Guest Post from an Iraq War Veteran

 Posted on July 06, 2008 in Uncategorized

The following is a guest post, emailed to me in response to one of my Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)-related posts (possibly this one).

I nearly fell out of my chair on reading this post.

Due to the large number of TX NTL Guard soldiers and large numbers of active Army from El Paso and Fort Hood you are dead right on the sheer volume of possible problems which will and have come back to Texas. When the 56 BCT deployed to Iraq from Texas in 2005 we took over 3000 souls with us. Many redeployed with other units and the entire unit goes back in September.

I reenlisted in the Guard only because of the war after a five year break in service. Because the unit was already ramped up to go they wanted me to stay and help train soldiers to go over.

My brief bio: I have about 120 college hours in civilian education. I have been a guest instructor at the TX Military Academy for 3 different cycles training troops in my specialty. I was a competitor in the states machinegun competition for four years. I'm a nurse and have been held in regard (I'd like to think) as one for over ten years now. At the time of my deployment I was married for 15 years.

As I often joked once I got to Iraq, "You mean I pulled strings to get over to this mess? Holy smokes was I crazy? Why didn't you stop me?" They didn't know me to stop me at the time - just part of the gag.

Some random notes on my thoughts:

Ask me what surprised me the most about my time in Iraq. I'll say, "tore up folks and bodies smell like wet pennies and fish. And I don't care which side you are on your insides smell the same."

During my time there even a news hog couldn't possibly grasp how bad at times things could be or how good either.

I've seen a boom in growth and rebuilding in areas of Al Anbar Province that would not accept a nickel from the US.

People that lost ancestral lands years ago got them back after we came.

People who were previously on the wrong side of the tracks before finally got the health care and some other opportunities previously unavailable because they were the wrong sect or tribe.

In many ways the economy was good and vibrant in sectors that were nearly abandoned-book markets were flourishing for example.

The vehicles without armor because the government doesn't love the troops or whatever? Local commanders' fault, pure and simple, if / when it happened at all. You order the stuff, it comes. Depots too backed up to put it on for you? It's the military; if you got nothing else you've got manpower put it on yourself. Those units who famously refused to roll for lack of armor? Their problems were much deeper than that.

I spent a lot of time on Entry Control Point duty when not out on patrol. Of the literally thousand of vehicles I processed through our base I saw exactly one Hummer that didn't have armored doors. Oddly, they were Navy and they were what we called "Ate Up". I'm surprised they found their way to us.

It's satisfying to live every second of your life like it could be your last.

It's scary to live every second of life like it could be your last.

I think people might believe suicide bombings are maybe too frequent yes but overall rare. I remember a month where as I recall there were over 200 separate acts.

A school near us had been closed for years because some honcho there made Uday Hussein mad. I have personally witnessed 100-150 children singing songs, reciting prayer, going into their classes and playing soccer and other sports there.

I have been in the kill zone of rocket attacks on 3 separate occasions. Once I was in a portajohn and the strike was close enough to blow the door open, blur my vision temporarily and choke me a second. Strangely, I think the last effect was caused by the explosion vibrating my epiglottis. I wear hearing aids. My ears ring continually.

You'll never think more clearly when someone is trying to kill you in such a grand manner. It"s a rush I guess. I have honestly laughed so hard running to cover in those situations I became breathless.

I was very good at what I did. It made sense and was satisfying. Because of my background, position as a small unit leader, and age - I was 40 - I understood the possible problems my guys might have and made a lot of effort to train and teach them around those things. Maybe I should have thought about myself more.

I was hurt twice besides my hearing. We were chasing some dudes down across the desert once who we thought were tampering with a railway. We hit a berm throwing me forward causing most likely what used to be caused a "Slosh Injury" to my brain-characterized by terrible headaches, memory loss and difficult concentration. Two disks were bulged in my neck. I went to the aid station after duty hours got neuro checks, meds a little time off and finished my tour.

How I was viewed before my tour: kind, patient, clear thinking, smart, funny, ambitious, non drinker - not even socially, non drug user, good father, good husband, home owner.

Today, essentially the opposite.

My most vivid memories after homecoming are having a guy who was starting a fight in the bar I was in in a choke hold and reveling in finally having some excitement. Laughing when the girl I was with said,"Not too smart are you? That dude was only about twice as big as you, idiot."

I also remember the smell of burning rubber, radiator fluid and dirt after I totaled my new car when I lost control of it flying down a FM just to feel SOMETHING. And I remember AXE Cologne on the Trooper who took me to jail.

No one was more surprised than I.

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