Monday, November 15, 2004

It's A Wrap

It’s A Wrap


As I pack my duffle bags and go through the final stages of life in Iraq, I am always thinking about what I will write to sum up my feelings. My main concern isn’t how you will embrace this final letter, but more so how I will get my confused and scattered thoughts organized so that I can better understand them.

I’ve started this letter several times and I just can’t seem to get it right. I have no idea how to sum up everything in one single letter. So I’ve decided to write as I think, with no organized thought process or methodical order.

I am writing straight from my heart.

I’ve learned so much over the last year it scares me. I am intimidated by everything I have experienced, everything I have seen, and everything I have heard. I can’t wrap my head around how this experience will affect me. Will it affect me? What if I forget all that has happened once I am back among the comforts of home? Will I forget the smell, the air, the people, the work, the long hours, the heartache, the pain, the pride, the death, the sacrifice? Will I honor it in the right way or will I simply wash my hands of it?

I have said this before, but I never anticipated becoming so emotionally involved. I didn’t expect my heart to harbor such pain and anger; I didn’t expect my heart to burst with honor and pride; I didn’t expect to care so much.

There is one thing I will never forget, however.

I will never forget that during my tour parents of twelve hundred men and women have answered their front door only to hear they will never see their son or daughter again. Their child is now a war hero, a symbol of freedom for millions of Americans and Iraqis. Their child voluntarily gave up his or her life so others may roam freely as they crouch in a foxhole or in a smothering Humvee; so others may sip their gourmet coffee as they sip polluted water from a canteen; so others may send their sons or daughters to school as they say goodbye to their children for a year or more; so that all of us may enjoy the God given gift of Freedom.

On Veterans Day, I watched as President Bush laid a wreath by the tomb of the unknowns. It dawned on me that many of the young men and women who died in this war are also unknowns. That, my friends, will change. You will know their names. You will know their story. You will learn their sacrifice. They deserve that much.

They also deserve to know how much we, the military who support their efforts, appreciate them. They make it possible for us to do our jobs. They make sure we are guarded. They shield us from the car bombs, mortars, and suicide bombers. They are also our heroes. We can never express how grateful we are to them; how we wish there was something more we could do; how we long to contribute.

I don’t know if I will ever shake off the guilt I feel for not being injured or hurt. I complain about the danger of mortars and car bombs - about how they jolt me from much needed sleep or send me to the attack shelter several times a night. I complain about not knowing if a bomb is planted under my trailer or under the shirt of a man sharing the same bus. I suppose these are all legitimate fears, but they pale in comparison to men fighting insurgents in Fallujah, Najaf, and Mosul. The men who steal five minutes of sleep in bombed out safe houses between fire fights; the men who ration MRE’s and shower with a water bottle and handkerchief for weeks at a time.

I feel silly complaining given what these men have to endure. The truth is, however, I may not be physically injured, but I am emotionally scarred. I don’t think it’s possible to live in this environment for this length of time and not be an emotional rollercoaster. I will never forget the images of car bomb victims, mass graves, and Marines lying lifeless on barren streets in Fallujah. I will never forget the fear of being jolted awake by mortars landing near my trailer – and feeling like a sitting duck. I will never forget hearing countless suicide bombs and knowing that, at that moment, hundreds of lives were forever changed by maniacal extremists.

On the flip side, I will never forget the moments that, without the military, I would ever experience. I will never forget the rides in the Blackhawk, overlooking the country of Iraq and absorbing it’s beauty and history. I will never forget walking throughout the Babylon ruins and wandering what I did to deserve such a treasure in life. I will never forget when my friend Alia told me I am her hero, simply because I am an American who helped liberate her and her family of a murderous tyrant. I will never forget a man named John Dahlia, who fled Iraq only to return thirty years later to help rebuild his home. I will never forget the 72-year-old man I met at the Ministry of Health who was making his first pilgrimage to the Mecca. I will never forget the children running after us, chanting “Go USA” and giving us the thumbs-up sign. I will never forget watching the blinking, fuzzy screen as Saddam Hussein was captured for the entire world to see. I will never forget watching Iraqis put up satellites, rebuild hospitals, schools, colleges, and villages. I will never forget realizing they are now empowered. I will never forget knowing I had a small part in improving their lives. I will never forget communicating with them through the universal language of smiles and hugs.

I wrote once that I believe this liberation was ‘necessary’. Over the course of the year, my opinion has changed – either due to my circumstances or because I got out from beneath the humanitarian cloud. I’ve gone back and forth so much on this issue – believing and not believing; feeling angry, then feeling proud; feeling mislead by the administration, then feeling confident in the administration. I can no longer say exactly how I feel about the ‘occupation/liberation’ because it changes every day. I will always wonder what brought us to Iraq – why this country posed such an imminent threat to the United States – and why the situation has spiraled out of control under our watch. I don’t think I will ever find peace with it.

But one thing I have been able to count on 100% is our ability to throw politics out the door and help the people of Iraq. In June, when things were unraveling before our eyes with Abu Ghraib, beheadings, and suicide bombers, I decided to take control. I started “Kicks for Kids” because it was a way for me to feel good about something. Amidst the political grandstanding, escalating violence and mass confusion, I could improve the lives of these children by simply putting a decent pair of shoes on their feet. It wasn’t genius; it was simple; and it helped heal a part of me.

The way I see it, a pair of shoes fixes a lot of problems. If their feet are covered, they won’t be susceptible to cuts caused by damage from the war. If their feet aren’t cut up, they will have to worry less about adequate healthcare to heal those wounds. If they can run around freely in their neighborhoods with a solid pair of sneakers, their quality of life improves and then, hopefully, they are less likely to be lured in to militant groups. Again, it’s not genius but it worked and thousands are feeling the generous donations of thousands of Americans.

I am so proud of my unit. Because of the 222nd Broadcast Operations Detachment, a reserve unit based in California, the world saw what is happening out here. Better yet, our mission allowed the family members of service members to see what their loved ones do. A mother in Boise, Idaho may be watching FOX News or CNN and think her son or daughter is a victim of the latest car bombing in Tikrit – if it weren’t for her local television station that aired footage and interviews shot by the 222nd BOD of her child providing much needed medical care to Iraqis or working to rebuild a school. Because of us, his or her mother may sleep easier at night, knowing that her child is helping to change the world and not breathing his final breath.

We also boosted moral through Freedom Radio. We potentially reached 150,000 troops and roughly 20 million Iraqis over the airwaves. We reminded soldiers and Marines of home when we played their favorite songs. We brightened their day when we gave them a shout out. We made sure they know how much we appreciate them and let them know they are fighting the good fight. We also knew the people who were listening one day may not be there the next - and we didn’t take that responsibility lightly. This is life and death stuff out here every second of every minute of every day. If we were able to break up the monotony of that for just five minutes, our mission was a success. Yes, we succeeded. Not bad for ‘part time’ soldiers.

I’ve waited all year for this day. It’s here, I am leaving, and it’s bittersweet. This is all I know right now. I may be ready to go, but I am not ready to forget. This is the best and worst thing that has ever happened to me, and I would not change it for the world. I pinch myself because I am so lucky to have had this experience. Thank you for taking this journey with me. Now it’s time to come home.

God Bless the USA.

With Love,
Addie





2 Comments:

Anonymous Terri said...

Addie,

Your honesty is admirable. Vacillating between the polarity ofOccupation/liberation. What a journey you have made. I am in awe. I am a female veteran that served after the Vietnam conflict. I wasn't a hero because I served during "peace time". Funny how we Americans don't even notice the military during peacetime. Though I am a envious of your experience I am not sure I would've had the "balls" to join when there was a conflict or war going on when I was your age.

Our experiences were not the same but we share our common "service" to freedom.

Please don't try to block ANY of the experiences you have whether they are in Iraq or driving the coastal hwy. Remember to "include" before you "transcend" the experiences. They are a part of you. They are what informs who you are. I salute you!

Your Sister Veteran
Terri in Colorado

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