Shortly after five every morning when it is still dark, I hear automatic weapons rattle across the base from a firing range somewhere. I am amazed at how accustomed I’ve become to hearing that tat-tat-tat as I sit in bed reading, waiting to feel drowsy enough to sleep after my shift. If it doesn’t begin at the usual time, I find myself checking the clock, wondering why it hasn’t started.
We no longer count the remaining time of our deployment in months or weeks. Only days remain. Our replacement team members have finished training and briefings in Washington DC . They have been “processed” at Ft Benning like we were, and their circuitous journey to Iraq has begun.
As our deployment comes to an end, I am beginning to ponder resuming life at home and making the transition to a civilian world. In addition to anticipating being back with my family, friends, and pets again, I won’t have to worry about keeping my pant legs tucked in my boots, — an almost constant preoccupation of mine for the last four and a half months — or wearing my cover (cap) everywhere outside, or showing identification every time I go in a store or dining hall (known in other parts of the world as restaurants).
My vocabulary is now saturated with phrases like “Roger that” and “Ready to copy?” I use the military alphabet: alpha, bravo, Charlie, delta, echo, foxtrot . . .” and military time: “Let’s eat chow at zero seven hundred hours.” I am going to sound like a character in the Doonesbury comic strip if I keep talking like this.
My daily routine has become deeply embedded in my life. Everyday for 135 days I have done the same tasks, in the same order. What will life be like when I wake up in the morning back home and have to decide what to wear and what to do first? Even the thought of going grocery shopping is intimidating. It felt chaotic to me before I left; now it will seem insane.
We don’t drive over 30 miles an hour on this COB. How will it feel to drive 55 miles per hour again in roads with multiple lanes? Street lights illuminating roads at night will seem dazzling in comparison to our darkened routes on base.
I have learned a lot about the military, our presence in Iraq , and myself during this deployment. I am tempted to try to draw conclusions about how the daily ritual has kept me focused on our mission or how being a conduit of news, usually bad, has made me more aware of the fragility and sacredness of our lives and the delicate webs that exist between parents and children, husbands and wives, grandparents and grandchildren.
I have some sense of what I have learned and the transformations I am experiencing, but more realistically, it will take time for me to fully comprehend the impact that this deployment has had on me.
As we wait for the new team and our departure begins, I do know I am thankful for the opportunity I have had to be here. It has been rewarding, challenging, and life changing in ways that will be revealed gradually over weeks and months in the future. I smile when I think about being able to tell my grandchildren in years to come that I was in Iraq with the Red Cross during the war.
I am especially grateful for the friends I’ve made with servicemen and women, and co-workers. We’ve shared a lot of ourselves, many frustrations (Remember the ship’s anchor that cut our Internet connections?!), and plenty of laughs. I’ve had an opportunity to work with people I hope to know for a long time to come, even though once we leave here, we’ll return to the Utah , Pennsylvania , Iowa , Tennessee , and other parts beyond we each call home.
It’s strange to think the vibrations from low flying helicopters and the rattle of automatic weapons in my life will soon be replaced with the sound of the March wind slapping through hackberry trees outside my house tucked in a corner of snowy Minnesota .