The Sandbox

GWOT hot wash, straight from the wire

Welcome to The Sandbox, a forum for service members who have served or are currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, returned vets, spouses and caregivers. The Sandbox's focus is not on policy and partisanship (go to our Blowback page for that), but on the unclassified details of deployment -- the everyday, the extraordinary, the wonderful, the messed-up, the absurd. All correspondence is read, and as much as possible is posted, lightly edited. If you know someone who is deployed who might have something to say, please tell them about us. To submit a post click here.

GREEN ZEBRA |

April 07, 2010

GREEN ZEBRA
Name: LT G
Posting date: 4/7/10
Returned from: Iraq
Hometown: Reno, NV
Milblog: Kaboom: A Soldier's War Journal


Despite the shadow the Iraq and Afghanistan wars cast over the greater American society, veterans of these conflicts are scarce amongst the populace. Trust me, I know. Having left the active duty Army last June, I’ve spent the past nine-odd months walking around in this land, attempting to adjust to civilian ways while simultaneously rediscovering my own civilian skin. Some days are smoother than others.

The separation between American and American-Veteran is wide, but it seems like only the latter group really grasps the fact – although I may be slightly biased in that interpretation. It's an unforeseen consequence of the all-volunteer force that members of our warrior caste often skeptically question why the other 99% of the nation’s population couldn’t/wouldn’t/didn’t fight next to them. Such isn’t fair of course, but self-righteousness is a sin many soldiers must grapple with after they return home.

With this self-checking truth in mind, I wish to share some of my own interactions in the concrete jungle of New York City which I currently call home. When new friends or acquaintances find out I served in Iraq, a consistent variety of reactions ensue. Some are genuine, some are contrived, but all seem hilarious to me. For many, I’m the only veteran their age they know, and it’s as if they’re suddenly seeing a zebra they’ve been watching turn green before their eyes.

The worst reaction came this past autumn from a Wall Street yuppie-type, who was straight out of American Psycho – tall, augmented by lifts, a perfect tan no doubt brought on by daily trips to the tanning bed, and that obnoxious domineering hand-shake tilt that doesn’t make up for the softness of the palm. Apparently his sense of masculinity became threatened when he found out the skinny kid in a flannel shirt and blue jeans in the corner had served in Iraq. “How many Hajiis did you kill?” he asked, cackling. “I hope a bunch!” I could only shake my head, smirk to myself, and notice how ridiculous the word “Hajii” sounded coming out of his mouth.

The best reactions I’ve had from civilian friends are the most honest ones – something along the lines of, “Umm, I have no idea what to say. Just tell me about it.” Thankfully, this occurs far more often than encounters like the one recounted above. Most friends and family members are willing to sit and listen to what you’re willing to give them, while understanding that there are going to be things you’d prefer to keep to yourself. But as refreshing, and sometimes cleansing, as these conversations can be, they’re not what I really miss – getting together with my old battle buddies and swapping stories.

Even green zebras enjoy returning to the herd sometimes, you know?   


Editor's Note: Lt. G was a frequent Sandbox contributor during his deployment to Iraq. Here are links to a few of his posts:

IN MY ARMY 

CRANK DAT IN IRAQ

RULES OF ENGAGEMENT

A SOUNDTRACK TO WAR

And here is information about his just-published book, Kaboom: Embracing the Suck in a Savage Little War.

Comments

My only question when you come back is, how are you? What is different and what would you like to talk about?

When the media thinks they are covering the war it is one kind of bad, when they are mostly ignoring it, it is another kind of bad. Those of us that haven't been to your war - where ever and what ever era it was, we don't understand, so talk to us.

LT G.,

I believe as New Yorker City types we enjoy the lowest vet/ citizen ration in the country. Since returning from Afghanistan 16 months ago I have only run into one other OIF/OEF vet, other than ones I knew from before. It gets lonely at times.

Seems to me that civilians never get it, no matter what war. I never got spat on when I returned from Nam, but most people just saw it as another news program where stuff went boom. Best of luck, and welcome back to the world.

Thanks for sharing your experiences Lt. G.
What I've found interesting is the ability or not the ability to connect with Warriors of today. Having survived the tragedy of Vietnam, I wonder if it's a generation difference. Your thoughts? Or from others of the OIF/OEF.

Way back in '68 it was the same. Very few of the people I graduated HS with served in VN. Even fewer saw combat. It took a long time for me to truly ignore the fact someone from my generation avoided serving their country. At 63 I am still most comfortable with veterans from my and your generations. Spending '05 & '06 in Afghanistan was actually cathartic to my sense of well being.

Yes, I am 5 years out of deployment and my current boss likes to make comments about how I enjoy killing people... It makes me sick to my stomach and my computer screen rapidly shifts to Craigslist

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