Lately I’ve had a lot of time to think. Yes, it’s true I actually think. I generally like my eyes focused on the present, and the best way to set myself up for a successful future. And like any human, I can lose sight or falter or just kick myself in the butt and wonder, “What the heck was I thinking?” But such is life, learning and growing, and all that jazz. I sometimes do have to remind myself to take a look back, not only to see how far I’ve come, but also some of the incredible experiences I’ve been through. And some of those experiences are not ones that I would repeat, but definitely made me a better and stronger person for doing them. My mind of late drifts back to 10 years ago. I often feel like my life is ruled by 2 six year olds, who are naturally demanding just based on their age. I laugh to myself thinking about what I used to be in charge of; the responsibility that I was given. My kids will never know that girl, and I can’t help but smile and think, “They have no idea who they are dealing with.” But then I have to remind myself that when I feel down or defeated, I’m still that girl and don’t believe for a second otherwise. And instantly my shoulders go back, I raise my chin a little higher. Looking to the past isn’t always such a bad thing.
So ten years ago I was in Camp Victory Base South, Baghdad, Iraq. We were the first unit in for Operation Iraqi Freedom 2. Initially we all thought OIF would be like Desert Storm…go in, bomb the place and get out. It wasn’t until my unit got deployment orders did it hit us that we would be a sustaining force in Iraq. I remember going to sleep at night in denial that I would actually deploy. And in the morning I would wake and feel nothing but dread. This lasted for months until the day I woke up on New Years Day 2004 and met up with 3 other guys from my unit to be the first ones to take off. We were the advanced party and tasked to set up on the receiving end for the rest of the 300+ soldiers that would arrive in the next 2-3 weeks. I’m not going to lie to you. It sucked. We flew commercial without our unit through London and then to Kuwait. In the Army everything is structured and a lot of times you just feel like you show up and execute. Suddenly I realized when we showed up in this foreign country how truly chaotic it was. We were literally the first unit to reinforce after the initial invasion. We were starting from the ground up, something pretty incredible when you think about it. We immediately got to work in Kuwait to set up training for the road march into Baghdad. And let me tell you, it was a total cluster. We had vehicles that looked like they came straight out of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. Just getting to Camp Udari, Kuwait our convoy got lost and we ended up at the Iraq/Kuwait border. We spent the next few weeks practicing convoys, firing out of our vehicles, drilling our soldiers how to react to contact, what to do when there is a casualty. We also spent a great deal of time recognizing Improvised Explosive Devises (IEDs) or road side bombs. It is very surreal going to each chalk of the convoy and making sure they have a body bag. My initial job title was S2, but I worked closely with the S3 (operations). Since I had just come from Company Executive Officer (XO), I knew every vehicle and every soldier. As the S2, I had to gather intel each day and give reports. This included everything from most common time of enemy attacks, best avenues of approach into Baghdad, weather, when the moon rises and shines, etc. We were in the wet season in Kuwait (yes it does rain quite a bit in the desert) and it was so miserable we were all anxious to get to Baghdad. The actual road march is deserving of a post of itself, but it will go down as probably the most intense situation I’ve ever been in.
I’ve completely digressed from what I originally created this post for. I think the key to getting through these situations is a sense of humor. I can choose to remember the anxiety, dread, uncertainty…but I choose to remember the laughter we shared at the whole absurdity of it all. My roommate Liz and I had been one year apart at West Point. She and I had been in the same unit for several years. She had just returned from Afghanistan and went ahead and redeployed with our unit shortly after. We immediately clicked from the first time we started working together. She was witty, a great officer, smart. We both came from big families and had older siblings that went to West Point. After a long hard day, we would come back to our room and just laugh. I thank God Liz was my roommate for a short time. Her fiancé Jim was Special Forces and in the Green Zone. Occasionally he would make it to our base camp and spend the night in our room. Jim and Liz were not little people, and I remember them snuggled on that tiny twin bed and thinking, “Wow that must be true love because it sure looks really uncomfortable.” One night we took fire on our Life Support Area (LSA) which is where we slept at night. There is nothing like waking up to bullets being fired at you. We had no idea what was going on. We immediately hit the ground and waited for the fire to stop. Initially we thought some insurgents had breached our base camp and attacked us, but that also seemed to be nearly impossible. It was total confusion, we just knew we were taking fire. In any event, after we hit the ground and the bullets stopped, Jim asked us if we were okay. Then he whispered, “You guys stay here, I’m going to go check things out.” Like I mentioned, Jim was a big Special Forces guy. He stood up, put on his gear, grabbed his rifle, and then said, “Liz, give me your slippers.” Instead of putting his combat boots on, he decided to put on Liz’ sparkly shower flip flops to go check out what we thought was enemy infiltration. He slipped out of the room into the dark of night without making a sound. Meanwhile Liz and I lay silently on the ground, reaching for our 9mm pistols and throwing our body armor on over our bodies. We both had adrenaline pumping and we were both thinking, “Are we really about to get in a fire fight?” And we were both ready. Several minutes go by and I break the silence.
Me “What the fuck?”
Liz “I know.”
Me “Did we really go to West Point for this?”
Liz “No kidding.
Me “Did Jim just really put on your sparkly shower flip flops to go make enemy contact?”
Liz “Yeah.”…….laughter, more laughter all while trying to be completely silent.
Liz and Jim were to be married in May of 2004. Instead they were deployed, but went ahead and got married in Baghdad….
We later found out a solider from another unit got a Dear John letter, stole a vehicle and decided to open fire on us. Nothing like almost being taken out by friendly fire…
If given the choice to cry or laugh, I choose to laugh. And let me tell you, it’s a choice. I’m not saying it’s not okay to be sad or mad or just plain angry. Recognize it, don’t wallow in it, look for the good parts, smile and laugh at those parts, and move forward.