Comfortable with the Uncomfortable
I apologize that it's been well over a month since I last posted here. I was inspired for a while and then I was attacked by a rogue band of ennuis. After being coaxed into writing for my unit's newsletter by the chaplain no less (how does one turn down God?), I feel I must let my DadCentric out - one can't really drop random f-bombs or make obscure pop culture references when a shit-ton of brass and family members are reading what you wrote. No worries, though, I'm far from the road of respectability.
What you're about to read (if you've continued mind you), is not actually one day, but an amalgam of sorts - pieces of days, weeks, months all in a tidy little package. I've been here nearly seven months - almost 200 days. I've experienced the worst winter this area has seen in a decade and now I broil in 120 F+ heat. (And if you say, "Well, it's a dry heat" I may just have to hurt you. Slowly.) Anyway, for half that time things were quiet here; not much happened at all. Most days seemed to blend into one another - we're living Groundhog Day, but without Andie McDowell to look at. But, now each day seems to have its own particular quirk. And they're quirks I'd sooner do without. So, I ask your indulgence while you read this.
I am barely conscious having just turned my alarm off with the swipe of a finger at 0515. This is something I can do without even seeing the phone or lifting my head off the pillow. Yep, add that to the resume. I reach up and turn on the light above my head and try to coax myself out of bed. With barely a fight, I decide to give in to Morpheus and his promises of pleasant dreams and close my eyes. Five more minutes, I tell myself. Ok, maybe ten.
The alarm goes off again and I am sitting bolt upright knowing full well I didn't hit the snooze. "What the ----?" And then I realize it's not my alarm but the FOB's and it's not to wake me up, but it is. That's when I hear the Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzeeeeeeeeeeewwwwwww whistle and whoompf of a 60mm mortar impact and I'moutofmybedandgrabbingmyshortsandat-shirtandmyflip-flopsandbangingonwallsandI'moutofthetentandonmywaytoabunker.
I get there and there's another impact some ways away. We count people and name names for accountability's sake. There's the usual (nervous) laughter as we begin joking about how badly these guys suck at firing mortars but down inside we're silently thanking God these guys suck and praying their ineptitude (and our luck) continues. "How many is that Sergeant T?" "##," I reply. "Shit, seriously? Since when?" "April 30th." 10-15 minutes later loud, high-pitched beeps come from the Big Voice in the Sky® speakers and the God Voice® intones "All Clear. Continue Mission or Initiate Recovery. All Clear." We make our way back to our rooms where I pull out a Sharpie, move a box aside and add another line to the count. I tally the lines (though I already know how many there are), mutter an oath and then mark another day off the calendar. ## days and a wake up before I leave this hell-hole. And it can't come soon enough.
Helicopters flying overhead are a ubiquitous sight. Blackhawks, Chinooks (Shithooks) and a couple that look like Harold the Helicopter from Thomas the Tank Engine are always coming and going, day and night. Every now and then Apaches or Kiowas can be seen doing lazy circles over the mountains and I'm reminded that not only do we own the night, but we own the skies as well and that thought is often reinforced by the sound of an F-16 roaring across the cloudless sky.
Since they are so common and their whap-whap-whap just part of the every day sounds, you'd think you'd barely notice them. And you'd be right. Sorta. I've learned to tune out most, but there are times when the sound of a bird does make us perk up. But not in good ways. We live and work a stone's throw from -- Med so we see and hear every Medevac that arrives and departs. I don't count these. I can't count these because I'm too busy stifling the primal screams that well up inside me every time I see one. They make me angry and sad and (forgive me) grateful. And then I begin to pray that whoever is on that flight, being carried on that litter, being tended to by the best trained medics and doctors, will be ok.
God Voice®: "All personnel with O-positive blood please report to -- Med immediately. I say again, All personnel with O-positive blood please report to -- Med."
And I'm running. Again.
I don't think we ever get accustomed to death but we accept it as a fact of life. People live their lives, they touch hundreds maybe thousands of people along the way and when it's their time they shed this mortal coil. Circle of life and all that. I understand. I get it. Or I thought I did.
Until I came here, reports of deaths in country were just that, reports. They were numbers. They still affected me, they bothered me, but I was able to compartmentalize all of them, even put them out my mind and (again, forgive me), forget them. It's impossible here. It doesn't just happen quietly. You are told that it has happened. Taps is played. And I know how many times that has happened, but I'm not sharing it here. I'll keep that one to myself because saying the number makes it impersonal; a statistic; a number for a cable news ticker. It takes away the humanity. They deserve better; deserve more than to be just a number.
The title of this post comes from someone who has deployed a couple of times. In talking with a therapist after his last deployment in Iraq, he told the doctor that incoming (indirect fire, mortars) just didn't bother him after a while. "Don't you find that strange?" the doctor asked. "What?" my friend replied. "That you're so comfortable with the uncomfortable."
For better or for worse, I think after a while you have to be. You don't have to welcome it or revel in it, but you have to resign yourself to the fact that you are in a very uncomfortable situation. I'm not entirely comfortable with that, but, as we say, it is what it is. ## days and a wake up.
And it can't come soon enough.
mr. big dubya, RC-East, Afghanistan