Battle Fatigue

We have hit the halfway mark of our deployment and all is well, although I must admit we are getting a little tired. After working sixty-seven consecutive days we are a bit weary. Computer problems continue to plague us. The computer program that we use to receive and send messages seems to require enough computer bandwidth to wrap around the earth twice. So the computers are always just various speeds of slow. At their slowest they kick us off. Repeatedly.

And the phones don’t work over here with absolute certainty. In the U.S. you pick up the phone in an office without considering the possibility that it won’t work. Many evenings I have to call and call and call a number before I can get it to go through.

And the military units move. I guess that’s what the military does. They roll out over and over. Units come into theater and units redeploy. Within their deployments, servicemen and women are assigned and reassigned to units. The whole place is in constant flux, and we are riding that tide, trying to find people when there is an emergency at home.

Usually it is pretty exciting and goes well, but when we hit a snag like the computer quits working, the phone line won’t go through, or we call about six numbers trying to find a soldier or marine, it can be grueling. During our training the instructors and supervisors kept telling us we would have to be patient. I didn’t realize they meant patience of the magnitude of Job’s. It is difficult to be patient when I have a message for about a ten year old boy who is going in for open heart surgery unexpectedly or a message about a wife who has given birth prematurely and the baby has just been air lifted to a neonatal unit.

All of this can make us a bit cranky and I hope our colleagues in the U.S. aren’t too offended when our epistles back to them are a tiny bit short when they send us a message we don’t quite understand and we reply, “What the –?”

The other evening, when I was just about at wit’s end, I went into our canteen to make a fresh pot of coffee for the soldiers waiting to use the phone. While I was there, a serviceman told me that he often sees me walking to work and has meant to stop and tell me thank you. He said he appreciates what we do and that we are out here with them. He said some the younger soldiers may not realize it yet, but it is very reassuring to know that if there is an emergency at home the Red Cross will find you. So, okay, I guess I can tolerate the slow computers and temperamental phones a little while longer. We do get the messages through, even if it does take longer sometimes. And they appreciate it.

The other part of our fatigue relates to the monotony of our surroundings. The MWR facilities try to have programs, dancing lessons, comedy contests and such, but our schedules don’t really allow us to partake of many of these events. The repetition of the same schedule of working, sleeping, showering, even reading and biking, day after day becomes a little tiring.

Not to be defeated, Julie and I varied our sleep schedules today and went shopping and sightseeing. We found postcards of Iraq at one of the bazaars on post. I bought a pair of inexpensive black wrap around sunglasses ostensibly so I can wear my contacts more often without getting dust in my eyes, but mostly I got them because I think they look cool on me! And sunglasses are one of the few fashion accessories allowed.

From there we stopped by one of the MP units on base and brought them Starbucks coffee that had been donated and some Red Cross coffee mugs. This is one of the units that goes outside that wire and trains the Iraqi police. It was interesting to talk with them about their mission and the encouraging progress they are seeing at the Iraqi police stations.

After that we drove to the south end of the base where a new Cinnabon shop opened. We sat in at one of their tables with coffee, a strawberry smoothie and two Cinnabons and pretended we were at home.

I realize I don’t battle anything more than the computers, phones, and monotony, and for that I am thankful. There is hope on the horizon.

The Commanding General on COB Speicher inadvertently asked my co-worker Debby how things are going, probably thinking she was going to say, “Fine, sir” in her polite Tennessee manner. But Debby, bless her heart, told him about our computer problems and next thing we knew there was a new computer with better access being installed in our office. Wonders never cease.