March 02, 2007

Name: Eric Coulson
Posting date: 3/2/07
Stationed in: Ramadi, Iraq
Hometown: St. Louis, MO
Milblog url:
: [email protected]

War here in Iraq has generated an entire set of sounds that are unique, whether in origin or presentation. They come from both the mundane and the deadly, and each has its own particular flavor.

The most common sound we all share is the drone of the generator. Every building has its electrical power provided by generators. In Falluja, large banks of huge CAT Diesel generators are so well insulated they are almost quiet. In Ramadi we have more and smaller generators that are not so well insulated. Inside my barracks they emit a drone. Standing next to them, one is best advised to follow the warnings and wear hearing protection. The sound is a constant companion.

Gunfire is a very common sound. A lifelong firearms enthusiast, it would be dishonest to say I no longer like it. It is however, far more contextual for me now. Gunfire to the south is just as likely to be coming from the ranges as any place else. Gunfire to the north is almost certainly a battle being waged. Range fire has more of a predictable rhythm, while gunfire from battle has peaks of intensity, as well as rapid stops and starts. I find myself with a heightened level of awareness of gunfire and its likely ramifications.

Aircraft sounds are not restricted to the battlefield. You experience them in a whole new way here. Helicopters in the civilian world are usually either some sort of Life Flight, or your local television or radio station traffic-and-news chopper. Here helicopters might mean Medevac, or the arrival of VIPs, or they can be just general transportation. Since I've been here I have flown on two models of helicopter I never thought I would have the chance to ride.

They fly low, very low. Two days ago I watched a Black Hawk make a tight turn and tilt so far I thought the blades might strike the building it was flying over. Every flight is serious and a combat operation. Helicopters are also inherently dangerous, at least more so than fixed wing aircraft. I marvel at the skill of the pilots.

Fixed wing aircraft, at least at low levels, are far less common. In fact only twice have I experienced low level flights by fixed wing aircraft -- F-18 Super Hornets on attack runs. If you have ever been to an air show where the Blue Angels have performed, you know what that sounds like. Those two times were moments that I thought my life was about to come to a quick conclusion, as I mistook them for incoming rockets.

Loud explosions are not uncommon. Fortunately, instances of incoming mortar and rocket fire have been few and far between. We have experienced it, but it is not something we are experienced at. Outgoing artillery fire is another matter. Before my current incarnation as an Engineer I was a Field Artillery officer, and I thought I was accustomed to the sound of outgoing artillery. But I think that was because I was giving the order to fire. It is always a surprise and a little disconcerting. Because among other things it can be confused with...

High order explosive detonations. We have had two of these in the last two days. AIF hit an IP check point about 2500 meters from our TOC. It shook the place good, and we could only watch the smoke rise from the scene. Two days ago the fatality was the bomber. Today I don't know what the results were.

I know being here has affected me and has changed me. I am sure these sounds, and maybe others, will always remind me of the war in Iraq.


It took me two years to forget some of the sounds you describe when I got back from Vietnam. I hope you will not have the strong reactions that so many of my friends had when they got back. I also hope you return safely and soon.

Years ago, about a year after I came back from Vietnam, I drove a taxi for a while in NYC in the financial district. There was always a lot of construction going on there (still is probably). One day in the summer I was driving on one of the narrow streets there looking for a fare. I was pulling up to a stop light next to a construction site just as a pneumatic jack hammer let loose right beside my cab. It sounded close enough to an air cooled .30 cal MG (in use by some of the ARVN troops when I was in country) that I ducked down behind the wheel and drove up on the sidewalk.

Some of this you will never forget.

Stay safe.

The reactions you are all so worried about are a normal response to abnormal conditions. PEOPLE ARE/WERE TRYING TO KILL YOU. The ability to move forward may take some time for a number of vets. The best thing we can do is be understanding. For the vets on return from downrange, find someone to talk to about the deployment. Be it a counselor, past warrior or battle buddy, get it done. Get back into the swing of things at home. YOU ARE HOME AND SAFE. Keep telling yourselves that. Let others also tell you that and try to hear it. For the families of SM's be aware of situations and your loved one's abitily to cope with the dangerous enviroment of places like the local store, market and the roadways. They may seem like safe places to us but all can trigger feelings that we will hopefully never have to understand. Thank you all for your service.

LCSW - The problem is/was, there was no one to talk to when I came back so, for 38 years, I told no one that I had been twice in Vietnam. It is only in the past year that I told my wife and I've been married for 33 years. I might never have said anything except the current festivities have triggered a lot of memories I thought I had safely locked away for good. Understand, I did not feel incapacitated over those years by what I had experienced. I've functioned fairly well, I think, didn't become a drug addict or an alcoholic, went to college and graduate school, still married to the same woman, raised two kids, looking to retire soon. But it never really went away. The shenanigans in Iraq have really stirred the pot, so to speak, and I guess it's time to get it out.

No, it really never goes away. I fear we all will have alot of work to do before I get to retire. I don't think this party is anywhere near to being over. Lots of folks come back to the world just like you did. They just pushed it behind, don't talk about it try to forget. Good luck with your work to come. Welcome Home.

LCSW - After telling my wife last summer and talking to her about it since, she has said that yes, that explains a lot.

32 years is a long time to ignore an elephant in the room, especialy in a marriage...but I don't think you guys were supposed to talk. I think the people who start wars bank on you guys being silent so that the true cost of war is unknown to the rest of us. My own experience of having a friend come back from Vietnam physically intact and even somewhat functional has made me believe this. He came back from Vietnam to die of alcohol. He did not speak about what must have been at times a weird hell! The last time I saw him he looked so old I thought he was his father. He died three days after the beginning of the first Gulf War. I will always feel that his life was ripped- off, even though he had no physical wounds. The notion that he was somehow weak is nonsense. The man was as strong, as tough, and adaptable as anyone I've ever seen. I read these posts and respond to them because I didn't know how to talk to my friend and he didn't know how to talk to me. If we could have talked, perhaps things would have better. I am often amazed at what I read here. I truly believe that articulating your experience gives you strength and resilience. It gives me hope that some of you will survive beyond the war.

The comments above illustrate a pervasive chronic sensory sensitization problem associated with acute stress:induced fear flashbacks.

I'm curious to know if these ordinance explosions are near continuous most days. I don't think men become as inured to these background noises as they might believe. I also wonder how much it distrupts sleep. In some locations - it must be very stressful, the sounds of the generators, camp, the militia sparring and the occasional burst of aircraft, firepower or explosions.

And thats just the aural inputs of war.

Very, very nice post, sir.


Yes, the noise is all the time. Some FOB's are nicknamed related to this. If the background noise can kill you, you can get more than a little anxious about it. Couple that with the lack of sleep, poor food, heavy load you carry, mission, trust of IP's ect, ect.... It all adds up.

I pray for a night for you soon that enfolds you in deep sleep, with dreams that do not make you toss, and cannot be remembered.

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