Posts Tagged ‘military’

Heartbreak 01

August 9, 2010

March-April 2007

One of the nurses who took good care of me while I was laid out on the fifth floor for a month has recognized me. She sits down to share a smoke.

 I’m perched on a park bench on the quad in front of Walter Reed. I’m between my three appointments for the day, killing time. A tree shades me from the weak spring sun, which I would do something about but I’m still poling along on a cane. I’d like to stand in the sun, but my balance is poor and my wrist, shoulder and ankle are stiff. With only one working eye, I never feel as if I’m seeing all there is to see. I’m anxious moving about in the world, though no longer fearful. So here I sit, cautious in the shade on the bench nearest the door, tentatively enjoying the small speckles of sun passing through new leaves.

 “I’m having a bad week,” my nurse admits heavily when her cigarette is lit. “A lot of kids have come in. We’re full.”

 A lot of kids from Iraq and Afghanistan. Soldiers. Wounded young men and women. I know what she’s talking about. The wounded are the only ones who “come in” to our world. I came in four months ago. I make a neutral sound, remember lying in my room studying the ceiling with one eye wondering if one eye was the shape of my world to come.

 “A boy came in yesterday,” the nurse tells me. She pauses for a puff off the cigarette, her other hand lying dead on her lap, looking abandoned and exhausted. “He’s blind. They didn’t tell him. They kept him drugged until he got here, so he didn’t know it.”

 I suck in my breath with fear. I hold it, paralyzed with horror. I want her to stop talking now. Now. I stare at air in front of my face, willing her to stop talking.

 “When he woke up in the ward and realized he was blind,” she tells me, ignoring my mental plea, “he went crazy. He was throwing everything he could get his hands on, beating on walls … “

Overwhelmed with the horror of the moment that boy discovered he was blind, I want to scream. On the bench in front of Walter Reed, I hold my breath. I can see the ward the boy is in, the shape of the room, the placement of bed, the color of the chair, the wood grain on the cupboards, the metal trays, the plastic bag drips, the colors and feel the shape of every detail of every loose object that boy can’t see and so is throwing around the room in his unfathomable fear.

I sit still as a stone to keep from disintegrating, while my mind screams, Don’t tell me this. Don’t! Don’t tell me this right now! Oh someone, help that boy!

 I want to disappear. If I could, I would die to avoid this boy’s fear. If I could, I would die right now in trade for this boy to have his sight back. 

I’m still raw. I’m still new at this, still avoiding thinking about the possibilities of somehow losing sight in my other eye. I’m still raw, still worrying about the driver of our truck, whom I haven’t seen since the air evac and don’t know … I don’t know if he’s alright. I’m still raw, still melting with sadness – what is the word strong enough for gut-dissolving grief and frustration? I’m still disintegrating with grief for the handsome, angry boy in a wheelchair in physical therapy, for the boy in the bed in the elevator whose jaw was missing. Now I’m disintegrating with grief for this boy who woke blind.

I’m still raw, pumped full of Percocet, emotions flowing like spring water, no wellhead, no catchment, no filter. Oh please, don’t tell me this right now, this strong boy who is blind and all his friends are in the desert and all he can stand to do is throw things around his room. I don’t know what to do with this terrible love and horror that I feel for this boy! Stop talking to me!

 I look up at the sky, out onto the quad that I can’t see at all for the tears standing in my one good eye, my one blessed eye, refusing to fall. “I can’t stand it …” I whisper, frightened to death for this boy, this poor boy, oh god … my body bends forward, hands holding my stomach. Sit up! I scream to myself. Don’t think! I sit up, try to breathe.

 The nurse puts her cigarette out and forces a smile for me. “I’m so glad to see you walking around, honey,” she says to me as she stands to leave. She pats my arm.

 All I can do is shake my head and whisper, “Thank you.”

 I mean, thank you for taking care of the boy. Please take care of that boy. Please. Please take care of that boy.

I don’t know how to help these people. I don’t know how to help, and it feels shameful and shoddy and mean.

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The Hurt Locker (spoilers, so beware)

March 8, 2010

I wanted to like this movie. Kathryn Bigelow got enough things right that I wanted the wrong things to be overwhelmed by them. Unfortunately, while I watched the film I felt that the wrong things were too much. It’s hard to overlook the majority of scenes being ludicrously implausible, and a main character who’s a walking Article 15.

I’ll overlook the wrong desert and the wrong uniforms … they had to shoot it somewhere, and they probably got a deal on the uniforms. But a one-Hummer EOD team wandering around alone, and rather randomly at that? They would travel in, at the very least, a two-vehicle convoy. 

Showing up on-site to find a deserted Humvee, its team cowering around the corner? Where are the f’ing radios – not just in this scene, but throughout the movie?

One lone Brit bounty hunter/merc truck on the desert? What was one little ol’ Humvee with one little ol’ 3-man EOD team doing alone out on a desert track anyway? Shooting each other up like that? No Brit team is waiting that long to be ID’ed. Then they couldn’t change a tire because one of these Brits threw the tire iron? 

Huh?? 

A sniper rifle in either of those vehicles? Pinned down all afternoon? And if I’m required to swallow all that, then at least provide them with enough water because I can pretty well guarantee that no merc or mil team is out without enough water.

The CO slobbering all over James? Aside from this weird and useless fiction, where are the officers in all the random wanderings of this lone EOD team?

Running through the streets of Baghdad in fatigues – or, frankly, even making off base in the first place? (Ok, I wasn’t there in 2004. Any vets out there, help me out with this one if I’m wrong.)

A 3-man EOD team taking off through the night to chase down a bomber? By this time, all I could do was roll my eyes and giggle.

James was junk. I was rooting hard for Sanborne to go for the malfunctioning detonator, hoping his action might help propel us all toward some more credible lead character. Sanborne’s initial reaction to him, and Eldridge’s telling him off as he was being evac’ed were – praise the lord – realistic snapshots. 

***

For all that, I made it through the entire movie without actually throwing anything heavy at the screen, and now I find myself developing a retroactive affection for the film. My strong desire for the movie to be better than it is stems, I think, from a sense of ownership in the content: this is my war.

This is my war, so I need you to get it right. Tell our story authentically.

Finding this thought and emotion surprises me, since I don’t think there’s any one story that would encompass the war authentically. I don’t mean that there are as many stories from Iraq as there are individuals who have been there – of course that’s true, but it doesn’t interest me. I’m thinking more broadly, in the sense that I don’t know the soldier story, really, and soldiers don’t know the DoD civilian story. Neither of us knows the contractor’s story. The journalists probably think that they know everyone’s story, yet many of us would sense they know nothing but their own stories. I know some of the PSD story, but not all of it.

If the soldiers’ story is told authentically, will I feel satisfied that my own has been done right? I wonder. I doubt it.

But it would be satisfying anyway. Because the soldiers are part of my story.

***

According to my affection, then, what Bigelow got right retroactively begins to forgive the things that she got insultingly wrong.

The dusty tan streets decorated with colorful trash were true. That’s close enough to how it looks, and it’s how the reality feels. I felt homesick for our mad dashes through towns, sirens whooping occasionally as we wheeled around a corner, dust billowing. I could smell the sharp twist of diesel and earthy dust, the fetid garbage, feel the smothering hot air.

When the camera lens filled up with the bag left behind by the men with the donkey, I whispered boom. Thank you, Kathryn, for that.  To illustrate how far my trust in this film had been eroded by then, as I whispered I wondered if it really would explode. I’d have given up on the movie entirely had it not.

My stomach clenched all over again under the squirrelly weight of all the eyes watching, watching, the men while they worked and I wanted to scream at the team myself: get the fuck out of there! Every moment is seared into slow motion on a good day, like you already know the next moment, the next action, the next reality. If you’re on, you’re on it. On a bad day, your brain starts spinning like a crazed rat and there’s absolutely nothing you can do yourself to stop the raging panic; you only contain it.

James walking into the shower all geared up made me laugh out loud. I’ve been there. And standing in the cereal aisle staring at all the choices was poetry in its silent summation of a reality so thickly layered with contrasts that it freezes itself and devolves into profound absurdity. Been there and Bigelow nailed it.

And perhaps most importantly, the foundation of the movie was authentic: war is a drug. It shifts perception into a heightened symphony of sensation. Good or bad, comfortable or not, that intensity is profoundly, achingly beautiful. For some, like James, that razor’s edge of living fully in the present is addicting. Anything else pales to a dream.

I guess I’d recommend The Hurt Locker, but with serious reservations. So far it’s probably the best Iraq movie I’ve seen, unfortunately. If nothing else, maybe Bigelow has raised the bar so the next Iraq war movie will not only get the environment and emotions right, but will give us a plausible plot, plausible scenes, and a plausible lead character.

Congratulations on the Oscars, I guess.

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Mad Moments – 06

February 13, 2010

Spring 2007 

Some US troops, apparently recently arrived incountry, opened fire on the Iraqi Army just outside the base perimeter this afternoon.

The Iraqi Army defends the outer perimeter of this base. In other words, yes – they’re our allies.

The US Army called the Australians for help in the middle of the firefight, but those Aussies are no fools. “Clean up your own mess,” they replied.

Eventually the Iraqi Army sent out troops to stop the Iraqi Army from continuing to shoot up the US troops.

 (This may not sound like a funny story from an outside perspective, but from incountry it’s choice fodder for some raucous laughs and a  couple days worth of decent jokes …)

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Who Goes There – Zeb

November 28, 2009

Major Zebediah Brighton: Operations

As LTC Slasher’s operations man, Zeb takes the brunt of the colonel’s insanity. Fully as anal as Slasher but lacking most of the micromanaging control issues and generally being capable of maintaining firm footing in common sense, Zeb is perfectly suited for micromanaging the micromanaging manager, effectively distracting the colonel from many of his most worthless obsessions and keeping him out of our business at critical times. A canny and diplomatic manipulator, Zeb is also a first rate schmoozer, and since his moral compass points him toward the good of others, we often benefit. Need a flight out on short notice? Special food items? An ‘in’ with the Brit Mil? If you’ve treated Zeb right and the cause is just, he will solve your problem.

The best way into Zeb’s circle of favor: make him laugh, compliment him frequently, and listen attentively and appreciatively to the endless collection of stories from his idyllic childhood in the wilds of rural California. Thinking quite highly of himself, the second two may become tedious, but they’ll pay off someday when you’re stuck in an operational morass, or when you’re looking for a witty after-work companion. Off the work grid, Zeb’s company guarantees clever repartee from a creative and loony mind.

Madly in love with a major stationed in Afghanistan, Zeb will fly to Hawaii to marry the sweetheart halfway through his tour. Under the desk during rocket attacks, bets are laid on whether he’ll be a laid-back, clever, creative and hilarious father whom his kids will adore, or a micromanaging, anal, prick of an officer father that his kids will grow to despise. It’s a tough call.

Zeb’s inflated self-importance concerning work matters and his occasional power plays directed at those he actually has no power over creates resentful enemies, while his generosity and quirky wit earn him an equal number of friends. If you duck under the ego he’s swinging around in the office and hunt him down for a late night movie, you’ll learn to love him.

Defining actions and characteristics:

  1. Won’t shut up about his idyllic childhood, basically running wild with his two little brothers in California
  2. Loves watching movies
  3. Frequently shows up in the DFAC with Brit Mil in tow, schmoozing

Why he stays:

He’s an officer; it’s not a choice. He might have volunteered though, even without orders. He seems to believe the reconstruction cause is just, and he’s generally appreciated here, which I’ve heard isn’t always the case at his home office.

 

[All names have been changed – OS]

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Mad Moments 4: Friendly Fire

November 23, 2009

Autumn 2006

Traveling has taken on a novel and ironic new danger lately. The fresh battalion that recently rotated in-country is shooting at us on the road, apparently mistaking our white Land Cruisers for suspicious Iraqis.

Normally when we see military convoys, we slow to follow them, happy to let them clear the road, whether by engineering feats of detection or by hitting the IEDs themselves. “Hey,” our PSD men mutter with shrugs and evil grins, “better them than us, yeah?”

Well … yeah. Cheers, guys.

Now we see a convoy off in the distance and go through drastic gyrations of route in order to stay far, far away from them. “Silly buggers,” our PSD men mutter with a look of mild disgust. “Get with the program.”

Wouldn’t that be sick to get into a firefight with MNFI troops? If no one died it would be hilarious, but somehow death by friendly fire seems stupendously empty, does it not? It doesn’t just leave a hole; it’s like creating a vacuum.

 

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