That'll be foremost on my mind as long as it's still attached.
Finally, we had jumped through all the hoops and gotten “signed off” by all the graders involved and were certified fit for duty in Iraq. All that was left now was the load out and we would be on our way. We were all allowed to take a few days’ leave and go home to be with our families for a few days before we actually loaded up and left for the big sandbox. But, first, we were all supposed to complete some online safety training so we would know how not to get injured on our visits at home, thereby decreasing our deployment strength. I found a ride over to the airfield where we had our only computer with online access and surfed effortlessly through page after informative page of cartoon text and illustrations warning against the hazards that awaited us during our travels home and back. If memory serves me correctly, there was even a test at the end, and after that, a risk assessment/mitigation form to be filled out by anybody driving home stating that you understood the dangers of driving with little sleep, after drinking, during bad weather, and more. I didn’t bother to fill that portion out because, after all, we weren’t allowed to have cars there anyway. Everybody was flying home.
A few days later, the young lieutenant who’d gotten stuck with accountability of the safety forms approached me and told me he couldn’t find my safety form. I told him I hadn’t done one because I wasn’t driving. He said, “Mr. Deeter, I know you’re not driving, but we all have to do one of these forms.” I said, “Well, when I click the box that says I’m not driving, it won’t let me go any farther, will it?” He said, “Well… I just know we have to have one on everybody…”
“LT, you want me to make one up, don’t you?”
“Say no more LT, I’ll take care of it.” And with that, I borrowed a Humvee, went back over to the office, and made up a great-sounding vacation road trip. I clicked boxes for a station wagon with ABS, automatic door locks, and every safety feature known to man. I told the computer I would stop and rest every hour, wear my seat belt at all times, not drive in rain, and would never consider consuming a drop of alcohol. I clicked box after box until I had made up a great driving story and was rewarded with a certificate suitable for framing to give to the LT. And with it, I said, “LT, do ya suppose that some nitwit tucked away somewhere in the hallowed halls of the army safety center has convinced some other nitwits that this bullshit actually makes us safer?” But this lieutenant was not that young or that naive. He smiled and said, “I suppose they have to find something to do to justify their paychecks.”
Going home on leave was wonderful, but very difficult. It was so good to see my wife and our little boys. As I romped and played with our little boys, I would look at their happy faces and my heart would sink. Always in the back of my mind was this feeling of dread. I was dreading having to leave them again, and in my mind was sort of an internal clock. It was counting down the time until I would have to get back on the plane and leave them again. And this time, I would be much farther away, for so much longer. I also worried about what it may do to them to spend this time with Daddy and suddenly feel as though he had disappeared again.
It was the same with my wife, maybe worse. It almost felt awkward. We sort of avoided talking about what lay in store and focused on the boys and spending time with them. We did finally get away for a couple of days to a great little cabin on the lake at Big Cedar Lodge. It was very good for both of us. There, without distractions, we talked about the deployment. We made plans for when I’d return and talked about the house we planned to build. We even talked about our fears, our concerns about the boys, and even about what would happen if I were killed in Iraq. This was very liberating for me on some level. It was here that I realized how strong she really was, and that no matter what happened, she would be okay.
I knew it would be hard on her. I could tell she was already kind of worn out from the few months I’d been away. I actually believe it was harder for her than for me. She had to live like a single parent with two little boys to care for, a house to sell (and that meant moving everything into storage), and a very demanding full-time job with little sleep. But she made this time together all about me, her soldier. We planned to build a new house, and she was ready to move in with her mother and father for the deployment so they could help her with the boys. She would handle the sale of the old house, the plans for the new house, and save money each month for the construction. She was even willing to sell her Mercedes SUV and drive my Chevy Silverado while I was gone to save money and parking space. And then she said to me, “We’ll get through this okay. And we can make something positive happen from it all, instead of feeling sorry for ourselves.” This was exactly what I needed to hear from her. It helped me immeasurably.
Connie and her parents are strong people. They are strengthened by their faith, and they were grounded in their family unity and dedication to raising our two little boys. As we left Big Cedar Lodge, I felt such relief, and realized again what I lucky man I was to have Connie. I still hadn’t figured out what she ever saw in a hillbilly from the backwoods of rural Ohio, but I knew that since I’d met her, my life was much better than I deserved.
I had her drop me off at the airport when that incessant clock in my head had counted down to the inevitable. It was almost a relief to get it over with. I didn’t want her to come in and stand and watch the clock with me in awkward silence as we waited to board, and since she did not have a ticket, I could only leave her standing in the lobby anyway. I couldn’t help thinking, as I watched her drive away, that a pretty lady like her looked kind of out of place driving off in my big ole Chevy truck. I also hoped she didn’t get it scratched up or dinged. I know that sounds crass, but I was also concerned about my truck.
I arrived back at Ft. Hood yesterday from my nine days of leave. It was really good to go home and see Connie and the kids. But I’m as homesick now as when I first left. The babies and I bonded, and they got to know me again, only to have me disappear again a few days later. I feel terrible.
The ones that are still here are a lot quieter and sullen than they used to be (myself included, I suppose). As I watched eighty or so of my new friends load up last night and put their gear on the trucks that would take them to the airport, it hit me. We’re really going to Iraq. Soon. I’m anxious to get there and start counting down the days till I can come home, but I also dread it because when that plane lands, I’ll be so far from those I love.
Back at Ft. Hood, the pace had slowed. We had met all our training obligations, and were ready to leave for the big sandbox. Strangely, the apprehension was beginning to fade, and I was eager to go. There comes a point in any endeavor when you have to stop analyzing and planning, and start doing. That point in time was here. Still, as I stepped onto the plane to find my seat, my heart was aching for my wife and our two little guys. I told myself I’d see them again, and tried to focus on the things that we had to do as a unit and the things I had to do on a personal level. I loved flying the Black Hawk, but it doesn’t fly itself. It’s a fairly complicated aircraft. I needed to think about systems, emergency procedures, tactics, goggles, aerodynamics: the list goes on. I had to put on my battle face and get my head in the game. As hard as it was to climb on that plane and leave for Iraq, I had no idea that a year later, coming home would be even harder.
It was just after I returned from leave that I developed a bad, croupy, productive cough, which was unrelenting. I coughed almost constantly, so much so that I noticed people looking at me. I went to the troop medical center (TMC) twice, but they were convinced that it was only drainage from allergies. I’d never had allergies before, but this was Texas. Maybe it was something in the air. I’m no expert, but I wouldn’t think I would be coughing up green stuff. I felt bad for whoever had to sit by me for the next eleven or twelve hours. This cough would turn out to be quite a bad deal before it got better.
Our plane broke down in Bangor, Maine, and we sat there for fifteen hours. It seems a small cut in an aileron, made by a ladder while re-fueling, had grown during the flight to Bangor and now had to be repaired before we could continue. We were there all night and part of the next day. We were trying to sleep wherever we could find enough room to lie down. In the morning, they made us a breakfast of sorts and served it to us in a makeshift chow line fashion. It was better than nothing, and I appreciated their efforts. Still, it was an uncomfortable night for me. I was still coughing my head off and unable to sleep.
We made a refuel stop in Germany, and finally landed in Kuwait City mid-morning on September 1, 2006. It was hot. The heat was worse than I’d imagined.
We are here in Udairi, Kuwait. It’s hot, 125 degrees. There’s nothing in this country but sand, camels, spiders, and scorpions. The trip over was worse than being here. We were delayed in Bangor, Maine, for fifteen hours because the plane had a tear in the aileron that had to be repaired. (Tried to sleep on the floor, but couldn’t.) Then we had a three-hour layover in Germany in the middle of the night. After we finally arrived in Kuwait City (yesterday mid-morning), we had to wait for an hour to get on buses that brought us another two hours to Udairi (Camp Buehring). We then had a series of briefings (pay, threat, safety, etc.) and had to unload our gear and carry it to our tents.
I had a rough night. I was really missing Connie and the boys. I feel so far away from them. I felt as if I’d never see them again. This is going to take some adjusting. I finally got to talk to her this morning. Feeling much better now.
Everybody seemed lost yesterday and last night. It was a very quiet bus ride from Kuwait City airport to Udairi. Most people seem to be in better spirits today; I believe it’s because they have called home.
Today, we had airfield operations briefings till noon, and then we were off the rest of the day. They’re trying to let us reset our internal clocks. The problem is that would take sleep. And that’s something that is hard to come by here.
Yesterday was a long day. We got up at 0230h and loaded onto buses that took us to a rifle range out into the middle of the desert. We zeroed our rifles at daylight so we could be done before it really got hot. We then fired our pistols, got back on the buses, and rode back to Camp Buerhing. It seemed strange watching nine fancy tour buses travel out into the middle of the desert on a rough, rut-filled dirt road. All we could see was sand, with no signs of life except for the scattered camel dung and the occasional strange-looking insect.
Today (September 5), we started the day with CSAR (search and rescue) briefings. They began with how to avoid being captured, and encompassed topics like different interrogation techniques, what not to do to enrage our captors, how to lie convincingly, how to avoid and endure beatings, how to identify which one of your captors may be willing to help you or who and when you may overpower and escape, rules of engagement (ROE)—basically, who we can kill and what we can steal while evading—how to use a blood chit, etc. Interestingly, they also covered the laws concerning giving up any information during your interrogations. Apparently, we could face courts martial if we divulge any information. That’ll be foremost on my mind as long as it’s still attached. Give me a break. In fact, I’m going to try to learn just enough Arabic to say “Don’t shoot; I know some really good secrets!”
We were also told that the threat is changing where we’re going. It seems the enemy is now using SA-16 missiles. Our mission is changing somewhat as well. We are going to be doing a lot more air assaults than we were previously told, often carrying Iraqi troops as well as our own. We also heard that the unit we are relieving are just starting to carry out these air assaults and are often landing “under fire.” How nice. The battle picks up just in time for our arrival. Three hundred sixty-two days to go.
I got a haircut today. That was a different experience. The foreign nationals cutting our hair looked to be either Indian or Kuwaiti, but I can’t be sure. On the wall, they have three pictures of young men sporting military haircuts. They ask, “How you like?” which I’m sure are the only English words they understand. Then, as you explain what you want, they nod their heads and smile. And when they are done, you look like one of the three pictures on the wall. I can’t help but wonder if that’s the only haircut they know how to