Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Life in Iraq

with 2 comments

I think this example helps explain why the great majority of Americans (if not our Representatives and Senators in Congress) want the Iraq War to end. The names in this account were changed. The writer is a counselor deployed to help soldiers experiencing combat trauma.

Maj. Johns and I had been at the patrol base to the west for several days. We took up residence on two adjacent cots in the far corner of a plywood structure which, by size comparisons, was much like the other Army tents it was built among. There were no walls to divide the space within the structure. Cots lined the long side walls with space for a walkway in the middle. There were about 20 cots in all and transient soldiers came and went, mostly as they left for, or returned from, their leaves home. During the daytime, the structure would shake and breathe in the hot winds and the thin lines of light where plywood panels met on the walls, and at the meeting of the walls and the ceiling, would swell and widen broadening bright luminous fissures in the dark space. Small gray lizards would crawl though these cracks and take refuge from the heat on the plywood ceiling between the beams.

Soldiers getting ready to go on leave would talk about things they planned to do at home with tones of relief and elation. Soldiers returning to their units would move about anxiously and hope for delays in their returns back to the line. When details of their returns were received, and when all hope of delay had been exhausted, their muscles visibly tightened and their movements became jolted, almost angry, and they began to speak of their hopelessness, the friends they had seen killed. They began to question and criticize the war, late into the night on their cots in the darkness. In the morning, they would be gone, their empty cots a reminder of them, and of where they would be by now. Often when we spoke to them, we wondered secretly if they would become one more of those we had talked with who might later appear on a memorial flier before us, an inverted rifle and bayonet, a Kevlar, a pair of boots, and dog tags, a typed message naming who they left behind back home.

The major and I took up shop in a metal storage trailer during the daytime. It had no windows but had been fitted with lights and an air conditioner. Command, knowing he and I were coming, had detained or sent in several soldiers they wanted us to see. The recent decision to extend all of the soldiers had made our job harder and those who lived day to day had begun to digest and absorb the mental impact of 90 more days they would need to survive.

“No, sir, I don’t really sleep. Well, maybe an hour or two, then I get up. I don’t want to dream,” the soldier said to us. His name was Staff Sgt. Johnson. He was a good soldier, and you could tell when you spoke to him. He was a man of honor. He was ashamed to be speaking with us, but his leaders had insisted. He had served three combat tours as a squad leader in a line unit. His body and his hands shook during pauses in his speaking and he stared at us, and sometimes past us, with a wide-eyed look of hyper alertness. He had just returned from leave and two guys in his squad were killed days before his return.

“You know, I think I thought, or…you would think, that each time you lose someone in combat it would be easier, but it’s not. It’s not.” He shook his head and looked away from Maj. Johns and down at the floor. “It’s not,” he repeated as he stared at the floor. He looked back up at me nervously, still shaking his head. When he finally stopped shaking his head, his body erupted into a tiny tremor as he tried to keep still. He pressed and rubbed his palms against his knees as he sat, presumably to try and stop his hands from shaking. “Every time someone dies, I relive all of the other deaths. Over and over.” He shook his head and looked back down at the floor and the tremor began again.

“That’s a very normal response,” Maj. Johns said. I nodded and Staff Sgt. Johnson nodded back at us sadly, and then looked away.

“You know, I think going home on leave really told me how bad I was.”

“What happened on your leave?” Maj. Johns asked.

“Well, not too much really. Well, the first few days were good.”

“What did you do the first few days?”

“I checked into a nice hotel and got a bottle of scotch and I didn’t come out for about four or five days. It was great. I didn’t get drunk. I just sipped, you know?”

“What were you doing in there all that time?” Maj. Johns asked.

“Just staring at the wall really,” he answered, and then drifted his gaze past us as if remembering. “I didn’t turn on the TV or anything. I just stared at the wall. Well, for the first three days anyway. I know it sounds weird but it was really great.”

“Then what happened?”

“Well, then my girlfriend came. And don’t get me wrong. I love her and she’s a great girl and all but it just wasn’t the same after she came. She’s great though. She’s so understanding.”

“How did things go with your girlfriend? Did you get along okay?”

“Oh yah, we didn’t fight at all. No, we got along. But…” he looked from Maj. Johns toward me and hesitated.

“But what, man?” I asked.

“Well, I couldn’t do it, you know? I mean sex. We didn’t have sex at all. Her skin just felt really weird. You know what I mean?” He sort of squinted and cocked his head to the side slightly when he asked if we knew what he meant.

“No, not exactly. What did her skin feel like to you? Describe it to us,” Maj. Johns replied.

“Like rubber, like an animal,” he crinkled his cheeks as he remembered, as if it were repulsive to him. “Like she wasn’t real.”

We talked with Staff Sgt. Johnson for a while longer. He was one of the worst we had ever seen. When we mentioned the thought of him taking his squad out again he simply said, “I can’t. I won’t. I won’t load another body onto that chopper. I can’t. I won’t.”

Written by Leisureguy

24 May 2007 at 1:03 pm

2 Responses

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  1. “He was one of the worst we had ever seen. When we mentioned the thought of him taking his squad out again he simply said, “I can’t. I won’t. I won’t load another body onto that chopper. I can’t. I won’t.””

    Yes he will. Until Ms. Pelosi does something besides work for political gain, he will continue to load bodies on choppers.

    This guy got home, got drunk, and couldn’t have premarital sex? WE MUST STOP THIS INSANITY NOW!!!!!!!!!
    Really, Michael, hating America is fine, I guess. Holding this poor Soldier to account for the war like you are doing is inexcusable.

    Like

    Workerguy

    26 May 2007 at 7:11 am

  2. It’s a strange view that any criticism of something the country is doing translates (in the mind of Workerguy) to hatred of the country. And yet hating the Democratic party seems perfectly okay. Odd.

    The rate of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder from the Iraq War is higher than in any previous war, as has been amply documented. This example, which seems to inspire anger and contempt in Workerguy, is (to me) quite sad. His reaction to his girlfriend’s body is not that of a normal person. (BTW, Workerguy, it’s “pre-marital” sex only if they later get married. Otherwise, it’s just “sex.”)

    Workerguy, your leaps of thought are hard to follow. Of course I don’t hate America, nor do I hold the soldier to account for the war. The war, as you probably recall, was the creation of Paul Wolfowitz, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, Doug Feith, and George Bush. They are the ones to be held accountable. Those are the ones who manufactured and distorted intelligence. Those are the ones who said it would be a “cakewalk,” that it would be over in less than six months, that establishing democracy there would be easy. Those are the ones who ignored the detailed pre-war descriptions of the chaos and carnage that would follow if we invaded.

    I cannot see where you draw your absurd conclusions. But reason has never been the strong suit of the Right.

    Like

    LeisureGuy

    26 May 2007 at 7:20 am


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