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U.S. soldier returns home to find out he left something behind in Iraq
 Part of channel(s): Iraq (current event)



A few months ago, I found a Web site loaded with pictures
and videos from Iraq, the sort that usually aren't seen on the news. I
watched insurgent snipers shoot American soldiers and car bombs
disintegrate markets, accompanied by tinny music and loud, rhythmic
chanting, the soundtrack of the propaganda campaigns. Video cameras
focused on empty stretches of road, building anticipation. Humvees
rolled into view and the explosions brought mushroom clouds of dirt and
smoke and chunks of metal spinning through the air. Other videos and
pictures showed insurgents shot dead while planting roadside bombs or
killed in firefights and the remains of suicide bombers, people how
they're not meant to be seen, no longer whole. The images sickened me,
but their familiarity pulled me in, giving comfort, and I couldn't stop.
I clicked through more frames, hungry for it. This must be what a shot
of dope feels like after a long stretch of sobriety. Soothing and
nauseating and colored by everything that has come before. My body
tingled and my stomach ached, hollow. I stood on weak legs and walked
into the kitchen to make dinner. I sliced half an
onion before putting the knife down and watching slight tremors run
through my hand. The shakiness lingered. I drank a
beer. And as I leaned against this kitchen counter, in this house, in
America, my life felt very foreign.

I've been home from Iraq for more than a year, long enough for my time
there to become a memory best forgotten for those
who worried every day that I was gone. I could see their relief when I
returned. Life could continue, with futures not so uncertain. But in
quiet moments, their relief brought me guilt. Maybe they assume I was as
overjoyed to be home as they were to have me home. Maybe they assume if
I could do it over, I never would have gone. And maybe I wouldn't have.
But I miss Iraq. I miss the war. I miss war. And I have a very hard time
understanding why.

I'm glad to be home, to have put away my uniforms, to wake up next to my
wife each morning. I worry about my friends who
are in Iraq now, and I wish they weren't. Often I hated being there,
when the frustrations and lack of control over my life were complete and
mind-bending. I questioned my role in the occupation and whether good
could come of it. I wondered if it was worth dying or killing for. The
suffering and ugliness I saw disgusted me. But war twists and shifts the
landmarks by which we navigate our lives, casting light on darkened
areas that for many people remain forever unexplored. And once those
darkened spaces are lit, they become part of us. At a party several
years ago, long before the Army, I listened to a friend who had served
several years in the Marines tell a woman that if she carried a pistol
for a day, just tucked in her waistband and out of sight, she would feel
different. She would see the
world differently, for better or worse. Guns empower. She disagreed and
he shrugged. No use arguing the point; he was just offering a little
piece of truth. He was right, of course. And that's just the beginning.

I've spent hours taking in the world through a rifle scope, watching
life unfold. Women hanging laundry on a rooftop. Men haggling over a
hindquarter of lamb in the market. Children walking to school. I've
watched this and hoped that someday
I would see that my presence had made their lives better, a redemption
of sorts. But I also peered through the scope waiting for someone to do
something wrong, so I could shoot him. When you pick up a weapon with
the intent of killing, you
step onto a very strange and serious playing field. Every morning
someone wakes wanting to kill you. When you walk down the street, they
are waiting, and you want to kill them, too. That's not bloodthirsty;
that's just the trade you've learned. And as an American soldier, you
have a very impressive toolbox. You can fire your rifle or lob a
grenade, and if that's not enough, call in the tanks, or helicopters, or
jets. The insurgents have their skill sets, too, turning mornings at
the market into chaos, crowds into scattered flesh, Humvees into charred
scrap. You're all part of the terrible magic show, both powerful and
helpless.

That men are drawn to war is no surprise. How old are boys before they
turn a finger and thumb into a pistol? Long before they love girls, they
love war, at least everything they imagine war to be: guns and
explosions and manliness and courage. When my neighbors and I played war
as kids, there was no fear or sorrow or cowardice. Death was temporary,
usually as fast as you could count to sixty and jump back into the
game. We didn't know yet about the darkness. And young men are just
slightly older versions of those boys, still loving the unknown, perhaps
pumped up on dreams of duty and heroism and the
intoxicating power of weapons. In time, war dispels many such notions,
and more than a few men find that being freed from
society's professed revulsion to killing is really no freedom at all,
but a lonely burden. Yet even at its lowest points, war is
like nothing else. Our culture craves experience, and that is war's
strong suit. War peels back the skin, and you live with a layer of
nerves exposed, overdosing on your surroundings, when everything seems
all wrong and just right, in a way that makes perfect sense. And then
you almost die but don't, and are born again, stoned on life and mocking
death. The explosions and gunfire fry your nerves, but you want to hear
them all the same. Something's going down.

For those who know, this is the open secret: War is exciting. Sometimes I
was in awe of this, and sometimes I felt low and mean for loving it,
but I loved it still. Even in its quiet moments, war is brighter,
louder, brasher, more fun, more tragic, more wasteful. More. More of
everything. And even then I knew I would someday miss it, this life so
strange. Today the war
has distilled to moments and feelings, and somewhere in these memories
is the reason for the wistfulness.

On one mission we slip away from our trucks and into the night. I lead
the patrol through the darkness, along canals and fields and into the
town, down narrow, hard-packed dirt streets. Everyone has gone to bed,
or is at least inside. We peer through gates and over walls into
courtyards and into homes. In a few rooms TVs flicker. A woman washes
dishes in a tub.
Dogs bark several streets away. No one knows we are in the street,
creeping. We stop at intersections, peek around corners, training guns
on parked cars, balconies, and storefronts. All empty. We move on. From a
small shop up ahead, we hear men's voices and laughter. Maybe they used
to sit outside at night, but now they are indoors, where it's safe.
Safer. The sheet-metal door opens and a man steps out, cigarette and
lighter in hand. He still wears a smile, takes in the
cool night air, and then nearly falls backward through the doorway in a
panic. I'm a few feet from him now and his eyes are wide. I mutter a
greeting and we walk on, back into the darkness.


Added: Feb-2-2012 Occurred On: Feb-2-2012
By: SpreadForge
In:
Iraq
Tags: U.S. Army, Soldier, Iraq
Location: United States (load item map)
Views: 16536 | Comments: 75 | Votes: 15 | Favorites: 11 | Shared: 39 | Updates: 0 | Times used in channels: 2
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