Originally published June 2, 2012.
It started innocently enough – I started going through my old posts and ended up re-reading one of my all-time favorite pieces. Now I’m listening to Fleetwood Mac, twitchy from the caffeine influx earlier and the flood of memories from that day and that flight.
The urge to elaborate and edit is strong, but I will never alter those words from 2007… composed on a laptop atop a handmade plywood desk, the scent of air fresheners losing against the smell of Iraq. Shit. Sand. Plywood. JP-8. Baked asphalt and concrete. That sickly tree next to the hangar that apparently was too stupid to shrivel up and die in the intense heat. If there were a stove with the setting of “Mesopotamian Summertime”, it would be used to incinerate bricks and bake politeness and common decency into a pie of resentful hate…
A few details were left out in the haste to funnel the avalanche of feelings and emotions… but they resurface fresh on every reading:
- “…we’ll wait for you…” was on the internal radio to our sister ship. I remember thinking: “The fuck we will… we need to GO!!”, but instead, all was said was a terse “We need to go. Now.”
- I remember the chill of the skin through latex…at the time, it was a detached observation. Now, however, it stands out strongly as the moment I realized I fucking hated being there at that moment, but I knew that this guy on my helicopter needed me there entirely more than anything.
- The confused look the Medic gave me still makes me wonder how a 21-year-old Cuban could be so…neutral… at a time like that. There was no worry… there was no fear… she just was. I’ll probably pose the question to her on Facebook – or just forward this link to her. What are her thoughts about that flight now? In truth, she intimidated the hell out of me. I thought I was pretty damn good at compartmentalization, but she seemed to handle the losses… differently. Not robotic and clinical, but nowhere near the other end of the spectrum from another Medic on that 15-month deployment – hysterics at a 7.62 AK round hitting and skipping off the other side of the more than ample armor flooring.
- I paused enough to put in the pin that rendered the external flare launchers safe. It was an automatic action – I didn’t feel like dodging small speeding orbs shooting across the Combat Support Hospital’s pad while we were trying to get these guys out on the ground. Likewise, these things had a tendency to automatically fire, and there were living quarters on our approach path. And their pool. We hated the pool in Balad – there was none in Speicher at the time – therefore we frequently joked about flare “accidents” over it on other occasions.
- One of the ambulatory patients on our sister ship got out, took his uniform top off, and flung it up, almost into the rotor system. We found out later that he was a “psychological casualty”, but that’s about it.
- While thinking of a cigarette, I pressed on my helmet and sweat flowed from the liner as if a bucket had been dumped in my helmet. I also had to switch visors, as my tinted visor was caked with dried salt on the inside.
Now, five years and a few days later, it still hits me strongly. More than likely, it will never go away… but that is fine with me. I have no nightmares from this, or any other flights on my deployments, but I know I have changed. For one, it forced me back into writing… and the writing has helped. Mostly, though, it really caused a re-evaluation of who I thought I was and what I thought I was capable of, and that we have to change…but we choose the direction in which we change.