Friday, June 18, 2004

All Day I Dream About Home

June 18, 2004

I realize I’ve become a bit disgruntled lately. There is a clear difference in my letters from January and my letters now. I’ve always thought of myself as fairly optimistic, trying always to find the clichéd silver lining, but lately I am struggling with it. As I attempt to explain why, hopefully I will answer some questions of my own.

I pretty much focused on myself when I first arrived in Baghdad in November. I’ve traveled all over the United States but I have never been out of the country so Iraq was quite the culture shock. Moreover, my initial mission in Balad didn’t allow me to interact with Iraqis on a humanitarian level. I saw them every day but I didn’t get to know them intimately – meaning it wasn’t my job, yet, to focus on what we were doing for them. It was my job to focus on the soldier. Soon after the New Year, we moved back to Baghdad on a mission from the White House and the Pentagon. This time, our stories focused on the rebuilding of a country now free of a murderous dictator. I was overwhelmed with stories from the citizens of Iraq – what they have been through, their inability to communicate freely, and their justified fear for their lives. Up to that point, I truly had no idea the extent to which Saddam Hussein tortured the Iraqis. I didn’t focus on the political at all. I was consumed with the humanitarian and I absorbed the stories so much that my thinking was ‘yes, this liberation was necessary because the people of Iraq have suffered for years.’ I wasn’t worried about ‘W’ and finding the alleged weapons of mass destruction because I knew Americans were changing the lives of Iraqis and I was a part of it. I felt awesome.

We were sailing until the end of March, at which time a bunch of maniacs killed four American contractors in Fallujah. All hell broke loose. We could no longer leave the so-called ‘Green Zone’ and I was no longer hearing the ‘good’ stories. I heard constant explosions and consistent in-your-face news about how things were unraveling. I went home for R and R and I tried very hard to convey what else is going on, the stories the media won’t show. But I also had conversations with people that opened my eyes to the other side – the side I hadn’t focused on up to that point – the possibility that Iraq was not an immediate threat to the United States, and our assets should be focused on Osama Bin Laden and the Taliban. That realization frightened me because I know how hard it is out here – and believing in the mission is our most important asset.

More and more it appears Iraq was not linked to Al Qaeda and the 9/11 commission pretty much sealed the deal this week. What a blow to all of us. We don’t generally worry about the politics of this story, but on this particular topic, I think we do. We’re here based on ‘intelligence’ that Saddam had WMD and would give them to his buddy Osama in order to kill millions of Americans. Perhaps we already suspected the intelligence was less than solid but I, for one, was holding on to a shred of hope that we would one day find something. Call me crazy, but I tend to believe my elected leaders. It really hurts me to think that men and women died believing they were fighting to defeat those responsible for killing so many on September 11th.

This last week has been pretty rough on us and it doesn’t look like the danger will end anytime soon. I’ve woken up to three huge explosions this week and I’ve heard several more at night. It’s not an easy reality to deal with but it’s becoming very easy to become disgruntled when so much anger, violence, and death surround us. As I write this, there still isn’t any word on Paul Johnson, the engineer taken hostage in Saudi Arabia. We’ve been discussing all day if we think he will survive and all of us collectively agree he probably will not. We’ve heard nothing but bad news lately so we don’t expect to hear about a miraculous escape or rescue.

Someone asked me yesterday if I still believe the Iraqis are happy we’re here. I honestly don’t know the answer to that. They are less safe than we are, and innocent people are dying as a result. Interpreters are killed when they leave the green zone and anyone who works with the coalition or is in a position of power is a target. How can they possibly still feel warm and fuzzy towards us? I don’t know the answer because it’s too dangerous for me to leave the green zone to talk to them.

I wonder if this ‘disgruntledness’ happens to everyone after so many months in this environment. I imagine it has to because I have noticed an obvious drop in morale. I don’t spend my days sulking and feeling sorry for myself. In fact, I spend a lot of time laughing with my friends and talking about our lives in the states. But when talk turns to our life out here I realize how much I’ve changed. I’m clearly disgruntled. So much so that my screen saver says ‘All Day I Dream About Home.’ That would never be there three months ago.

I just found out that Paul Johnson was murdered. I am sick to my stomach. I wanted to finish this letter on a high note. I am supposed to be the person who makes you feel better about what is happening here. I’m so sorry I haven’t been able to do that lately.

With Love,
Addie

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