Another Day in Paradise
The Misguided Nostalgia of Post-Deployment Life
There’s no feeling quite like the sensation of a contract airliner accelerating down the runway on a departure flight from Kuwait City. As the plane gains altitude, the emotions of an entire deployment seem to come to the surface and slowly blow out the business end of the turbines propelling you to 30,000 feet. Freedom. There’s nothing like it in the world.
Eventually, the sense of freedom begins to fade, only to be replaced with one more closely resembling nostalgia. You’re leaving behind battle buddies, a place you called “home” for a year (or more), and the tremendous sense of camaraderie that forms under conditions of intense stress. You’re leaving behind a Band of Brothers (and Sisters) with whom you shared the best of times, and the worst of times. You’re leaving behind a piece of your life.
Wait, what? How can you feel nostalgic after a tour of greeting people with pithy remarks such as “Another day in Paradise!”, “Embrace the suck!”, or “Just livin’ the dream!” The person who said “hindsight is 20/20" clearly never deployed into a combat zone. Because clear hindsight would probably stifle those feelings of nostalgia that cloud our thinking and convince us that life was somehow better “in the fight.”
Don’t get me wrong. I’m as nostalgic as the next person in uniform. There are days — a lot of them, as a matter of fact—that returning to combat appeals to me. Days when I utter those fateful words “I’d rather be shot at than sit through another one of these meetings.” Days when I remember fondly some KBR entree and wish for a fleeting moment that I was deployed.
Then reality sets in. And I remember a little more clearly.
I keep a lot of “Top Ten” lists handy, and this issue is no exception. They help me to “get my head right” when it goes off on a mental tangent. And when I start to smile and think of the great days of deployments gone by, I take it out. And read it back slowly.
The Burn Pit. Specifically, the odor of things that weren’t meant to be burned. Human waste, garbage, wild dogs, office chairs, computers, tires, live ammunition. You get the drift (pun intended).
The Electronic Ayatollah. I used to joke that the sound of the other “big voice” was a recording of some poor bastard with his testicles caught in a vice. Except that it probably isn’t really a joke. And every time I heard it, the mental image made me cringe.
Reflective Belts. What’s the use of wearing camouflage if you’re going to wear a highly reflective piece of equipment? Doesn’t it defeat the purpose of camouflage? Frankly, my idea of battlefield safety is not getting killed. And that includes providing handy target reference points to people with bad intentions. C’mon, people.
Ali Al Salem Airbase. If there was ever a Purgatory on Earth, it was Ali Al Salem. Whether you were coming or going, it was the place where life lingered on the precipice of reality. FOB zombies roaming the gravel grounds at night, the obscene graffiti on the walls of the male latrine, or the tormented permanent residents of the complex who knew neither combat nor home.
Water Bottles. It wasn’t the water bottles that bothered me, it was the contents. Randomly strewn about, filled with bodily fluids meant to be disposed of in a different manner. And all of them ended up in the burn pit.
Dust, Dirt, and Sand. Everywhere. In your boots, in your hair, in your eyes, in your ears, in your underoos. Everywhere. In your weapon, in your bedding, in your food. And every bit of it infused with centuries of refuse, not to mention the remains of whatever was thrown in the burn pit. There’s a reason why I’ve had a cold since 1990. And it only clears up when I inhale a fresh dose of dust, dirt, and sand.
That sick feeling you get when you realize you don’t have your weapon. During the Gulf War, I somehow managed to come down with dysentery (the by-product of eating vegetables from the local economy that had been fertilized by “Shit Sucker 6"), and spent much of the first 24 hours on a wooden toilet seat. During one trip late at night, I heard a dull splash, and only realized as I stood that the source of the sound was my 9mm Beretta. The one that wasn’t attached to a lanyard. The one that was at the bottom of a barrel filled with—you guessed it—human waste. The one I had to fish out with a piece of wire and clean.
The Garrison Mentality. Deployment into a combat zone is about fighting and winning, surviving against all odds, courage in the face of danger. It’s not about painting rocks, parades, reflective belts, or any other of the myriad dog-and-pony shows that litter the modern field of battle. There’s a strong part of me that believes that the calls for “getting back to the basics” were the loudest from leaders who didn’t understand the difference between the conditions of combat and garrison.
The CONUS Replacement Center. My personal experience with CRC can be summed up in a single event: an Army lieutenant colonel standing in front of a formation in flip-flops, ACU pants, and non-issue t-shirt (no headgear), screaming at the top of his voice about maintaining standards. After that, it was all white noise.
Loud Pidgin English. They’re the host nation. They’re not deaf, they’re not mentally challenged. Make it easy on everyone and use your interpreter.
Nope, don’t miss it at all.