As I have been writing of my experience in Iraq it is amazing to me the amount of emotions that I have experienced. It is strange to feel like I am back there as I write. I know that this is necessary but at times it is unnerving especially as I talk to friends who are going through much the same experience that I had coming home and sometimes worse. I have been in e-mail contact with a friend from a NATO ally who has done a couple of tours in Afghanistan. I can really feel for him as he is in a smaller military with a lot few resources that the Americans to deal with PTSD and other maladies from this war which seems to drag on without end. Another friend on the West Coast has been dealing with the ravages of both PTSD and TBI and another Army Chaplain friend who has 2 Bronze Stars to his credit deals with PTSD as well as a very rare and eventually fatal lung and brachia condition. Friends from my medical center are being deployed, I’ve been told that I am too valuable and needed where I am to deploy. I do understand that at the same time deep in my heart I want to be with my friends from my ICU as they go to war.
The emotions took a big turn as I actually started writing about being in Iraq, beginning with the C-17 ride in to Baghdad. In some sense the mirrored what I was going through two years ago. It kind of came to a head the other night when I wrote about the rocket that went over my head at Camp Victory while waiting for my ride to head to the Camp Liberty heliport. Then there was the flight to Fallujah and I can remember that flight. I have never really liked flying in general and ancient helicopters in particular. Thinking that many of the CH-46s that I flew in while in Iraq had been in service in the Vietnam era was none too comforting. They were almost as old as me. Marine Helicopters are notorious for hydraulic fluid leaks. The old joke goes” “How do you know when a Marine helicopter is low on hydraulic fluid?” “When it stops leaking” is not entirely in jest. I guess you can say that most of my career flying rotary wing aircraft in the Army and Navy has been just this side of terrifying. I manage to survive every time but it takes forever to come back down from the anxiety of the preparation for and actual flights themselves it is no wonder that I still have problems sleeping and going on alert any time I hear a helicopter overhead.
Faith at times is an ongoing struggle. While I believe I question God more, especially when I see little kids suffering or read about young men and women killed in action or maimed by combat. I find that I am less compassionate toward those who have not deployed who make suicide gestures and screw with their friends and families and then blow off help. It angers me that their narcissism takes time and resources away from people who have been in the shit who need help and have to wait to get help. I also find that religious people who have trite answers for everything really annoy me, especially those that are constantly talking about “spiritual warfare” when they have no clue about war, suffering and death. They are what Luther called the “theologians of glory” and they have no real answers, just platitudes that work fine until a real crisis comes. Despite this I believe somehow in the God who is willing to be with me in the middle of the Valley of the Shadow of Death and at the foot of the Cross.
One of the things that tears at me now is the deep division in the United States as the obviously enlightened zealots of the extreme right and left push their agendas so hard that it seems impossible to find and amicable solution. I wonder if we have entered “Weimar America.” I guess I can understand how the moderates of the conservatives and socialists in Germany were ground to dust beneath the anvil of the Communists and hammer of the National Socialists in the later years of the Weimar Republic. I really understand the military men who found both alternatives distasteful and tried in vain to seek the middle ground and maybe restore some sanity to the country. That article is yet to be written. I think I will call it “Weimar America?” What really gets me is that both the right and left have dropped all pretense of civility and are now engaging in physical altercations at political meetings or “town hall” meetings and some have even be brandishing automatic weapons near venues where the President is speaking. I have seen the results of this type of no-quarter politics in the Balkans and in Iraq. I wonder what the hell all these demigods on both sides are thinking and if they in their devotion to their alleged “principles” would attempt “to destroy the country in order to save it.” I have become ashamed of the leadership of both political parties as well as the special interest groups that drive the agendas of both extremes, especially as in the case of some who use the Christian faith to justify their actions. When I see these people in action my anxiety level often returns to what it was in Iraq and on my return. I can honestly say that the people on the extremes make me fear for my country. I feel that they are pushing us to the abyss and that I can’t do a damned thing to stop it. I’ve matured enough to know it is not simply the fault of one side or the other; as both are at fault and it seems that the most extreme on both sides have actually been wanting this to happen, at least from my viewpoint as a passionate moderate.
I have come to realize that my true countrymen are those that I have served with to defend this country and protect others abroad, especially as the insanity continues to spread. Though I struggle and have to deal with emotions as if they were brand new every day just as I think that I am getting better I know that I have to keep going. I owe it to my brothers and sisters from the current war and wars such as Vietnam. Sometimes I wonder if all of us PTSD afflicted vets are the only sane people in the country. We are a brotherhood. “We we happy few, we band of brothers.”
I’m glad that I have friends, especially vets from Iraq, Afghanistan, the Gulf and Vietnam. Limey and Barney with the Hue City Vets, Ray and Charlie the Vietnam Veteran of America brothers who man the beer stand on the concourse behind home plate, and so many others like my trusty assistant Nelson Lebron who helped keep me safe and sane in Iraq.
In the middle of all of this I grieve for my Vietnam Vet and retired Navy Chief dad who wastes away in a nursing home with end stage Alzheimer’s which according to his doctor should have killed him months ago.
I’d better stop while I’m ahead. I need to catch myself, maybe have a beer and focus on some baseball for a while before I get ready for work. I have duty tomorrow and I expect that I will be busy the next couple of days. I hope when I get off Wednesday afternoon that I will be able to see the Tides play. I can use the view of the diamond at Harbor Park that helps calm my soul about now. Maybe between no and then I can get in with my buddy Elmer the Shrink.
Pray for me a sinner,