Sunday, January 03, 2010

Letter from Army major in Iraq

Roy Speaks of Bakersfield, an Army major stationed in Iraq, wrote the following letter to a friend about the stresses of serving in that country. He granted us permission to share it with our readers.


I was reading one of the many articles about how the Army is trying to figure a way to decrease the occurrence of post traumatic stress and thought of that conversation we had a couple years ago.

It is an unfortunate reality that a person who has not experienced it will never know.

I have changed. I can't talk to my wife about it, and there may be something in our conversation that may help someone in the future, so here goes.

Upon arrival your life significantly changes just by sight. Walking through the area is like walking through a maze. Fourteen-foot concrete blast walls are everywhere. The living area is symmetrically lined up and is probably two miles square. Since I am a major I share a room with another major.

The trailer itself is called a CHU -- Containerized Housing Unit. It has one door, one window, and an air conditioner. Keep in mind that your CHU is surrounded by 14-foot blast walls. They are inherently dirty.

Everything is dirty because of the dust in the summer and the mud in the winter. The walls may or may not have years of smoke film on them, not from cigarettes but from the burning trash pits and occasional fires.

Sounds like a prison cell doesn't it? Actually I can say that I believe prisoners have better conditions. At least they have a toilet in their room. I have to walk 30 yards to a porta-john and 200 yards if I want to get to a trailer. You learn to use water bottles in the middle of the night.

Food is served by third country nationals, usually Pakistani or Indian, and it is just a big room.

The food isn't bad, but you eat at the same time every day and always the same things on the menu. Sound like prison?

You go to work, you eat, work, back to the CHU and sleep. There is TV if you buy it or bring it that plays Armed Forces Network programming.

OK, that sets the stage.

Each morning I sit in on an update to the commander. The brief consists of when, where, and how attacks occurred and of course how many US KIA (killed in action) and WIA (wounded in action).

It talks continuously about how we are helping the Iraqis to secure themselves from themselves. Is that crazy or what? I always look and see that the locations of the attacks. Sometimes they occur where I have been, on occasion as recently as the day prior. I think every time that it could have been me. At the end the chaplain picks one of the U.S. service members who has been killed in the last week and does what they call a soldier tribute. We stand and listen to where he lived, what he did growing up and who he left behind. Kids, wife, mom, dad -- it all sucks because everyone leaves someone else behind. It could have been me.

At night you may be sitting in your CHU reading when the alarm sounds for incoming. You can do nothing other than hope it does not land on your CHU. You hear the explosion and try and guess how far away it was -- 1/2 mile, 1000 yards, or 100 feet? You wonder where the next one will hit and if it will hit your CHU.

Typically on those nights I do not sleep real well.

The first thing you do after the attack is head for accountability. Did it hit a friend or co-worker's CHU? Who is dead?

The next day you read the report, it landed by the chow hall; 10 wounded, 2 killed. It landed on someone's CHU. He died reading a book. It could have been me.

My job is to develop plans to "assist the Iraqi government to establish a secure and stable Iraq." They don't even help themselves. My experience is that they are ungrateful, they want, want, want.

When it is convenient they claim religious rights, when it is not convenient, they do not abide.

My view of the Arab culture has changed significantly. My views on Islam have changed significantly. And unfortunately my view on Muslims overall has changed and in particular in America.

I am angry, sad, disappointed, and scared. It could be me next. Wrong place, wrong time by coincidence and it could be me, Carl.

Means I don't get to go home. I don't get to hold Kadie or play with Mason.

It could be me, Carl. Carry that around each and every day for 12 -15 months and imagine how that effects your psyche when you return to freedom.

I can easily see a kid having too much to drink, too much anger, getting over being scared s------- every night for 12 months. He is in the wrong place at the wrong time and circumstances trigger something. An inner thought or feeling and he makes a mistake.

Bang, no representation or representation that can't understand. Representation that wants to understand but just can't. It is impossible unless you have lived it. There is no jury of peers, only a jury of people that don't understand. A judge that doesn't understand.

I am not excusing criminal behavior, merely using it as an example. I could have used employment to prove a point.

I am praying that when I get home I can sleep, the edge comes off, the anger goes away and the old Roy comes back but I don't know.

I can tell you that regardless of the adjustment and re-integration there are feelings that will never change. This experience changes all of us whether they admit it or not.

OK, how is that for a rambling story? Thanks for listening and I look forward to the dialogue. I think it helps me to talk about it.

It's now 295 days down and 75 remaining. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel but I am not sure where it leads. I do not for one second regret my service to my country nor do I regret my most recent deployment. I have learned so many things, met great people, and influenced the Iraqi conflict on behalf of the American citizens.

The difficulty of being separated from your family, however, is immeasurable.

Surrounded by so many, but have never felt so alone.