I am going.
I guess there in lies the rub with the way the army conducts deployments. In today’s world there would be public outcry if soldiers were deployed to a war zone for years at a time like they were in previous wars (just look at the outcry that followed the announcement about the 172nd Stryker Brigade having to extend a few months). The problem though is that it takes close to a year for soldiers to become completely comfortable with their job. With this war, where no conceivable end is in sight, it wouldn’t be possible for soldiers to remain in theater for the duration. The army must allow breaks for soldiers in order for us to maintain our sanity. However, when an experienced unit leaves their area of operation a new unit must make all the same mistakes again on their own to the disappointment and frustration of the local population. We are pretty much damned if we do and damned if we don’t. Nothing is ever perfect especially in the army, but hey who does it better than we do?
When my unit first arrived in country the unit we replaced made sure we knew not to travel in one particular town where a previous unit had mistakenly killed some people and the whole town turned on them as a result. The actions of the units before us directly affected an aspect of our mission and we had to pay the price as a result of others mistakes. I don’t want to make the case for units staying longer in theater, as I don’t want to have to do it myself, but those who are good at what they do (172nd) pay the price for those who aren’t (101st and 4th ID in Baghdad) which leads to resentment.
Correct me if I am wrong, as I am sure a lot of people will, but from what I have seen reserve soldiers care about the quality of the job they do more than active duty soldiers do. Of course this is a sweeping generality as I have no way of gauging all units but from my personal experience in my little corner of Iraq this is what I have seen. When we arrived in country we were left with a motor pool full of broken vehicles. We had barely just enough vehicles to hit the road with and often had to fix broken down vehicles out on the road. Our maintenance section put in 24-hour days trying to get our fleet back up and working and should be awarded a medal for their hard work that now has us working with almost 100 percent of our equipment. Now that we are leaving we have been working tirelessly making sure the unit replacing us has not only working vehicles, but a clean and orderly motor pool, TOC, trailers etc. Although we sometimes complain about the extra work we have to do that the active duty unit we replaced failed to do for us we realize that the mission must continue after we leave and therefore must do our part to ensure that we don’t screw the new unit like we were screwed.
Okay well I have strayed from my original topic and therefore must apologize to all of my English teachers of the past. So we are counting the days now and are finally in the teens. With only three weeks left I find myself reflecting on the experiences of the past year. When I do so I tend to think only about the good stuff and leave the bad stuff by the wayside. I did the same thing shortly after returning home from my first deployment. For some reason I can never remember all the things I bitched about or hated while in country. Instead the stories that come to mind are overwhelmingly positive. I remember when I was just a FNG trying to find the chow hall, or whatever you people in the real world call the place where you eat food. I remember hitting the road for the first time and looking forward to a year of traveling the roads of Northern Iraq. I always loved doing the things that non-military types never get to do-shooting at stuff while driving down the road, watching stuff blow up on the side of the road, talking to Iraqis about women, and lying down for bed in an open prison in Baghdad watching tracers fly through the air over my head.
When I really give it some thought I think I’ll miss this place. Iraq has been my home for two out of the last three years. I am more at home here then I am in America. I told the story before about last Thanksgiving but I think I’ll do it again because it accurately describes what I mean. Last Thanksgiving I woke up at 4:30 am on the ground in Kuwait after a few hours of sleep and then rolled over and ate my favorite MRE: Cajun Beans and Rice. It seemed perfectly normal to me and I didn’t give any thought about Thanksgiving back home. I wasn’t home sick rather, just looking forward to the day of shooting that lay ahead. Now I find myself worrying about what awaits in America. Will I be able to readjust to college life? Will I remember how to function with regular civilians? When will I learn to stop cussing and looking out for people to shoot? What will I do now that I have to pay for food and gas?
Whatever I face I know it is just a matter of time before I am back to complaining about the things we complain about in America i.e. the weather being too hot, nothing being on TV, and having to pay too much for gas ( at least I think that is what people complain about.)
I am writing this as it is raining outside. The first time it rained here was a day or so after we got here last year. Time to pack up and leave for the last time (fingers crossed!).