Saturday, July 10, 2004

What's It Really Like?

July 10, 2004

People are very curious about my day-to-day life. “What’s it really like over there?” they ask. I’ve tried to paint a picture through words, but nothing, not even the media’s moving images, is enough to capture what it is really like for us.

Our lives aren’t much different than yours in that we get up and go to work every day, with an occasional day off. Like everyone, we complain about the rules and the boss. We watch the clock and the calendar relentlessly, and we think we deserve more money for the job we do. See? Just like you.

I’ve learned to laugh at the absurdity of my life. I mean, how many little girls dream they will be in this position as young women? I never did. Never. But here I am.

This is my life.

My alarm clock goes off oh-so early and I pretend not to hear it - until an explosion rocks my trailer and I am suddenly so awake my heart beats like a marathoner. I slowly hit the shower and drench myself in the reality that is my life. I walk from the bathroom to my room and the heat hits me like a ton of bricks. The temperature outside is already above 90 degrees and it’s 0700 . I pull my long blonde hair neatly back in to the same bun every single morning. Then comes the scrunchie – the ‘has to be the same color of your hair’ reminder I am definitely not where I thought I would be. I thought my scrunchie days were over as I finished my final gymnastics meet in college, but clearly, I was wrong. The scrunchie is now a part of my life. Carrie Bradshaw would be horrified.

Nevertheless, I bet Ms. Bradshaw would be pleased to know I still wear make-up. Yes, I wear make-up, even in this environment. It reminds me I am a woman - something the M16 fails to do. Moreover, it’s one of the very few things that separate us from the men. The great thing about the Army is I never have to worry about what I will wear to work. It’s the same smelly polyester desert camouflage uniform every day. I have four pair, but two are ‘winters’ and they are way too thick to wear in this heat. Remember the 90 degrees 0700? It’s now 0730 and 100 degrees.

It’s the same routine every morning when I leave. Checklist – dog tags, military I.D., CPA badge, orders, flack vest, Kevlar, ammo, weapon, hat. Got it all? Okay, now get the stuff I need for work – camera, tripod, computer, paper, pen. I’ve got all 40 pounds of my equipment. It’s time to go. It’s 0830 and 107 degrees.

The first thing I see as I walk out of my trailer is a mountain of sandbags. There have to be millions of sandbags out here. Millions. All filled by Iraqis who make a few dollars a day. Linda (my roomie) and I stick close to our humble redneck roots by keeping a pink plastic flamingo in our ‘front yard.’ I get to work on a shuttle bus run by KBR that takes me to the Baghdad Convention Center where I work. The bus is great because it’s air-conditioned. We share this with all coalition forces and Iraqis who live and work in the green zone. Often times it’s so stinking crowded – and uh, yeah, I use ‘stinking’ in the literal sense. In this heat, personal hygiene is a must, but some forget – or never knew – and it’s a bad day. It’s now 0840 and 110 degrees.

I feel dirty within the first five minutes of leaving my trailer. With the dust and the sweat – it’s a NO GO. Fortunately the heat doesn’t reflect the temperature because it isn’t humid at all. But don’t get me wrong – it’s hot. It’s ‘oh-my-goodness-how-do-they-survive-in-this-heat’ hot. I’ll put it like this: when I leave my trailer, I walk over a newly tarred area and it’s so hot, the tar is bubbling like boils on skin and they pop like bubble wrap under my boots. It’s insanely hot and it’s not August yet. A cool day is a mere 110.

Our unit is pretty lucky because we always have access to phones and the internet. Mail is, by far, the one thing that consistently makes us smile. If you ask any soldier or marine out here, I guarantee they will tell you the same thing. We tip our hats to past generations who were away for years without these luxuries. We know how lucky we are, but my goodness, what a difference mail and email makes. I never thought I could get so excited over a simple letter or box. There is nothing like seeing that familiar handwriting from home.

We’ve got really great logistics. The gym is great. We drop off our laundry. Mail is delivered. Meals are provided. Water is free. We’ve got everything we need. What do I do in my free time? On my occasional day off, I go to the market in the green zone and look around, or I go to the gym. If I am not at the gym, I have my nose in a book or a movie in my laptop. Speaking of movies, I just saw Fahrenheit 9/11 and it just came out in the states. I got it a week ago. Don’t ask me how they do it, but they have copies of almost every movie you can imagine and they sell them for five dollars. They don’t have in-door plumbing but they have Fahrenheit 9/11. I’ll never figure it out. By the way, I would comment on Fahrenheit 9/11, but I am opting to keep myself out of trouble.

The food is good but I am wearing thin on it. Even if I eat at a four star restaurant twice a day for a year straight, eventually I’d get sick of it. Right? Well, this isn’t four star, this is a poor man’s Bob’s Big Boy and this soldier is sick of it - but it’s still better than an MRE.

Oh yeah, I forgot. By lunchtime, it’s 11:45 and 117 degrees.

By far, my conversations are the things that weird me out the most. This is SGT Collins, the soldier.

“Roger that, Sergeant. I’ll verify the information and I’ll call you back at zero nine hundred. I’ll meet up with a convoy, provide a three sixty security, and I’ll stay locked and loaded. Say again, Sergeant? Negative Sergeant, I haven’t eaten chow. Roger that. Out.”

Now this is how Addie, the civilian.

“Yeah, I’ll check on it and give ya a shout. I’ll meet you later and we’ll grab a ride. I’m starving so we need to eat. Alright? Latah.”

Military life is just so different, especially for reservists like me who have to transition from civilian to soldier so quickly. Add to that a different country, culture, climate and language and it makes for some interesting stories. It’s hilarious, and again, it just reminds me how absurd my life is in relation to what I thought it would be.

Oh, by the way, it’s now twenty hundred and 120 degrees.

Do I love it? Roger that.

I’m out.
SGT Collins


Post a Comment

<< Home