One thing that caused a lot of concern before my arrival was attacks from local insurgents. It wasn't rare to have several on a given day, especially around September 11th and right after the Saddam Hussein verdict. (Strangely, we didn't get hit at all the day of his execution.) And many of these "attacks," we never even knew about. Usually, they were referred to as "indirect fire attacks," meaning it was probably small-arms fire near the fence line, and we were merely instructed to use caution. Occasionally, we would go into Alarm Red and would have to take cover for about 20 minutes. Sometimes you could hear the mortars hit and feel the shockwave in the air and on the ground. The first few times were kinda scary, but after weeks of not really seeing any damage or injuries, it was easy to get complacent. I still always took cover, but rarely did I run or don my helmet and gear. One of the coolest things was seeing the C-RAMs go off. These were huge automatic anti-mortar guns that basically littered the sky with bullets in order to shoot down any mortars that came over the wire. At night, you could see the bullets leaving the barrel so fast, it almost looked like a laser. One of the most horrific things I saw was one day when I was refueling my sweeper. A big truck was towing a heavily armoured tractor trailer that had been hit by an IED only a few minutes before. I couldn't believe the damage that had been done. It was still smoking. There was no way anyone could have survived, and all I could think about was the poor soldiers inside. An even more sobering event happened about ten days before we left. An explosive ordinance disposal (EOD) team from Hill was working on disarming a car-mounted IED outside the wire, and three were killed. I'd only met them in passing, but anytime someone from your own unit is killed, it brings things a little closer to home.
Like all deployments, it had it's good points and bad points; and if I had to list all my deployments in order of enjoyment, this one would probably be somewhere near the bottom. I may change my mind about that in a few weeks, though. I tend to look back on deployments with greater fondness than while I'm in the middle of them. Either way, it was a learning experience, and I hope I've become a better man because of it.
Now that I'm home, I've been indulging on things I normally take for granted and of which I was deprived in the desert. Things such as super-long showers. By myself. In water that doesn't turn cold or lose pressure without warning. I've also been driving my truck at speeds much faster than 25 mph while singing along to my iPod as loud as I can. I will refrain from shaving until I have to go back to work in two weeks. The snowboarding will be endless. And I will bring new meaning to the term "alcohol abuse."
As a warning, I have the tendency to go through a short depression after returning from deployments. About two weeks before we came back, I started having some minor anxiety about coming home. I even considered extending for another four months, just to put off the inevitable. It probably won't kick in for a few weeks, but it's totally normal, and even if I see it coming a mile away, there's not really anything I can do to stop it. I think it's just a product of trying to get re-situated into my life. Part of it is dealing with job stress, and the other part is trying to catch up socially. This time it's going to be even worse because there's a lot of changes going on at work, which will make the transition even harder. I ask everyone to have patience with me, especially those of you I see on a regular basis. If I seem difficult, don't hesitate to give me a kick in the butt and tell me to snap out of it. It might not help, but it will let me know you care.
This was my fourth deployment since September 11th, and my third since Operation Iraqi Freedom began. I've made it no secret that I haven't supported this war from day one, yet here I am, still serving in the military. Why? I wish I knew. I had the opportunity to separate a couple years ago, but decided to re-enlist. I enjoy meeting all kinds of new people from so many different walks of life. And you really can't beat all the travel. The pay isn't half bad, and the benefits are second to none. I've tried to rationalise everything by thinking that I'm not really doing any harm since I'm just a plumber. But every time I turn a wrench, it still supports a plane launch or a bomb drop. I don't think it's impossible to still be serving the Lord in the military, no matter what the mission is. I think my problem is my focus. Sure, I have a conflict of interest with the direction in which our national defence is heading. I've seriously thought about filing conscientious objector paperwork. I've thought moving to Mexico and living on the beach for the rest of my life. But I don't think any of those would solve the problem. I need to keep my focus on God no matter what the circumstances are around me. Unconditional love to everyone I encounter. Joy in my eyes and in my heart. Compassion and support for those who can't help themselves. And all the while, keeping my eye on the Lord.
By the way, I know many of you are wanting to see more pictures, so I've created a huge photostream of the entire deployment. You can check it out here. It's somewhat in chronological order, but closer to being grouped by subject. I think there's some pretty funny stuff on there, and even though it's not like actually being there, it should give you a good idea. I hope you enjoy it.
Before I close, I just want to say a huge "Thank you!" to everyone who wrote e-mails, sent letters and packages, and offered up prayers for me. You have no idea what a world of difference your support makes. Everything from Lawyer Ryan's e-mails (hysterical!) to Jessica's cards (beautiful) to packages from Mike and Jeni-Bomb (unexpected) to Kyle's phone calls (um...informative?) were so appreciated. It made me smile and made the time pass quicker and easier. I seriously can't thank you enough. The first round is on me.