I learned some things the last time I was in Iraq- I learned of courage, and brotherhood. I learned that there is no glory in war- there are few heroes, and many decent, ordinary men too stubborn to realize that their actions are irrational, dangerous, and, well… heroic. I learned of emotional agony and of empathy; I also learned how to be callous. I learned how to tell someone with your eyes that you would kill him if he didn’t cave. I lost some timidity, and gained self-respect. The war did not make me a man- rather; I learned through the war some essential elements of manhood.
There must be a name for this sickness, for this consuming malady that compels some few of us back into the conflict, back into the desert. It feels like a mild form of addiction- there’s the drive to get more of it, and the rush, and the memories. It comes without the wasting, without the needle marks (that’s a lie, actually- I have a wicked bruise in my elbow right now from blood tests), but it brings its own scars, flashbacks, and dementia. There’s something very existential about it- I am forever the sum of my experiences, after all, and time spent in austere environs, separated from my comfortable life and often in the heat of combat certainly qualifies as life experience.
I’m happy to be on my way back again. I thought travel into and out of Iraq was bad when I went with the Army… I think it might actually be worse as a civilian. I guess we’ll see if they completely lose me on the trip back, like they lost my entire company in Kuwait. See, the funny thing about that is that the units in Kuwait control travel for the theater, and I never quite understood how they could not know we were leaving. But I digress.
It didn’t take me long to pack for this trip; the hardest part was selecting some civilian clothes that would work well in Iraq. I dug my tactical gear from my deployment out of the boxes I had it stowed in- everything was just as I had remembered. My tan Nomex gloves were still crusted with my sweat and Iraqi dirt. My little Timex watch was still running still set to Iraq time. That watch has to embody the best $12 I ever spent. I packed all the tactical gear into my carryon backpack for the flight; forgetting to remove my Gerber from its holster when I threw that into my backpack. At the airport, it took TSA 3 times through the scanner to decide there was something in my bag that didn’t belong. The screener acted as though my bag was radioactive. She gingerly removed books and power cords, and struggled to comprehend the fastening straps on the butt pack that held the offending multitool. I offered to help, but I was sternly refused. When at last she uncovered the grey canvas cover, she stared at it as though it might explode- which it might, of course. Standing next to her, I wondered how many suicide bombers tried to trick their victims into detonating their bombs, and only martyred themselves because they stuck around to watch the fun. In her mind, the number must be in the dozens. I can’t wait to get back to Iraq, where I trust the competence of the people around me.
The trouble I had at the security checkpoint turned out to be for naught. My flight was delayed to the point that I would positively miss the connector to my flight across the Atlantic, so I rescheduled for the next flight out and called my girlfriend: “Hey babe… Want to say goodbye to me again?” I’m sure it’s a little cruel to shift someone so quickly between tears and laughter, but I needed a ride home. My bag went on without me to my final point of departure from the United States- hopefully it will make it to the Middle East along with me, or I might get to soak up more Kuwaiti sand than I really want to.
Once I get to Kuwait, I will likely be unable to update for some time. I’m told that the damaged cables the Mediterranean and Persian Gulf have brought internet access in the region to a virtual (heh heh) standstill. In the meantime, spread the word that Teflon Don is back in the suck and blogging again.