As of today, my team members and I have worked 114 days consecutively with the exception of one team member who was SIQ (Sick in Quarters) a few days on doctor’s orders due to a respiratory infection. Otherwise, we have each come into the office everyday.
I have calculated that during this period I have delivered over thousand emergency messages, and except for about a hundred birth messages, they were announcements of a death or illness. One day last week, the first message I opened when my shift started contained the news that a serviceman’s wife died in a car accident in the States. The soldier’s unit headquarters is just across the street from our office. That message seemed to hit close. The serviceman’s first sergeant came over and we gave him a phone card and a voucher good at the PX so the soldier could buy civilian clothes to wear home.
Debby passed a message from a nurse in an ICU requesting that a serviceman call the hospital as soon as possible to speak with his father. The father was terminal and not likely to live long enough for the serviceman to return.
I am not sure it is result of working so many days consecutively, or if it is the cumulative impact of the messages we pass, but our spirits have been low the last two weeks. We anticipated being especially cheerful at this point since we are in the last month of our deployment, but somehow we seem to be a little anxious and restless.
Since I usually find solace in music, one night after work I listened to some of my favorite pieces on my MP3 player. Midway through “Für Elise,” a plane flew close overhead, the buzz and vibration cut through the delicate piano melody, shaking my CHU . I wondered how often sounds of war have interrupted Beethoven’s music.
Valentine’s Day on COB Speicher was a bit anti-climatic. Debby decorated the hallway and our canteen which provides a respite, coffee, and phone lines for service members to call home. When the day arrived, however, the weather was bleak. It had rained heavily the night before. As dusk approached, fog gathered, and a small sand storm ensued. It was a gloomy evening with sand and fog hanging in the air. Further, free phone calls home were offered on the MWR upstairs but due to the high volume, or some other system anomaly, the computers went down.
I’m sure we will rebound, and I know many people have worked seven days a week for longer stretches than ours, but I am seeing some purpose to resting on the seventh day and look forward to doing so again in the near future. I won’t take it for granted.
Addendum: I have been unable to post this entry for over a week due to a continued computer outage in the MWR upstairs, which provides the only access to my blog website. In the interim, the base in Baghdad sustained a significant mortar attack, causing our colleagues there to take cover. Five people died and sixteen were wounded, providing a somber reminder of where we are.