The Iraqi desert was hot in the spring and summer, cold in the fall and winter. I did not expect, however, how hot or cold it would get but with a little help of rain that was mixed in the coldness of November how my mortality would come into play as I experienced both sides of the extreme desert. These are the first of many memories as we crossed the border into an land unknown to me. As the days went by in this war, the memories of my experiences In this unknown land would build with the loss of friends, seeing what death in a war would look like.
My memories are chaotic like a puzzle, and because of those chaotic memories, I have to focus hard to remember the good times I had, and not remember the pain I experienced. Despite the lapses in memory, I do recall the two days leading into crossing the Saudi Kingdom border into Iraq. I remember those two specific days because of how cold it with the downpour of rain we had, and the fact the clothes and boots I was wearing did not keep me very warm either. I remember doing a lot of moving around in the sand that turned into instant mud, as I went from mock tents to vehicles to stay dry and keep warm. However, I was not so lucky at keeping warm or dry as the rain kept on coming and made the November cold colder. I cannot remember if I changed my clothes at all. I might have after the rain stopped, but specific details such as this are sketchy.
That particular morning was when I had the initial realization of my own mortality. I had just finished shaving and brushing my teeth when I heard a small explosion coming from one of the Stryker’s. It hurt my ear so bad that I quickly twisted myself away because of the pain and to protect myself from any possible shrapnel that could be flying. Then just as quickly as I turned away, I looked up to see the flash of light, and watched as an unknown soldier fell down to his knees, and then fell flat on top of vehicle he was on. My first thought was “Oh my God”, well not really the correct words but one could guess what I did say that morning. Due to him taking the full blunt of that explosion, although I wanted to help, I could not move not because of I was scared, because I did not know what to do. However, seconds after that explosion soldiers swarm the vehicle to assess what happen. After rushing over there, the soldiers moved him quickly to another vehicle to a field hospital on the base. Although the event lasted no more than ten minutes, the feeling of danger permeated my thoughts as we prepared for our three day, 800-mile journey. I do not remember if that soldier survived or not. I am sure I was told but my memory of something that happen almost four years ago is hazy at best about the outcome.
Although the trip went uneventful, for the most part, about six to seven months into our stay that the second instance of mortality presented itself to me. I was asked to help soldiers from the morgue to move some bodies from the field hospital to a container to keep them cold until they were ready to shipped back home. I did this assignment two times. The first time was fine because I was sitting in the front seat of the five-ton truck we were using to bring them to that container. However, the second time in doing this task I was not so lucky to block that act out, because two things happened. First, one of the black body bags had a hole in it and so blood spilled out over the vehicle and on to the person helping loading the bodies. The other part was the ride back, and to me that was the longest five to ten minutes of my life.
As I was riding in the back this time with three to four bodies of people that were caught in an ambush just hours earlier. All I did was stare and for reasons unknown to me, I put my foot against what I thought was an arm just to see if anything would happen. I think if I saw movement the fantasy of them being dead would set in, thus the reason I think I did that. We then unloaded the bodies into the container. Once we finished unloading them, I walk rather quickly back into our office, because reality was setting in for me. I had bumped into the sergeant who I was working with, and he asked me something that I clearly ignored because I had to sit down quickly. As the pain was starting to take over, I sat in that chair in the dark room. That is when I let loose. I remember that I had my face on the small cross hairs for support as I continued. Eventually the Sergeant came in along with our First Sergeant to check on me and try to calm me down, but that took about a good hour to do that though.
That week was a major point in my life when I contemplated death. I remember that I put an empty weapon in my mouth, and pulled the trigger. I scared myself straight when I heard that clicking sound. That fright that I felt made me realize that I would never put a weapon near my mouth ever again. Took me a while for me to get over that event, after giving it time, and talking to the Chaplin I didn’t think about what happen as much as I kept myself busy with fighting the war.
Although those two events had some significance in my life, the triple whammy I received in my mortality played an immense role into my thinking. We lost a good friend through a road attack, a Iraqi worker gunned down for working with us, and nearly losing our Chaplin on a Sunday. The close friend, Trevor Wine, was hit by a roadside bomb, and after fighting for a few days, he passed away. Although I was told about what happen to him, I was still shocked about what happen since he was my roommate back in Washington, but another friend of mine took it even harder than I did. As he physically wasted away but like the rest of us he survived the shock and was able to move on.
The second event of this triple whammy was when I found out that an Iraqi that worked with us was killed, and found later in a river. I felt so guilty about that event that I still blamed myself for his death to this day. All because he was working with us and being paid for his services to help his family to survive this war and helping us fight this war.
As for the final part this triple whammy of bad memories, was when heard an explosion outside our parameter, and we found out later that day our Chaplin’s vehicle got hit with him taking the blunt of that explosion. He survived but I still questioned myself as to why a preacher had to suffer the same fate as the rest of us even though he was not a warrior by nature. The Chaplain was simply a kind man who hangs out with people regardless of military rank. He would shoot the breeze about whatever came to mind. Now though he has to lay in bed and slowly recover from that explosion, and being one of the faith, I would think he is comforted by the fact someone was watching him that day, and still watching over him now as he slowly brings to order the chaos that was brought to him.
Although I can still feel the heat and coldness of that desert weather of Iraq, those sensations fail to compare to the emotions that I go through when I think about these war memories of mine in the coming days, months and years. Though we should not dwell on the past it is hard to not think about it unless you never participated in that war.