I thought this would be a lot easier to write, that all of my feelings about our triumphant departure from Iraq would come pouring out onto the virtual page in a fully-formed stream. In truth, it’s not so simple; many might call me foolish for saying so, but my feelings about leaving are actually somewhat conflicted.
It’s not as if I want to stay here – far from it. But inevitably, after eighteen months of deployment, some good things developed, and indeed there are some things that I’ll miss when I’m gone.
Dealing with other people has made this journey hell, but it’s also the only thing that’s made it tolerable. The bonds I’ve forged here aren’t quite “Band of Brothers”-like friendships, forged in the hellstorm of battle; they’re really only analogous in that they were forged in the battle against the common foe of boredom. I really never experienced the true crucible of battle, where my life depends on the man next to me and vice versa; for that I’m thankful but also oddly disappointed. I can’t speak for everyone, but I think that many (myself included) wonder how they’ll respond when the shit hits the fan, and I know that I was, in a strange way, anxious to find out. However, I remain untested, even in the one place that I was sure would present the greatest trial. Therefore, I can’t count myself as a true member of the “warrior brotherhood;” I remain on the periphery, empathetic but not fully understanding.
It brings me back to the guilt of a REMF – the haunting feeling that I didn’t do enough, that had I been somewhere else at a particular time that I could’ve made a difference, changed an outcome somehow. Could my rifle or some skill I possess have been used to save someone’s life?
In February I posted a partial quote from the novel Gates of Fire. It captures perfectly my feelings on the subject:
What unknowable mercy has spared us this day? What clemency of the divine has turned the enemy’s spear one handbreadth from our throat and driven it fatally into the breast of the beloved comrade at our side? Why are we still here above the earth, we who are no better, no braver, who reverenced heaven no more than these our brothers whom the gods have dispatched to hell?
Of course such thinking is as futile as it is endless – the “what ifs” and “should haves” can drive one insane. It’s pointless, too, because I had my own job to do as a “fobbit.” Our mission seemed so pointless sometimes, and yet when one looks at the big picture, our role was really quite important. Imagine if the entire company spontaneously vanished from Iraq, vehicles and all: The 256th BCT at Liberty and several important outlying FOBs in the Baghdad AO would have no communications (aside from regular radios). Remove all the signal assets from the AO, and then you’d have no communications whatsoever – no SIPRNET, no NIPRNET, no phones. Certainly, our job is boring, and in micro scale it is often pointless – hey, thank the lord we’re here so the supply sergeant has his own phone in his room! But in aggregate, the contributions of our company really are extensive, and quite difficult to measure, since working comms are an assumption, not a bonus.
Strangely, though, our company’s excellence (at least in the realm of signal operations) has been the best-kept secret of this deployment, and it’s really too bad that it wasn’t publicized further by the command. Despite that weird unwillingness to discuss our peformance, based on my own observations and discussions with others more knowledgeable than myself, we may well be the best signal unit in the United States Army. Through a combination of skill, intelligence, good equipment, and a fair helping of luck, our uptime was well over 95% (closer to 99%, probably), with tens of thousands of calls processed every month – and that’s not to mention the data traffic. This is with equipment dating from the mid-80′s that existed before anyone even thought of using the stuff to transmit anything other than voice traffic.
Maybe it’s fitting, then, that this is the last ride of the 134th Signal Battalion. Ours was the first whole-company activation of the battalion since World War II, and proved to be the last – the battalion colors were retired last month as part of the 34th Infantry Division’s reorganization into Units of Action. Now, along with all the other changes in our lives to which we must return, we don’t even have our parent unit anymore. Voce Retonanti, we hardly knew ye.
Some people say that they can’t wait to forget everything that happened on this deployment. For me, it’s quite the opposite: I want to remember everything, good and bad – hence this blog. Like it or not, we are a part of history, and while this wasn’t the “fight of our lives” like I thought it might be, it has been an experience nonetheless, an experience from which I’ve learned much.
To those who have read my random dispatches: thanks for inflating my ego. I never imagined that many beyond my family and friends would find this to be of any interest, but apparently I’m producing a product for which there is some audience.
To all of those who wrote and sent packages: thanks for the support. It’s an honor to have served with such kind and generous people back home supporting me and everyone else here.
To B Company: some of you I hate, some of you I love, and to some I am merely indifferent, but to paraphrase, “they may be sons-of-bitches, but they’re our sons-of-bitches.”
To all the soldiers of Operation Iraqi Freedom, past, present and future, especially the milbloggers: keep fighting the good fight. Everybody has a job to do, and we all know what has to be done. Shoot straight, stay low, and drive fast.
To all of my family, particularly my parents and grandparents: your love and support was so appreciated. Thanks for being there for me, always.
And last, but not least, to my incredible wife, the redoubtable Mrs. Melobi: it’s been one hell of a year but you’ve made it so much easier. Thanks for taking care of me (and being my secretary!), even from afar. We’ve been married a year and have yet to live together, but I’m coming home at last. Wait for me just a little longer.
This is my last post from Iraq. Next time I write might be Kuwait, or our demob station, or it might not be until I’m home again. In any case, stay tuned – I still have more pictures to post and a few more stories to tell. After that, who knows – it’ll probably be cat stories and flower pictures or some such boring shit.
Gates of Fire is about the ancient Spartans, but the narrative of soldiering is oddly resonant (perhaps because the author is a former Marine). I was saving the second part of the quote above for the end:
What else can a man feel at that moment than the most grave and profound thanksgiving to the gods who, for reasons unknowable, have spared his life this day? Tomorrow their whim may alter. Next week, next year. But this day the sun still shines upon him, he feels its warmth upon his shoulders, he beholds about him the faces of his comrades whom he loves and he rejoices in their deliverance and his own.