Medicine Soldier

A View from Iraq


Police Escort

When I was young, I never thought I would ever find myself in the back of a police car, much less a police car in Iraq. This was the second time I had to sit in the back of a cruiser. I remember my mother's face the first time I climbed out of the back seat. I had hydroplaned off the road shortly after receiving my license and got the family car stuck in a small ditch off the side of the road. Much to her relief, a helpful policeman just offered me a ride home to get some recovery tools.

I can only imagine what my mom is thinking this time. As it turns out, we have been working with the Iraqi police to clean up the streets for the kids. There are much better things to play with than leftover ammunition and projectiles. I volunteered to be the security and middleman between the police chief, the interpreter, and our patrol. So I found myself sitting in the back of the cruiser in my body armor and Kevlar. There was not much room to move, nor was there much small talk. I have only mastered a handful of words in Arabic. We ended up discussing the sandstorms and fleas.

Overall it was a good experience working with the police. I still feel a sense of their residual distrust and uncertainty, as they were reluctant to divulge certain details of their operations. I understand they want ownership of their district, which is good for us that they can be independent, but we just need to make sure we are leaving reliable people in charge that will take care of the people first and not themselves first.

Gifts from the Desert

The dry heat is not the only gift of the desert. The temperature change from day to night is extreme enough to cause great sand storms. I was able to catch one rolling in on my camera. I am not sure it will upload well. I thought the sand storm scenes in the Mummy or Hidalgo were a great special effect, until I stood in one.

It was eerie. It came from the west, a silent tan/orange cloud that was growing in size and momentum. The mass overtook the waning daylight so the ambient light was orangey and grey. The mass of dust seemed to be swallowing everything. Then the silence was broken by a sudden rush of wind. I thought it is best to seek shelter, yet in the two minutes I watched filming, I realized it was too late and made a mad dash for the tent. I was able to capture more footage of the storm from the shelter of the breezeway in the tent. The whole airspace above the earth was as if painted orange, except it was coarse like sand paper. It was like a gritty fog. Unfortunately my tent is not completely sealed, and the foot of my bed and some of my clothes and things were covered in a thick layer of fine sand. It took a few rounds with the broom and mop to restore the floor of my tent to pre-storm conditions.

The sand storm does well for getting rid of the flies that have been pestering us in the chow hall, portajohns, and while on patrol; however, the sandstorms bring fleas. I thought I was wearing my belt too tight and my hips were itchy, so I started to scratch. Later on in the shower I realized I had bumps on my belt line just forward of my iliac crests. The flies are also enjoying our arms from our elbows and wrists and especially below our inner biceps. I have been using bug spray and flea collars around my boots. Hopefully this will just be mildly uncomfortable and not aggravating. Looks like the only blood I will be able to give now will be to the sand fleas.

War Wounds

I think I may have my first battle scar. We went out to the range to reconfirm our weapons sights and to train on some mounted engagements. It is nice having ranges in the middle of the desert. There is plenty of maneuver space and nowhere to hide. We were conducting a simultaneous engagement with multiple weapons. The metal weapons already get hot enough from just sitting in the sun, so we must wear gloves. Moreover, the barrels become hotter while firing. I happened to be sitting in the right spot, and out of the corner of my eye I saw brass heading in my direction. Although with my cat-like reflexes I could have caught the brass, my body armor prevented me from reaching across far enough to cover my neck. Two rifle casings from a hot gun flopped in between my neck and my body armor, resulting in second degree burns. I am not sure if the blistering was assisted by the sun or the salt residue from my sweat rubbing against my clothes and skin. In any event, it is just another irritation that looks more like a hickie now. You know after five months, I think I would rather prefer having a hickie than being teased for having something that looks like a hickie.

Salt Lines

Speaking of sweat and salt, the arid desert and profuse sweating (and drinking water) cause our body salt to precipitate on our clothes. Even after taking a shower on the morning, putting on a clean uniform, and changing socks and t-shirt during the day, at the end of the day it feels like we have been wearing our clothes for a week. I find the patterns of salt lines on everyone's armpits, collars, and hats interesting. I wonder if you can read them the way you read palms or tea leaves. They probably just say, "Take a bath!"

Boots on the Ground

After five months, I finally got my second and third pair of boots. I have been wearing the same pair of Gore-Tex winter boots since we got here. It got to the point where I my feet would hurt for the first 45 minutes I had my boots on and I would have to change my socks a few times a day. In 100+ degrees, having summer boots and boots to swap out made huge difference.

Kevlar Samurai

We also received more upgrades to our body armor. They are pads for our armpits and kidneys worn under the vest and shoulder pads for outside the vest. It is interesting the cycles of history. In Roman and medieval times, armor was worn to protect the soldier, and with the advent of gunpowder even the horses were fitted with protective armor. Then in the time of Napoleon, the American civil war, and even the World Wars, armor was not widely used on the individual soldier. Now we are back in a period where body armor is required on the soldiers and the vehicles. With my helmet, vest, and crotch protector, I feel more like I am wearing samurai armor. Unfortunately, survivability and mobility are inversely proportional. The more crap we put on, the less we can move or want to move in the heat. It is not terrible, but it takes some time to break in and get used to before it becomes familiar and fluid. I think the tenants of Bushido have gone the way of the sword. Just a decorative conversation pieces more than a warrior ethos.

There is a distinct division between being a soldier and being a warrior. Although soldiering involves performing a job with a great deal of sacrifice, being a warrior really internalizes a commitment of mind, body, heart, and spirit. I really don't think many people really understand why we are here or why we want to or should be here. It's not really for the combat patch, medals, CCB/CIB, oil, economy, et cetera. We hear there are still people home protesting the war and voting at town meetings for us to come home. We are not fighting Iraqis. We are fighting corruption and fear. I have talked to several Iraqis at different occasions and in different positions of authority. They all say the insurgents are either non-Iraqi Muslims who fear democracy and American influence and think our presence here weakens the Muslim/tribal culture, or they are people who were in Saddam's back pocket and are upset because they no longer have power and riches. The Iraqis seem to want us here not to help rebuild and bring them out of poverty.

I wish the war protestors could see into the eyes of the children here. Don't just support the troops but support the people. After all, we are all related. Maybe the global economy has much to do with it and greed, abuse, and corruption cause ripples that affect people in another part of the world. For example, after World War I, an economic balance was established to help rebuild England, France, and Germany. It was American stock traders that upset this balance and the world; not just America experienced a depression in the 1930s. Hitler used this depression to gain popularity, and World War II ensued. Americans then did not want to get involved until Pearl Harbor.

Maybe I am an idealist. But I am here. I do not want to go home early because of the way people feel back home. I am not giving up my seat so someone can die in my place or absence. We have to finish what we start. Close the loop. Although I volunteered almost ten years ago, this is something that we are all told to prepare for. We do not get to pick the time, place, or circumstances; that is up to fate or whom you chose to pray to. I am here to do my job. In fact, it is not a job. I am here to make a difference. It may be to influence a handful of Iraqis and their children, so they do not grow up to hate Americans or become terrorists, or it may be to keep the guys in my unit alive. In any event this is my path, I have to do the best I can, but I could use some help along the way.

posted by Scott | 12:18 Baghdad time | © 5.02.2005
Comments (1) | | permalink | main | email this

Feedback from readers: 1

we are sending school supplies and clothing for iraqi children thru a church here in colchester, vt. we just need to have more contacts to send them to. right now we have a soldier that is working with iraqi civilian authorities that we mail packages to. if you have more addresses, i will send more packages. my e-mail is i am so proud of all of you over there. we have been sending packages,phone cards, and clothing since april of 2003 and will continue to do so as long as a soldier asks. keep up the good work!

Posted by Anonymous mary | 2/5/05 23:48  

Post a Comment