Postcards from Tradocia

would you go back?

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.

11 Comments

  1. Bill

    My reaction is the same. If single, I would go in a heartbeat. However, if I volunteered a second time, I never would make it because my wife would kill me. Interestingly, I find that to be the reaction of most reservists. I can’t speak for active duty or guard but I would suspect that it would probably be the same.

  2. Wayne's Mom

    Funny, I asked my son the same question yesterday; but more like, ‘Will you miss anything about Iraq.’

    Bless his heart, he’s so much in love, and so eager to be reunited with his fiancee, the only thing he’s thinking about is coming home and getting back in college.

    He did say the sunrises and sunsets are beautiful.

    Thank you for your faithful service. I know Mrs. Melobi will be glad to have you home, too.

  3. KSM

    As the wife of an active duty member (though recently retired), I’d have to say I think its a bit different than for spouses of reservists and NG. We are used to the culture, of having our spouses be gone for days to months. We are in some ways, better able to handle the stresses and emotional fortitude needed to deal with a longer deployment. If no other reason that practice. That is not to say that we miss our spouses less or are better people. But its all about what you are used to and what you expect. Unfortunately, the past lifestyles of the reserve and NG units (as far durations of training, being able to pick when you go for training, etc) didn’t prepare anyone involved for the true way of life for the military. In some ways, reservists and NG and their families had the best of both worlds…you got to live the life of civilians (typically more freedom and money) and yet got to experience the truly unique quality of life of the military (as you said, the instant comraderie, decisiveness, etc).
    And to answer your question, my husband has chosen to go back. For many reasons, from the simply necessary (money) to the fact that he truly believes in what we are trying to do and feels that he has not gotten to finish what he started. He has tried his hand at civilian life, and found it lacking. Now he has found a way to blend the necessity with desire. He has gone back as a defense contractor helping to rebuild the infrastructure and helping the Iraqis help themselves. Although I miss him terribly, I couldn’t be prouder of him.

  4. Trevor

    I’d go again. If my wife would let me.

    What we’re trying to do it important. The Iraqis wouldn’t be able to pull it off alone. You can’t grow in a closed environment, which is what they had under Saddam.

  5. Caelestis

    Yes I’ll go again, you captured it completely and I think I’ll blog about this today since I am now home.

  6. armynurseboy

    Yes, I’d go back. The mission is not complete.

    Now for the selfish part: I don’t think I want to go back just this minute. The timing isn’t quite right. As a career officer, I have to accomplish certain things at specific career gates if I hope to get promoted. Right now, graduate school is the biggie and I can’t keep putting it off. But if we are still over there after I get done in 2 years, send me over.

  7. The Pontiff

    Ha! I like what Nurseboy said. Although the Army has always rubbed me the wrong way a little bit (or maybe its the other way around?) I did love hanging out with all you guys and not having to deal with anything but our stuff. You know what I mean Delobi? For instance, last night, I just wanted to play FF9 and chew some tobacco. Sounds like a great idea for Tuesday night in Camp Liberty, so why not back in Blaine, MN, the land of freedom and opportunity? Because here in the normal time stream that we almost forgot about over the 20 some months we were away, there awaits the huge anchor of your life. By that I mean your wife or girlfriend or significant other has to be taken into account, you have a family to think of, you have friends who live relatively large distances away, and all this stuff that we call our lives becomes the upkeep. So last night I went to BlaineBrook to go bowling with my girlfriend. I lost…twice. I know I wouldn’t have lost in Final Fantasy IX on a Tuesday night in Baghdad in trailer 261-C with Delobi or the other guys ribbing me for various bullshit.

  8. WifeMomVeteran

    Thanks. You completely put how I have been feeling into words. Everything here seems superficial and not real, some days. I am not back to work yet but I am sure that will be a challenge as well. I did throughly enjoy Fall and took alot of time to notice the leaves and truly appreciate our state and nation. I do appreciate my time alone now alot more than prior to my time in Iraq. Thanks for the great entry.

  9. Mr Bob

    You guys (and gals) are awesome, the best America has created, thank you.
    I am in the Navy Reserves myself, I have not been deployed (to the sandbox that is) but I would go, but there’s a similar thread here…If I volunteered I’d be “dead sailor murdered by wife.” They asked for volunteers just last weekend.
    There is something about being in the service, deployed, on a mission that fulfills a need to do something and be a part of the big picture..sometimes it doesn’t seem worth it when you are putting up with the BS of beurocracy, but when you are actually doing the work, in close quarters there is something great about it, I can’t explain it as well as you did.

  10. sissyblue

    WOW, you all are so amazing. I can’t begin to tell you how much you are admired by your fellow Americans. I think it must be particularly hard for the reserves and NG though, putting the other life on hold for 18 months. Thanks you all for your service and God bless you.

  11. Alec

    To follow the trend, I would go back if I was single. I think I would go back for the soldiers. There are a ton of things I regret and would do differently. You are absoulutely right about the chaos of the real world. I couldn’t go to the grocery store for the first week. It was too overwhelming. I have a question for you all support folks. Do you ever feel like you did not do yur part because you never got in any real action? I have been talking with some Viet Nam vets, and sometimes I feel like my service was less compared to them. They of course say it doesn’t matter, but I cannot comprehend what they went through.

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