This is the second installment of my account of my account of mine and RP2 Nelson Lebron’s deployment to Iraq in 2007.
Our mobilization proceeded the next couple of days as we received our immunizations, were issued DCUs and other clothing needed for the deployment. Nelson and I of course were already well outfitted by our unit, EOD Group Two. In spite of this we drew additional uniforms, brown t-shirts, socks and a host of miscellaneous gear. Thankfully as I have mentioned, EOD had outfitted us well including boots of our choosing, not the standard issue boot being provided to the rest of the sailors. I had a pair of Blackhawks and a pair of Magnum 5.11’s, both much more comfortable than those issued. Wills and powers of attorneys were drawn up by JAG officers, our “page 2s” the record of who we wanted notified in the event of our demise were verified and updated, new dog tags ordered and a myriad of forms filled out, sometimes for the second or third time. In the weeks prior we had completed a fair number of online courses on Navy Knowledge Online to orient us to operations, health and safety issues and for Nelson classes on the M-16A2 and M9 Pistol. The 4th was a day off, probably more for the staff then for 120 or so of us getting ready to go overseas.
After completing everything we needed on the 3rd I went home and Judy and I took in the Norfolk Tides game against the Syracuse Sky Chiefs at Harbor Park. Before the game I chatted with Tides General Manager Dave Rosenfield and let him know that I would be missing the rest of the season as I was going to Iraq. Dave is a good guy and since at the time things were not going well, we were experiencing heavy casualties which were being displayed on every broadcast news outlet available to humanity, I could see the distress in his face as he told me to “please take care of yourself and be safe.” My usher buddy Skip, a retired Navy Chief and a number of vendors, Kenny the Pretzel guy and others wished me well. As the National Anthem Played that night I stood at attention, my Tides cap over my heart as the anthem was played. It was one of the most emotional anthems I have ever experienced. It was not that it was sung by a star or even played that well, but it was that I was going to Iraq to serve in an unpopular war, ordered by a once post 9-11 popular President whose star had fallen because of how Iraq was turning out. The war was presented as lost and a disaster and here I was getting ready to go after volunteering to go to Al Anbar Province, the most contested and violent part of Iraq. The surge was just beginning and the Anbar Awakening was yet to be noticed by anyone. Al Qaida Iraq and other insurgents were taking a severe toll in Al Anbar. I had been told by Chaplain Maragaret Kibben that the mission was to get out bewyond the wire when no one was getting to take care of the advisers. I imagined being convoys and my vehiilce being hit, and at the same time still knew that I had to go. Tears were in my eyes as I mouthed the words to the Star Spangled Banner looking at the flag flying above the scoreboard above right center field. Judy stood next to me. It was then that some 26 years of service came down to the real world. Even though I had been to the Middle East numerous times and even served on a boarding team in the Northern Arabian Gulf, this was different. I was preparing to go “into the shit” as my Vietnam era brothers would say. In fact I was going out not with a unit, but as the first Navy Chaplain to serve directly with advisers since that war accompanied by the most prepared assistant in the world. I was pretty sure that I was the most prepared Chaplain for this assignment, I was as ready as one could be for deployment. I was physically ready, in some of the best shape of my life, I had graduated done everything that I could thing to do to be ready. I had even made sure that I read Chapter 5 of the History of Army Chaplains in Vietnam as part of the massive amount of reading that I did for the deployment. Part of this chapter dealt with those men who served in this capacity then. We watched the fireworks show that followed the game and
The Tides would go on to win the game 4-3 and I would go home with Judy. The 4th was spent continuing to get ready even though I was theoretically off for the holiday. There are always checks and double checks to ensure that everything is just right when you deploy. This was really hard on Judy as she watched me getting ready. When you deploy, especially to a combat zone there is a certain amount of emotional detachment that most couples go through. It is a form of self preservation, you tend not to want to ask or deal with the hard questions of what happens if….
Of course Judy had in the previous months insisted that I take on additional life insurance which I did, just in case I would get schwacked in Iraq. I’m rather superstitious and felt that while this was a good move to protect Judy that it might be inviting trouble for me. We had of course talked a bit about the deployment; I was much more excited than she could ever be. The lot of the military wife in wartime is to endure her husband’s choice to serve their country in time of war. As deployments draw closer the emotional distance widens even as emotions deepen. It is the inverse of what happens when emotions deepen as people come together. That last 4th of July was one of being alone together even as we went to of friend Pat and Jim’s house for a cook out. Following that we went home and spent a quiet evening before going to bed. My DCUs from EOD hung on my closet door as we turned off the light and spent a fitful night sleep.