One of the more interesting (well, probably one of the only interesting) questions that I’ve had after returning from Iraq is whether I would want to go back. I replied – almost without hesitation – that if I was single I would definitely go back. The woman who asked was flabbergasted – “but isn’t it dangerous there?,” she cried, as if I had just stated my desire to volunteer for the Atomic Codpiece Testing Squadron. I went on to explain how I was basically in the safest place in the country in the lowest-risk job imaginable, played video games for a year, etc, etc. She then asked why I would go back. That question proved much harder to answer, and is the catalyst for this entry.
The first – and undoubtably least honorable – answer that comes to mind is money. Even as a junior enlisted soldier, the pay while over there is very reasonable; between housing allowance, family seperation pay, hostile fire pay (good thing they don’t pay by the bullet/mortar/shell – I’d have gotten about $0.95), and other miscellaneous allowances, it’s pretty easy to save up thousands of dollars in short order. Of course, not having to pay for food, gas, taxes, clothes, heat, housing, or entertainment sure helps a lot too. So money is an obvious motivation (though then I run the risk of seeming like an “American mercenary pig”).
The other motivations, though, are harder to quantify.
One is simply that there’s something to be said for the military culture. Going from the “yes sir/no sir”, brevity codes and roger-out mentality of the Army to my civilian job at the University of Minnesota is about the most gigantic culture shift imaginable. Frankly, it’s sometimes frustrating to deal with people who don’t have the same ideas about efficiency and direct action; I know that’s the “real world” and I have to deal with it, but I’ll pitch a bitch all the same. (I also understand that the Army as a whole has as many dysfunctional inefficiencies as any huge organization; I’m referring to the work ethic and direct-ness at the small unit level.) I didn’t like a lot of the people I was deployed with, but at least they were culturally similar.
Of course, camaraderie is another important factor. Having “built-in friends” was probably the best part of being in Iraq – people who, no matter how annoying you are or how much you piss them off, can’t possibly escape from you! But seriously, the friendships I made there are the most surprising and most rewarding aspect of that deployment. And honestly, while I have no love of communal living (or living in the space the size of a walk-in closet for 18 months), being so geographically seperated from friends is a bit of a drag.
Probably the most inexplicable reason that I would go back to Iraq is what one could call “heightening of the senses.” It’s very hard to describe – though it came through in my writing and my photography – but somehow, the combination of being in such a bleak landscape and a place where the possibility of death was much more obvious caused me to view each day with a greater level of perception. There, I sought and found beauty (or at least interest) in things large and small, in the desert sunrise or the wind in the fronds of a date tree, or the burbling call of a white-cheeked bulbul. At home in the US, I am awash in abundance, submerged in an embarassment of riches both man-made and natural. I try to maintain my austere, almost ascetic perspective, but it’s all but impossible in the press of daily concerns.
Life in the desert is simple, and raw, even with all of our KBR-supported conveniences, and it forces an appreciation for the smallest of comforts.
The last, and probably least important on a day-to-day basis when you’re there, is participation in something larger than yourself. When you’re there, it’s often just daily drudgery, trying to get to the next day so you’re one day closer to leaving; but in retrospect, even a support troop like myself can feel pride at being a part of the greatest army of the greatest nation on Earth, and for having a small impact on the country of Iraq – hopefully for the better.
So, OIF/OEF veterans, I ask you: would you go back? Or is it too much to ask to go a second time? What are your reasons? For myself, I wouldn’t volunteer to go again – I have Mrs. Melobi to think about now. (Though of course I could do naught but go if ordered.)
UPDATE: Welcome, residents and visitors of Mudville! If you’re a first time visitor, might I suggest you check out my gallery of deployment photos, as well as my SIGACTS page – an aggregation of milbloggers from around the globe.