It’s Not All Bad

I had plenty of fun times on my deployment.  And not just “fun” but…  fully satisfied moments.  Being a soldier is such a part of my DNA that being deployed, doing the job was so rewarding sometimes.  Some of my most favorite memories are of being a turret monkey.  We would travel all over Iraq taking supplies to our teams, picking up people/dropping them off for various administrative reasons, etc.  Generally I drove and was the convoy commander inside of the front vehicle but sometimes I’d trade off for training purposes, because we weren’t the ones running the convoy or just to give myself a break and keep some of the other guys in practice.  Usually when this happened I’d be in the turret. 

That was a double edged sword.  Just as stressful in some ways as running the convoy.  In urban environments your head had to be on a swivel, you had to be aware of everything.  And you knew that if you were engaged, you were the only one in the vehicle really able to respond in the way that EVERYONE in the vehicle wanted to.  You were the only one who could answer for the collective and you were also the one protecting the team as a whole.  You were also the eyes and ears of the truck in a lot of ways.  The armored windows reduced their visibility so much and they couldn’t hear or smell anything inside the vehicle.  With your head poking out you were the most exposed but you were also the most situationally aware.

Out of the urban environments it was completely different.  Unlike most of our teams who all worked in a small sphere, we were driving all over the place and there were plenty of times where we were out in the middle of nowhere.  No one was going to take the time to ambush us, there was no pay-off for the huge amount of effort to get out to where we were.  And in these places you could see for miles in every direction, it’d be almost impossible for a triggerman to hide.  There was safety in speed.  You couldn’t be complacent but it was just a much easier job and you could enjoy the feeling of the environment, the heat baking you, the gorgeous cloud free skies, the feeling of speed.  Hot as it was with the wind blowing you weren’t roasting like the poor bastards in the vehicle below.  Having spent so much time driving a jeep in Arizona with the doors and top off and my foot hanging out it was like home for me.

This past weekend I went to see a buddy for lunch.  He and I deployed to Iraq together and then he got out before the Afghanistan deployment.  He’s been missing the life and had some questions about getting back in.  He lives in a town about a half hour away and normally has to come down to my city so I decided I’d be nice and head up and see him.  When I checked the weather on Friday it was supposed to be a beautiful day on Saturday.  BK has expressed a fondness for motorcycles and I haven’t ridden enough this year so I figured it was win-win. 

Go time rolled around.  Got on the scoot and headed off.  And almost instantly came to a complete standstill on the interstate.  There was an accident that took the three lanes down to one and traffic through that one was halted regularly for emergency vehicles and staff.  After about 30 minutes I finally got past that and experienced that exhilaration that always comes with speed and freedom after being confined for so long like that.  Roaring down the interstate doing 75mph, sun shining down, wind in my face.  Bliss.  All of a sudden the shadow of a helicopter flew over me, straight down the interstate.  I looked up and saw a traffic bird going over.  Not more than a minute later I looked over to my right and saw a non-military C-130 climbing into the sky.

It wasn’t your typical “flashback”.  There wasn’t an associated adrenaline dump with the accompanying shakes afterwards.  I wasn’t thrown back in time for an instant.  I knew where I was and what was going on but I could almost see Iraq and the turret at the same time.  How many times had an Apache or Black Hawk flown over like that?  How many times had I looked over and seen a freedom bird taking off?  Almost like a transparent overlay in some old encyclopedia article about the human body.  I’m not 100% sure but I think I let out a howl of happiness, sheer joy to be alive and in the moment and maybe even went a little faster.

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