Archive | September 2006

I’m published!

Word. I’m in a book. Check it out on Amazon, baby!

It was put together by Matt Burden, author of Blackfive, like THE military blog. It’s been a cool process. The book is a compilation of all manner of bloggers, families and such. I think it’s a neat collection of perspectives, especially since they’re detached from the media and are directly from those in and connected to the conflict.

Here’s a blogroll. Some links are dead, but they were included in case the authors decide to get off their boots and back into the ‘sphere.

 

365 and a Wakeup
A Day in Iraq
American at Heart
American Soldier
Argghhh!
Armor Geddon
Army Wife Toddler Mom
AustinBay.net
Biting Their Little Heads Off
Blog Machine City
Boots in Baghdad
Cali Valley Girl
Counter Column
Courage Without Fear
CPT Patti…the Sweetest Woman on the Planet Goes to Baghdad

Dadmanly
Doc in the Box
Fire Power Forward
From My Position…On the Way!
Going Green Again
Howdy (Camel Spider)
In Iraq for 365
Learning to Live
Ma Deuce Gunner
Magic from the Baghdad Cafe
Makaha Surf Report
Medicine Soldier
Military Bride
Mudville Gazette
New Lives
One Hand Clapping
Pull on Superman’s Cape
The Questing Cat
Rebel Coyote
Red State Rants
SGT Hook
Sic Vis Pace, Para Bellum
Six More Months
Some Soldier’s Mom
Smash
The Sniper Eye
A Soldier’s Perspective
Talking Salmons
This Is Your War
Training for Eternity
Trying to Grok
Wordsmith at War

And Powerline‘s combat correspondent “Major E”

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Ginger Ale

I wrote this in the first few minutes of our flight out of Kuwait back home. It was night, we had just endured a 12-hour U.S. Customs process, and I had the urge to crank out a few nouns and verbs.

***

Always ginger ale on flights.

It’s the quintessential traveler’s drink isn’t it?

“I’ll take a ginger ale.”

It’s something altogether functional and exotic.

“Does he have an upset stomach?” some may ask.

“Look how he holds the cup, it’s as if he is used to such luxury!”

Ginger ale was my choice minutes into our flight out of Iraq–well, Kuwait, really. We had bounced around theater for days, checking in, checking out. Sleeping on itchy Army wool and generally sweating more and more as we made our way South, to have our fevers break with the whooshing cool comfort of the aircraft’s air conditioning on takeoff.

The skyline in Kuwait was more developed than Iraq–still not American, suffice to say. I miss the night noise of Hooter’s billboards and hotel placards. Soon I’d see them again. Soon I’d see the damn posers, standing outside the bars.

I was sitting next to an S6 computer guy for the flight, as I had through chance on the trip in a year back.

We both sat silently as the orange-lit Kuwait evening passed. It was much more exciting on the way in.

Now, with combat patches on our sleeves and a lifetime older, we saw the hazy moonlight reflect off the Gulf and just shrugged.

What’s next?

###

Adjusting

Sooner or later, we realize that advice offered usually is for a reason.

Before we redeployed to the states, we were given several classes. Some of these were of the “don’t drink enough in two days to make up for the lost year” variety, others were on how to readjust to family life.

Since I wasn’t much of a drinker and had no family, I just quietly sat through the sessions, counting the final days before I was free to experience unfiltered Capitalism.

But a lot of what they pointed out was true. I’m finding myself in a state of weird flux now that I’m back.

I’m testy. Screaming children in stores are extra unsettling. People cutting me off in traffic spark off waves of aggression. I jump whenever voices boom over loud speakers or if something drops. Even the whirling noise of the coffee shop where I’m tapping into the Internet starts to grate on my nerves. I need some quiet.

I’m also getting the whole battery of sleeplessness, stomach trouble and all that.

Luckily, we had those classes to tell us things like this were normal, otherwise I’d be freaking out. I’m told it’s all a part of getting back into “normal” life.

There have been a few instances already where I’ve lent an ear to a cashier or clerk who needed to vent. “Can these be actual problems?” I asked myself. They seemed so trivial. Was the fact that a hand held computer wasn’t working THAT important, or that Lenard entered the tire job as a “pending” rather than a “normal”? You had to get the manager to unlock something at the register…why are you stressing over that?

Anger and frustration damages my calm.

I still think about Big and Little Mohammad back on Taji–two of our interpreters that I saw a lot. Big M was a kick-boxer, built, and dreamed about joining the American Army and starting a life in the U.S. Little M always joked with me about “not turning him in” when we headed out the wire. The rewards for turning in interpreters who worked for the Army to local militias was substantial.

Their lives were fraught with danger. Their families were in danger. Every day they had to watch themselves.

And Iraq itself is a hell of a place. You just have to catch passing headlines to see that.

The fact that a store is out of red Nokia cell phone covers seems a little trite–not to get all snobby about it. I just can’t freak out about that sort of stuff.

I’ve seen a few teenage fights with parents also. Pent-up angst unloaded in the mall, kids trying too hard to show how grown up they are. It’s very surreal.

Fingerprints on the windows and the people paid to keep them clean. It’s so different. There are endless stores and mountains of things to own and enjoy here. I keep picturing some of my Iraqi friends over here. How would they react to the glitz, the giggling girls, the kept streets, the abundance?

It’s all a part of adjusting, I suppose.

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Long, drawn out sigh of relief

Yes friends. I’m here. And I finally snagged some Internet access from a coffee shop. It’s so fast, it hurts. Definitely beats the sand out of the 1-5 kb/s back in Iraq.

The next couple of posts will be from what I was writing in my final days in Iraq. So even though I’m here in the states, when I say “here” in these entries, I’m still talking about the war zone. Where I could, I already edited the posts to say “Iraq” and such, so as not to confuse you cats.

I’m taking it easy these first few days back. I’ve bought a car and a whole lot of clothes. I’m a pretty snazzy guy nowadays, if I do say so. Very metro, sans hair gel (sorry, still can’t get into that crap). Besides, with the cropped hair, there’s not much that can be done anyway. My bad, ladies.

Without further blah-blah-blahs, here’s reflective entry one:

***

Everyone is in such a hurry to prove how brilliant they are. They never take the time to see how they can help people. Status symbols, jokes, looks, cars, clubs, beer, sex, lipstick, shoes, tight pants…whatever, everyone is out for themselves. Everyone just waits for their turn to say their piece.

I wonder if we’ll eventually issue out slogans for the day, or if people will come up with a saying that presents their personality to the world in ten or less words. People will wait until some random, roving, reality-based-television-ish camera comes by and let loose with their saying. “I’d buy that for a dollar.” “Stay classy San Diego.” “Booya Ka-sha.”

They won’t interact or talk with anyone until the camera nears. They’ll be hollow shells, putting on the facade of socializing. Lights come on and bam! Instant extrovert. Then things settle down, the hands go back in the pockets and nothing. That’s sort of how Hollywood—our version of Mecca, a sort of cultural/spiritual center—is now.

And that’s not the tragedy. What sucks is that people wouldn’t care. They wouldn’t want anything other than the fake, plastic reality. They’d love the lie. They’d enjoy the emptiness. They would be so wrapped up in themselves and their own brand of persecution and problems, that they COULDN’T see others.

That’s sin. Not their actions, but that mindset—a constant, self cannibalizing cloud of selfishness and greed that blots out the light. The inability to see beyond one’s self. Buddhism is keen on avoiding this danger of self and makes beautiful strides to teach us to quiet ourselves to hear our surroundings.

One of my favorite books is “The Great Divorce” by CS Lewis. You won’t see it in a lot of evangelicals’ personal libraries because people don’t like its implications.

It puts out the notion that hell is just a bland existence, a dreary, rainy London neighborhood; where people are so self-absorbed, that they can’t see their misery. They can’t see anything but themselves. They don’t realize they’re in hell.

A group of them visits heaven, which is pure substance compared to their emptiness. Heaven is so vivid that the color and light hurt the eyes of the residents of hell. The grass pierces their feet. They can barely move the leaves of a tree. A pebble seems like a boulder. Their bodies are ghosts, gray and translucent.

Most of them are so offended and put off that they climb back into the bus that brought them to heaven (yes, a bus, just go with it) and wait to go back to hell. They’re angry that it’s so bright, angry that no one is there to meet them, angry that it hurts their feet to even walk.

They CHOOSE hell. They PREFER hell. They would rather chase after a drug, or a television series, or a video game, rather than focus on the substance of life. They trade truth for a lie.

Everywhere I look around here, I see the same attitudes. People are so selfish! I ain’t frikkin Mother Teresa either, I’m just saying.

Whether it’s ripping the government off, fudging property books, doing the adultery thing, harboring racist thoughts, stealing, abusing resources, fabricating documents, or whatever…people everywhere are just out for themselves, even in Iraq! Hell, we’re the supposed best and brightest of America, defending the virtuous and glorious free and righteous republic; and we do all that.

We choose to make the earth a little more like hell, full of deceit and corruption; instead of choosing to make earth a little more like heaven.

It’s free will. We choose it. We will it.

And it’s attitudes that shape it all. It’s from the overflow of the heart that the mouth speaks, the Scriptures say. Our thoughts and feelings pop into our minds and we choose to either cultivate them or move on to others. Be it anger, despair, resentment, compassion or love, we shape our attitudes like we shape our bodies—filling it with nutrients or junk.

Moreover, attitudes are eternal. Do you think that once everything is made right, God will force you to become another person? Hardly. He’ll allow you to choose where you want to go. If you want to get on the bus and leave, he’ll let you go. If you chose to be a selfish, whining bigot, he’ll respect your choice.

If you can’t stand to be around people, do you think you’ll magically love them once everything is made right? If you don’t give two sh*ts about suffering and injustice now, do you think there will be some switch that flips once God shows up?

As the great movie “Gladiator” puts it, “What we do in life echoes in eternity.” Not in any sort of good-deed credit report, but in that the exercises we do through life will help shape our attitudes—who we are that’s carried into the kingdom.

And I suppose that’s what makes me so damned mad at myself for the time I’ve spent at war. In the midst of what could have been the most influential time in my life, I chose to gripe and let circumstances turn me in to a seething, bitter jerk.

I did the same thing at Cedarville, my alma matter. Sure it was an infuriating place, but I could have been more of a man about it. What good did bitching do? What good does it do now?

The tragedy of Iraq is you have 135,000 troops, the great many of whom just sit and wish they were back in the land of movies and fad diets, when they could be taking freedom and all those promises of America to the streets. Instead, we lock ourselves in our bases and count the days until football starts and Survivor spins up again.

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