Never Forget, They are Not Just Names… Reflections on War, Loss and Change: Iraq, Afghanistan and Deep Space Nine

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KIRA: Sir, the latest casualty reports have just been posted.
SISKO: How many this time?
KIRA: Including the troops lost at AR five five eight, seventeen hundred and thirty.
SISKO: Seventeen hundred thirty.
KIRA: That’s a lot of names.
SISKO: They’re not just names. It’s important we remember that. We have to remember.

I have had trouble sleeping the past couple of weeks and I think that late last night or early this morning I figured it out.

I am remembering.

It was about this time of year six years ago I was getting ready to celebrate my 24th wedding anniversary with Judy knowing that about a week and a half later I would be leaving for Iraq for duty in Al Anbar Province with our advisors and wondering, if at the height of the war I would come back.

Of course I did come back and the following year in 2008 we celebrated our 25th anniversary as I melted down, collapsing due to PTSD. I was home but I wasn’t.

Every time I see or read a casualty report I still feel a chill, knowing how easily my life could have ended. I saw a report yesterday that four American troops were killed by indirect fire at Bagram Air Base near Kabul. Reading it I remembered the rocket the flew over my head the night I was flying out of Camp Victory for Anbar and how nonchalant I was when a young soldier ran up to me in his PT gear nearly in a panic asking me “what was that?” and my response, “oh it was just a rocket.” We were not far from the eastern perimeter of the base in an area of tents set out as transient quarters gunship helicopters flew over the camp and the city beyond the walls, machine guns rattled in the distance as explosions echoed in the distance as American soldiers and Iraqi security forces battled insurgents not very far from where we sat.

This past week a number of things have been triggering me. The Marines have been conducting exercises at Camp LeJeune and I have heard artillery in the distance and aircraft have been taking off and landing at the auxiliary airfield across the sound a couple miles away.

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Even though it is still two weeks until July 4th the tourists and summer rental types are already shooting off fireworks in the neighborhood near the beach. Last night I barely slept and tonight the tourist insurgents have been going mad with the fireworks. I was out walking Molly when some rather large commercial type fireworks went off a couple hundred yards away on the next street over. I nearly went to ground until I realized that they were only fireworks. I thought about July 4th 2011 when Judy brought Molly down and we went down to the beach to watch the fireworks. That night I was terrified and only the unflappable calm of Molly sitting beside me barking at the fireworks to protect me kept me together. Tonight Molly was as unflappable as ever, not bothered by the explosions. That made me laugh despite the near panic that I found myself. It is amazing what a little dog, now blind but still very relevant can do for someone like me dealing with the PTSD Mad Cow. I hate July 4th now, not what it means but all the explosions.

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Molly supervising my writing in 2008 or 2009

Tonight I was watching Star Trek Deep Space Nine on DVD and the end of the season seven episode The Siege of AR-558 got me a bit. At the end of the episode Captain Sisko and Colonel Kira are discussing the latest casualty lists, which Sisko posts each week for his crew. I quoted it at the beginning of the article and it really spoke to me.

Some 6700 American Soldiers, Marines, Sailors and Airmen have died in Iraq or Afghanistan close to 50,000 more wounded and probably a couple hundred thousand afflicted with PTSD or Traumatic Brain Injury. Hundreds, if not thousands more, active duty, reserve and former service members have taken their own lives after returning. Of course those numbers don’t count the troops from NATO or the Iraq Coalition Forces, the Iraqi and Afghan troops that have fought and died alongside us or the hundreds of thousands of civilians who have been killed, wounded or driven from their homes.

But they are more than numbers. Every one has a name, the dead and those who have come back in some way forever changed by war. It is important that we never forget that. They cannot be just numbers, otherwise we dehumanize them and avoid the real cost of war, especially the human costs. I think that Smedley Butler said it the best:

“This bill renders a horrible accounting. Newly placed gravestones. Mangled bodies. Shattered minds. Broken hearts and homes. Economic instability. Depression and all of its attendant miseries. Back -breaking taxation for generations and generations. For a great many years as a soldier I had a suspicion that war was a racket; not only until I retired to civilian life did I fully realize it….”

As I write the situation in Afghanistan is still dangerous and this week I saw another friend, a surgeon from my hospital depart for duty there. Likewise there is much debate about the US and NATO role in the Syrian Civil War, something that seems to me will eventually involve US forces in yet another war.

I guess that is why I can’t sleep and why some of my dreams have been so disturbing lately. I know that I will get through this as I have been through much worse over the past six years.

Another episode of Deep Space Nine entitled Paper Moon that I watched tonight dealt with the young Ferengi officer Nog who was wounded at AR-558, losing a leg and his struggles after returning to the station dealing with the trauma of war, loss and change.

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Nog tells his holographic friend the lounge singer Vic Fontaine played by James Darren When the war began…I was eager. I wanted to test myself. I wanted to prove I had what it took to be a soldier. And I saw a lot of combat. I saw a lot of people get hurt. I saw a lot of people die, but I didn’t think anything was going to happen to me.” I didn’t think that anything would happen to me either, I thought that I was immune from trauma and PTSD, I was an expert in dealing with trauma but I came back changed.

At the end of the episode as he comes to terms with his loss and the change he is asked by his father’s new wife “Are you okay?” and he replies “No. But I will be.”

I will be too. Tonight I hope to sleep.

Peace

Padre Steve+

6 Comments

Filed under iraq,afghanistan, middle east, News and current events, PTSD, Tour in Iraq

6 responses to “Never Forget, They are Not Just Names… Reflections on War, Loss and Change: Iraq, Afghanistan and Deep Space Nine

  1. Pingback: FNIMN: Mornington Crescent | The Dixie Flatline

  2. padresteve

    Reblogged this on Padresteve's World…Musings of a Passionate Moderate and commented:

    Friends of Padre Steve’s World,
    I didn’t sleep well last night and today I have been doing some more reading, research and writing on Gettysburg. That being said part of why I have not been sleeping well is related to PTSD and Iraq, the nightmare that keeps on giving. This is an article that I wrote about a year ago. Those that know me that in addition to baseball that God also speaks to me through Star Trek in its various forms. The upcoming weekend will be Memorial Day and I am always a bit melancholily over that weekend. That being said I find a lot of connections between Star Trek and life in the real world. Despite the fact that I wrote this a year ago it seems for me that little has changed. More people die, often far to young in wars that were or are of little benefit to our national security. The fact is that all of those that have died in the wars we have waged since 2001 are not just numbers, or not just names. They are real people with families, friends and colleagues that both cared about them, loved them and valued them. That even applies to the people that we have been fighting. So, since I am tired I wish you a good night.
    Peace
    Padre Steve+

  3. Pat Pound

    My father confided his worst moment in Viet Nam. He was in the TOC when a report of six KIA came in. The KIA were all National Guardsmen from one of the few units activated and sent to Viet Nam. Basically the youth of a small New England town was taken out with a couple of enemy artillery hits. What troubled him for years was his reaction. There was a form to be filled out for each dead solider. Name, place of death, etc.. There were no forms in the TOC. Rather than have someone go get them he went to get them angry at the men who had died for disturbing the rhythm of the TOC by dying. The reality of his reaction scarred him. I believe he still prays for forgiveness the moment when dead soldiers were an irritant to him. After combat service in three wars he came home from Viet Nam and retired as soon as the Army would let him turning down his last promotion as he believed he had ceased to be an effective leader.

    • padresteve

      Pat,
      It is something to see how war scars all of us. Your dad’s experience had to be traumatic and unsettling, especially due to the response of people in the TOC to the loss of the Guardsmen.
      Anyway, as always great to hear from you.
      Blessings
      Steve+

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