Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Real World

Back in the World for a few days... the real world... for me, at least. This world has children in it, and friends who don't carry weapons, and a brother and sisters only care about me and my kids. It's nice.

I'm afraid of getting too comfortable in it... because I have to go back, and then the real work begins. Being with my kids is just so... comfortable and sane.

The other day, spending the day with my kids at my sister's house, my littlest became hyperactive and started being very willful. I thought that he was probably very tired and needed a nap, so I took him to the playroom in the basement and tried to get him to lie down. He squirmed and squirmed, so I turned on the TV and started flipping channels. NASCAR was what did it. He suddenly became riveted to the images of cars zooming around the track and settled down. In minutes he was asleep, and I lay there, holding my baby boy while he slept and felt a touch of heaven. It was the calmest, most comfortable, sanest time of the last three months. I felt such love and contentment for that time, it's hard to explain how rich it felt or how much I enjoyed it.

I had been worried that he would begin to forget me, but the moment he saw me he lit up and reached for me. My heart melted. He wouldn't get far from my side all day, and the little boy who doesn't really want to be held much would barely let me put him down. I love him so much, and it breaks my heart to think that I may never get to know him as he grows up, and that he may not get to know his father. That's not what I want for him. I may not be much, but I am the one he has, and I want for him to have a father. If something happens to me over there, he won't remember me by the time he is an adult. I will have only a genetic legacy in this one.

Crushing thought. Unbelievable pain.

It's hard not to seem melodramatic... of course the biggest chance is that I will come home completely unharmed and my little boy will come to know the fallible father that he was born to... but perhaps not. I don't run around thinking about it all the time, but it comes to mind. Even if there is a completely happy outcome for everyone, there is still this year... or whatever it becomes. Something tells me it will be more. That is time none of us will ever have back.

There are a lot of implications to what I am doing. Not all of them are my implications. Some of them are risks borne by my children, who did not agree to them and never asked for them. All they want is their father, no matter how fallible he is, no matter how sad, or poor, or screwed-up. They just want, and need, their dad.

I have had an active part in separating themselves from their dad. I am happy to be doing what I am... I have respect for what I am doing. I feel that I am doing what I am supposed to be doing, and what I am intended to do. At the same time, there is guilt. My children have had, and will have, pain. I caused that. It was me. The only reason I can bear that is that I do believe that I am doing exactly what I am supposed to be doing. It gives me a sense of serenity, and I am at peace with what I am doing.

I am doing the right thing. But my kids are being hurt by it. Reconciling that in myself is an exercise in mental, emotional, and spiritual yoga. Everything becomes twisted into a knot; but it has to be done.

These type of thoughts occur at other times, but they happen most when I have the joy of seeing my children... and I want so much for them. I certainly don't want them to hurt. The hardest thing about this journey for me is missing my kids. All of the rest of it is fine, really. I can accept everything, and I am constantly working to accept everyone exactly as they are. Missing my kids is so painful that I don't like to dwell on it. Thinking of their pain is even more painful. It becomes a matter of mental discipline not to dwell on it, not to let it seep into nearly every waking thought, destroying my ability to do my job... or enjoy being with my kids. Or let them enjoy being with me.

My eldest son went to tears the other day seemingly out of nowhere. He was anticipating the pain of my leaving again. I had to help him to re-center and be with me in the moment. I can't help him to live in the moment if I can't do it for myself. I can't afford, and he can't afford, for me to be all ate-up over my pain, and anticipating his pain, and feeling a bunch of guilt over all of that.

So, to re-center myself for now; I am getting to spend time with my kids. I am getting to enjoy them, and spend time with them, and let them know that their dad loves them so very much. They are enjoying the sense of peace as much as I am. There will pain when I leave again, this time for a bit longer... but there is time for that when it is time to feel it. It will be a rich emotion, too. It is life, and thank God that I can feel anything.

For today, I am enjoying being in my home city, being with my children, being with family and friends. I am grateful for all of this, and for all of them. We are alive.
Read full post with comments

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

A Few Moments

In a couple of days we will "graduate." We graduate as a team, not as individuals. For the next couple of days, the team commander will brief senior officers on the status of the team, show them that we have individually and collectively checked the blocks. Then we will have some sort of ceremony and we will get leave. We don't know exactly how long our leave is for, but we do know that we will get leave. We have each requested leave for two weeks.

Today we turned in our weapons to be secured for us until we return from leave. They are nice and secure, and we are unburdened of our constant companions. It's a nice change that won't be repeated until we get our mid-deployment leave individually.

We will move up the hill to different quarters tomorrow, as they need the space at the FOB for teams that are just starting their train-up period. Two man semi-private rooms... very nice compared to the six man rooms we have right now.

We will get a few moments of joy before we go over to do the mission. Each man on the team has his own circumstances. Married, single, with grown kids, with little kids, with no kids, good marriages, and marriages that may not survive the winter of deployment. We will each go back to the scene of our "normal" lives before we come back to what is now our reality... that which is so unreal to everyone we know outside of the Army. We will wait here for movement overseas and for our mission to begin.

All of this has been nothing more than a noisy prelude.

But first, a few moments of as close to normalcy as we can manage. I can't wait to see my kids.
Read full post with comments

Saturday, March 10, 2007

I Crossed The Line

A few days ago I wrote some things about team members that I never intended to be attributed directly to them or to hurt them in any way. From my web counter at the bottom of the page, I thought that the only people who were tracking on this blog were just a few friends that I had sent the link to. I considered it just a step up from a diary. I was wrong.

My opinions and concerns are my opinions and concerns, and never intended to harm, influence, or cause hurt feelings, either personally or professionally. That is why I do not put anyone's name, including my own, in here. It was pointed out to me that my prior post had caused just such a problem, and had in fact been read by one of the individuals that I expressed concerns about. I caused him pain, and for that I am responsible and ashamed.

He asked me what I had done to deserve to say anything about him. He asked me who the hell I thought I was. The truth is, I haven't done anything that puts my on any level to say anything one way or the other. While I can have my own feelings as a man with a few miles/years on the chassis, I have no right to put anything in the public forum that even has a chance of causing any hurt feelings. I thought that nobody but my friends read this bit of inconsequential drivel. That was not only a gross miscalculation of the power of the web, but very very careless of me.

I take responsibility for the pain that I caused. I never intended to hurt him, only to share my rather intense feelings with my few friends. We are not judged by our intentions, or by what we have done in our past. We are judged by our actions today and the effects that they have on other people's lives, careers, and feelings. I do not believe that I have harmed anyone's career, or really their lives, but I have hurt feelings.

It is something that I do not believe in doing, and I have not lived up to my own ideals in this case. I do not believe in harming a teammate physically, mentally, or emotionally. I have done that, though. I will try to make it right.

It won't happen again.
Read full post with comments

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Changes And Concerns

Writing an email to a friend of mine today brought up a subject that I've been thinking about for some time... since I started this minor chronicle, anyway. I know that this year will bring many experiences, possibly terrible, possibly uplifting, possibly heartrending. It is going to be hard emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually. I know that I will be forever changed.

As I told my friend, I am working to embrace the change... to accept that a year from now I will read my earliest posts and think myself an idiot for my idealism and high-minded drivel. I may become cynical. I pray not to lose what I am. My hope is that by dropping these bread crumbs, perhaps I will be able to find myself if I am lost in that place. I want to look back and see the progression, the change, so that I can both enjoy the journey and not be able to deny the thoughts and feelings and priorities that I see have now. I want to see how things work out.

I want to see how I work out.
Read full post with comments

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Or Maybe Knock Me Over With A Feather

Okay... so now we get leave again. In its deep and abiding wisdom, the Army has decided that they should stick to the original plan for us (whatever that really was) and send us at a date that I cannot disclose but does provide for leave.

I'm still being careful with my children's feelings. I'm not going to make a big deal out of it until I show up in town and I'm ready to see them.

Morale is better.

When I read my last post, I see the anger and frustration... good. That is what this is for; remembering what I went through during this time. God only knows what will be written here during the course of the year, what triumphs and calamities will be taking my emotions this way and that... it all remains to be seen, and to be written.

Today was okay. I started out the day as ate-up as can be... restless, irritable, and discontent. It got better. I rented the car that is going to carry me home next week, and we did some training that was at least more fun than the training that we did yesterday. I didn't get to do anything more technical than properly load and fire a machine gun and ride around in the back of a pickup-type humvee while we chased role-playing bad guys and got ambushed in a village replete with role-playing COBs (Civilians On the Battlefield.)

Funny, it was their village (notionally, anyway) and they are COBs. Inside, role-playing villager drinking notional chai over nan and goat; walk out of the Khalat (house compound) and >POOF< you are a COB. It doesn't even sound nice. The Army loves acronyms.

Two incidents in the past two days show the importance of being sensitive to the presence of COBs... the Marines opening fire during or after an ambush and killing civilians, and a family killed by an aerial bomb in a separate incident.

There is a lesson to be learned from all of this; "Don't be a COB." Unfortunately, they can't help it. It is to the insurgent's advantage to get people like us to lash out a little indiscriminately. It only takes a little indiscrimination to screw it up and kill someone who doesn't deserve to be killed. Then the insurgent has fresh propaganda to cast about.

"Americans don't care about you, and Hamid Karzai doesn't care about you. Only the Taliban really really cares about you and your family. See how carelessly the Americans lob bullets and bombs about? See how the government allows all of this? They don't care about you... We care about you.

Now pull your female children out of school and put your burka on, or we shall beat you like a rented mule. Or else we will get the Americans to kill you."

I can appreciate the difficulty of having a VBIED (Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device) driven by a suicidal maniac explode near your convoy and then be faced with insurgents firing weapons at you from areas near or beyond civilians (COBs.) The thing is, when you kill civilians you make more enemies.

It's easy to second-guess.

Still, remember; Don't be a COB.
Read full post with comments

Friday, March 2, 2007

Why Don't You Just Hit Me In The Head With A Hammer?

Sometimes something happens that grabs me and flings me to the ground with such force that it knocks all the wind out of me, and looking at the luxuriously esoteric ramblings before, they all look like utter drivel.

Last night, the entire team was body-slammed. I am sore from it. It hurts. When someone beans me in the head, even accidentally, I get mad. I'm mad. It's my own fault, really. I allowed myself to be drawn into hope.

Okay... short and quick. We were told that after we graduate on March 15th, we'd be allowed to go home till the first of April. I was looking forward to seeing my children very much. I waited for several days to make sure that the story didn't change before I told my kids that I'd be home to see them. Last night, we were told that we're "shipping," flying out, on the 18th of March. No leave.

Bing! Hammer blow to the skull. I want to explode.

It turns out that the Army needs to fill up an airplane, and they picked us to do it. There is another group (drill sergeants) who the Army wants to rush into theater and they don't quite fill up the plane. So, rather than send a plane with empty seats to Kyrgyzstan, we will be sent with them.

We'll probably wait in tents near a runway at an Air Force base in Kyrgyzstan for several weeks until we are really needed... and expected... in Kabul. No matter, as long as there aren't any wasted seats on that chartered plane to Kyrgyzstan. It actually happens quite often that people get bottlenecked in Kyrgyzstan waiting for a C-17 to carry them into Kabul.

I always wanted to spend a few extra days living in a Kyrgyzstani tent near a runway in a backwater former Soviet republic doing pretty much nothing.

There's always PT.

I think that they are doing this so that we are enraged and absolutely ready to kill whatever or whomever gets in our way once we get to Afghanistan. Just kidding.

I don't mind the (there's no other words for it) mindless crap that comes with being in the Army. I pretty much glide through having to fill out the same form six times to make sure that my kids are taken care of in the event of my untimely demise. I bounce right along through showing up at five different classrooms and being redirected each time till we eventually find the one the instructor shifted to. Loss of power? No problem. Water heater out for the weekend and can't be fixed until Monday afternoon? Okay. Mind-numbing boredom? Got that. A tirade from a Colonel who came home early from Afghanistan so that he could brief us about such things as being a nice guy to the Afghan general's bodyguards so that when you walk around with the general you are just as safe as he is. But when you weasel me into a position where I make my kids cry, that's it. I'm ready to choke the crap out of whatever pencil-pushing pogue is co-opting me into making my kids cry.

A very dear friend told me today that I signed up for this. I beg to differ. There are a lot of reasons why I volunteered to spend a year in the third or fourth poorest country in the world, living in conditions most people would consider an advertisement for the good life in prison, working with people who speak at least two different languages that I don't speak well, getting shot at and never knowing when I'm safe and when I'm not. I did not volunteer to get yanked around and get my kids excited to see me so that I could pull the rug out from under them at the whim of some transportation scheduling pogue so that he doesn't waste my tax money by leaving a few seats empty on a damned plane. That's the kind of crap that you'd think that they would go out of their way to protect you from when you are going to do this.

I'll be okay.

There are a lot of frustrations that I feel with the deployment in general. I am frustrated by the apathy of the American people, with their lack of support, with our wimpy lack of resolve and patience as a people. I am frustrated with the Cindy Sheehan's of the nation. I am frustrated with the senior Army leadership for not recognizing that we need to eat, sleep, breath, and evangelize counterinsurgency. I work with those frustrations every day. I do a good job of accepting these.

This frustration is a momentary challenge to my acceptance. I'll get over it. I don't have a choice, really.
Read full post with comments