29 April 2018 – Looking back 20 years
Today I am on a ship, sailing to Halifax. Civilian ship, lovely surroundings, great food, good friends.
Contrast that to 20 years ago. My location was Blue Factory, MND-N, Bosnia. This mailing list had been functioning for about three weeks. My purpose, not well articulated, was to keep in touch with those outside of the theater. As it turned out, it also served to provide a glimpse into deployed military life to family and friends. Most of whom had had little to no contact with the military. The list also served as my chronicle of ongoing life in the middle of an armed camp in the remains of a severely damaged country. No, it wasn’t quite bombed back to the stone age, but not for lack of trying. The absolute devastation weighed heavily on me. The visible proof that neighbors could turn on those living next door, often for decades.
The closest anyone had to social media in 1998 was various ListServes which mostly ran on various university computers. A response to the list was distributed back out to the entire list. About the only control the user had over the list was to set parameters for individual or daily delivery of the list. There were also the USENET discussion groups. Access to any of the above depended on at least a modicum of computer literacy, access at work or home plus a [rather noisy] dial up modem. Obviously, having a personal computer in 1998 was much more likely that it was in the early 1980s, but still not ubiquitous.
My notes were basically a record of daily life, the operation of my task force, and asides about anything thing else that caught my fancy. 20 years ago – it was about cows. I would include the whole note, but that idea leaves me shuddering. Email for me at the time was an in-line ASCII text editor. Cut and paste was marginal. As a result, spelling, grammar, and frankly more often than not, coherency took a bit of effort on the readers part.
Living in a deployed environment, my life was constrained by Task Force Eagle requirements and the practicalities of military procedures. To travel off Blue Factory all rules and forms had to be observed. The nicest, of course, was to hitch a ride with one of my MEDEVAC crews. Flying was always a pleasure, quicker and more comfortable that the other options. To travel by ground with US forces, whether my own or other’s required a convoy of 2-4 vehicles, full battle rattle (flak vest, load bearing equipment, helmets, weapons loaded) vehicles and constant reporting of location. There were also buses which traveled between the bases on quasi regular routes ( 2 ½ hours to Eagle base, 45 minute return) which enabled more efficient use of personnel. The final travel option was to hitch rides with various allies in which case their travel rules applied. The best option for me/my personnel was traveling with NordPol Brigade who went everywhere in single vehicles.
Leaving aside a recitation of meetings, email and exercise, which involved the daily operations of a medical task force (hospital, dental, public health, vet, ground and air evac, med support company, mental health) related to patient treatment, transfer and flow through and out of theater we were still in the process of settling in. The previous hospital and commander had been well respected, the task force? Not so much.
“ We put some pax on a Norwegian vehicle going north. I had lab and pharmacy soldiers who needed/wanted to get to Slav Brod. This was both an assistance visit and a “check out the new facilities trip.” The Nords were meeting some vehicles returning from Hungary . My soldier who just returned had a great time on the trip. He said the country is beautiful in spite of the destruction. Riding in one of the Norwegian small trucks was also a good deal from his point of view.
Meanwhile, I rode in a convoy over to Tuzla Main in response to a personal invitation to fa remembrance service. With what turned out to be a non-infrequent occurrence, the information provided wasn’t completely accurate. The date on the poster didn’t match that of the email which also didn’t match the phone verification call or reality. Arriving – oops, tomorrow. I am not going to be going back tomorrow. I have a meeting at the Ministry of Health to attend.
Heading back before dark (two vehicles rather than four) – there were cows. One set of three adults and three yearlings that certainly looked like Holsteins. A bit further on, another three adults calmly walking single file down the side of the road like they knew where they were going. This small herd looked to be a cross between a Guernsey and a Holstein in brown; no visible black but weird white and brown splotches. The cows were alone; I hoped they were headed home.”
Yugoslavia had been the producer of land mines for the Soviet Union. Their production had been extensive which lead to the obvious use of everything from anti-personnel “toe poppers” to huge anti-tank mines during the time frame following the breakup of the country. I guess it is use the tools on hand. The result for both peacekeeping and peacemaking forces was the necessity of staying on roads. Often, cows inadvertently wound up serving as landmine detectors. If a field was strewn with cows, the chances were good that there were [no longer] landmines in that field. Cows walking along the roads? Stay on the path if you please.
Today, I am looking out the front of the observation lounge into more white mists. There is blue sky visible above. I am not wearing body armor, a helmet or carrying a loaded weapon. I might miss the responsibility and feelings of contribution to larger purpose. But I don’t miss the weight of the gear or unreasonable rules which at times served to impede mission and block progress. I am comfortable in a multi-cultural, multi-language environment in a way that many other passengers are not. Ship rules don’t bother me. I understand the need. Stupid people irritate me, but that is nothing new. Those who relocate themselves from cabin to lounge and proceed to snore, or seem to think that the entire ship is their personal underwear/bathrobe space. The seas aren’t all that rough and we actually were able to finally see the waves this evening.
Now, if the food had been this good on my deployments ……
Very much enjoyed reading about your military life.
Do I detect a hint of something I’ve often read about?
Many people who deploy to a combat zone report feeling more alive there. Despite the danger and hardships, they’re caught up in the intensity, the sense of purpose and the camaraderie.
When they return, they enjoy living comfortably and safely with friends and family. But soon it’s starts to feel dull.
Actually, less alive. More isolated as far as families. Close knit units do better. But saying that people feel “alive” begs the question. Boredom interspersed with times of complete terror? And, there is a lot of questioning of purpose. The blind following of directions is long since gone. What happens when people get home is that adjustment is hard to extremely hard. They will never get back that portion of family life they missed. The world moved on without them. And they don’t quite fit.
On my side of the fence, we spend a lot of time preparing people for the upcoming changes and working with anyone facing challenges when they get home.
Sleep disorders are a fact of life. PTSD is real. But just being deployed changes every very. Sometimes, but not always, for the better.