June 21, 2007
Name: SPC Freeman
Posting date: 6/21/07
Stationed in: Iraq
Milblog url: calmbeforethesand.blogspot.com
The time between mortar attacks used to be measured in days, even weeks. Now it's measured in hours.
The days have been hot, and long. I've worked 12 to 14 hours a day, at least, for several weeks now. Only recently have I begun to enjoy some downtime, and had time to think about anything but cleaning my weapon or calling my wife.
I'm sitting on my bed the other night, in my t-shirt and underwear, inspecting my blistered feet. The boot socks they sell at the PX are terrible for moisture, so since the start of my deployment I've suffered from a mild but tenacious case of athlete's foot. I've just gotten back from the phone bank, and am slowly beginning the process of preparing for bed. Brooks is on his bed a few feet away, playing Yu-Gi-Oh on his Gameboy. Oz is laying down at the far end of the room, absorbed in my bootleg copy of Heroes.
I'm depressed. I've been suffering from a deep malaise lately, related chiefly to my separation from Anne and my growing disgust with this war. We've been talking about re-enlisting, and to be honest I'm still not sure how I feel about the whole thing. I'm chewing on a few nagging thoughts, left over from my last conversation with my spouse, when I look up from my daily ministrations.
"Hey Brooks," I say. A pause.
Brooks' game music continues bleeping away. "Yeah," he pipes up in a rumbling drawl from the other side of my wall locker.
"Anyone ever tell you 'Thanks for your sacrifice?'"
Another pause. "Sure. Why?"
"I dunno." I go back to peeling dead skin from my blisters. "What do you make of that? Does it actually do something for you? Or is it just more empty words?"
"Sometimes," says Brooks.
"What, the first part or the second?"
"Gotcha." It's my turn to pause now. Brooks continues. The music stops abruptly.
"I dunno. I mean, it's nice and all, but it doesn't really change the situation."
"Makes 'em feel better, I guess."
I roll my eyes. "Like the yellow car magnets."
"Exactly." I hear Brooks sit up. A brief silence ensues. After a moment I speak up again.
"Wife and I are talking about our plans."
I shrug. "You know. Do I re-enlist? Do I get out? We've been arguing back and forth about it for a few weeks now, ever since I got back from leave. I'm still kind of on the fence about it. I don't really know what I want yet."
"Need to reclass."
I snort. "For real. I'm getting kind of fed up with all the bullshit, you know? Especially with all this talk of being extended."
"So get out."
I shake my head. "Not that simple, though. We're kinda talkin' about tryin' for a kid. Wife thinks it'd be better for us financially to have the kid in the Army, ya know?"
"Maybe not raise, but for the actual birth, shit--"
"Yeah, it makes sense."
"--And if I get out, that kinda throws a wrench into the kids thing."
"So don't have kids yet."
"Yeah, but she really wants kids, ya know? And honestly, so do I."
"How old's your wife, man?"
"Twenty-three. Couple months younger than me."
"Makes sense. That's about the age they start thinkin' that way."
"They? Dude, c'mon. You know Anne. She's not like that."
"They're all like that. It's not a bad thing, man, I'm just sayin'."
I trail off. I let both my feet rest on the floor. Brooks' game starts up again. I slip in one of my earbuds and put on some Terminal. I'm still not satisfied.
"I dunno, man" I say, speaking over my music. I turn down the volume a bit. "I'm just starting to feel like I can be a husband, or a soldier, but not both. At the same time, neither of us have our degrees yet, and it's like 'What is there for us on the outside,' ya know? Not like I can get the degree I want out here."
"I'm just tired of wearing the mask. I'm fuckin' tired of putting other people's agendas before my own. It's what got me thinking about that 'Thank you for your sacrifice' bullshit. Who's gonna tell me when I've sacrificed enough?"
"Hey, you signed up for it."
"Yeah, I know, I know. But did I sign up for 15 months away? Mandatory? Did you? Shit."
"I rest my case."
"See," says Brooks finally. "I don't really care though. That's three extra grand a month in my pocket. Fuck, I mean it sucks for the married guys, but me, I say keep me down here as long as you want. Your money, ya know?"
"Yeah, but I am married, and anyway, you really think you're gonna notice three fuckin' grand at this point? Shit, if they're cutting away our benefits and our time at home, but the enlistment bonuses are fuckin' twenty grand like Oz's, what's that tell you?"
"Tells me we're fucked."
"Exactly." I shake my head. "Not exactly how I envisioned military spending. Plus, man, you know me. I've never been totally on line with this shit. And man, since I've been here?" I sigh.
"I dunno. I'm getting so tired of this shit. I'm tired of of this fucking war. I'm tired of not seeing my wife. I'm tired of fuckin' watchin' people starve and beg us for food from outside that fence" -- here I point sharply toward the far wall of the trailer -- "while in here I see KBR's logo plastered over every dumpster and shitter. Civilian motherfuckers rollin' around up in this bitch makin' 90 grand a year."
"They're not starving, dude."
"And how do you figure? You looked out that fence lately?"
"They're not fuckin' starvin, man, I'm telling ya. They're just like the TCN's here, man -- comin' in here, playin' the pity card, preying on guys like you to scam what they want. It's just how it is."
"I don't believe that, dude. Not all of them."
"Enough of 'em." Brooks sits up again. "Don't get me wrong, dude, I'm not tryin' to harp on ya. Havin' a compassionate heart is not a weakness. I'm just sayin' people -- and especially these people -- are always gonna try to use that against you. Ya know?"
"I suppose." I think back to a recent exchange I had with Haider, and wonder how much of that was colored by my own eagerness to do Good. I don't really know what to say at first, and at times like this I find myself missing my wife more than ever. She would no doubt provide the sort of eloquent insight that I seem to have difficulty extracting from my more taciturn peers. I go back to picking at my feet.
"I wish I could believe you, man." I look up. Brooks just shrugs. I hear Oz pipe up from the far side of the room.
"I dunno, man," he says in his lazy West-Coast slur. "I think you're just dwelling on shit again. You always get like this. It's like you're never happy unless you're fuckin' miserable."
"I suppose." I put on dry socks and reach for my smokes. Oz almost never speaks up in the evenings -- he's usually sucked into some black-market DVD made by the locals -- and so I take his sudden input as a broad hint that Brooks and I need to shut the fuck up. I grab my weapon. Lately, I'm beginning to think that these guys are right. I do get too worked up about things. But it's part of my nature -- isn't it? Aren't I supposed to care? Haven't I always prized passion as a virtue. Is it possible that I let my feelings -- as capricious and volatile as they are -- cloud my views?
I shrug. I stick a smoke between my lips and make for the door. I pass by Oz's bed, and I slap at his boot as I pass. He glances up briefly.
On the way out I say, "Maybe you're right."