Meet: John Doe

JD was stationed in Iraq from August 2010 to June 2011 as an intelligence analyst for the U.S. Army.

I compiled information on certain terror networks. We were trying to put a puzzle together, trying to wrap our heads around who was who and who was doing what. We got info from various sources. People talk, and it’s a good way to get information. Especially when they’re compensated.

A US Marine base in Iraq

There were no days off. I worked a minimum of 12 hours a shift starting in the late afternoon. Dusk ‘til dawn. New information was always coming in, every day. Whether the info had value depended. We had to make decisions and notify the right people and ask them what they wanted to do–React? Let it play out?

Unfortunately, I’m limited in what I can tell you. Everybody we went after, we went after for a specific reason. We weren’t going to waste resources. There were numerous times we knew things they had just done. It might have been their involvement in the death of a U.S. soldier. In those particular cases, it’s a bit more personal. Going after the person who pulled the trigger in a sniper attack, or the guys who built the vest bomb that was used to kill soldiers at a checkpoint…it doesn’t change the mission, but to say it’s not personal would be lying.

We had constant radio and visual communication with the soldiers out on a mission based on information we’d supplied them. We learned a lot early on in the war in terms of taking care of our soldiers, absolutely ensuring that nobody gets left behind, learning how to fight an urban war. We got pretty good at it. All I can say is, drones are invaluable.

A lot of the policies and restrictions that came up were because of civilian casualties, whether during a drone attack or a firefight. You’re there to accomplish a mission; it doesn’t help to have your hands tied but at the same time, you don’t want to shoot first and ask questions later.

We weren’t allowed to go off post very much, just a few times. There were bazaars where local people came on base to sell products—trinkets, bootlegged DVDs. We had interaction with a lot of the police force and Iraqi army. They wanted things to be just as peaceful as we did. I think a lot of people have a misconception that so many over there are fanatical and that just isn’t the case. These are people just like us. They get up in the morning and go to work. And they want a decent life.

Some soldiers, marines, and sailors went over there 5-6 times. It was like a second home for them. They developed relationships. A lot of trust built up between the US and Iraqi people.

I didn’t disagree with anything we did over there. The way in which the military was operating at the tail end of Operation Iraqi Freedom was geared toward being absolutely legal. It was not the Wild West. There were protocols and procedures. Absolutely.

There were times I was frustrated – you think about terrorists. These are just bad people who need to be stopped. A lot of people, myself included, want to get rid of them by any means necessary. The protocols can be frustrating. Someone can be right there, you know they did something, but just like in the States, for some reason you can’t touch them.

Not to say there wasn’t corruption going on. Suspected terrorists were caught, turned over to Iraqi authorities, and all of a sudden they were seen out in town in a day or two. It wasn’t a common occurrence, but it definitely happened.

We did the best we could with what we had and the Iraqis were doing the same. There have been bombings and attacks since we left and, with us being gone, it’s primarily Iraqi on Iraqi, but that was going on between the Shiites and Sunnis before we left. Been going on forever. Afghanistan is gonna be a lot rougher once we’re gone. I’m not nearly as optimistic about Afghanistan as I am for Iraq.

Ryan

“He served in Iraq. Three years.” The pudgy man pointed to his friend next to him, and the friend nodded over his beer.

“Cheers,” she said, and clinked bottles with him. A subtle motion, completely ineffectual.

The pudgy man continued talking to her, as if the veteran wasn’t there. “He has…what do you call it? PTD?”

“PTSD?”

“Yeah, that’s it. So we take him out once in awhile, get him drunk. Try to help take his mind off it.”

She looked at the veteran and he smiled. “You could try something else,” she said to the pudgy man. “For your friend.”

He might have heard this before, and raised his eyebrows. “Like talk to him?”

“Yeah.”

“He doesn’t talk.”

She looked back to the veteran and noticed he was popping his jaw side to side, over and over. Probably coke, or maybe ecstasy.

“I wouldn’t mind helping other vets,” he said. “I’d like to get involved in something like that. If there was a program. But I don’t want to talk about me.”

“I suppose helping other vets could help you as well.”

He shrugged. “Lots of things happen in three years. I lived it. I don’t want to talk about it. I’d rather…” He made a motion with his hands of pushing down from his chest to his stomach. “I just can’t think about it anymore. I’m here. I don’t want to think about there.”

“But maybe if you talked about it, it would leave you. At least a little. Bit by bit would leave you.”

She knew she was naïve, and probably sounded ridiculous. That the problem was too big for a conversation with a stranger over a beer. But her only other choice was to not say anything, and she couldn’t do that.

His chin rested on his chest for a moment, then he wiped at his eye with his thumb. His jaw popped.

He nodded at her beer. “You alright? I’m gonna get another.”

When he left with his friend, another man approached. “That guy’s a druggie,” he said. “I saw him here last week all coked up. Watch out.”

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A Veteran’s Post

 NEW YORK 

I’m here for a writers conference, as is my friend R.Y. Swint. She is a veteran of Afghanistan. In honor of the upcoming Memorial Day weekend, and of her, I’d like to share a bit of her writing–one of my favorites.

So many events of this past year have taught me that the simple things deserve appreciation more than most others. A good box of Kleenex and some Vicks salve (VapoRub, for you uppity folks)  works wonders for my disposition, even though I’m a little under the weather.  Has me looking forward to my next sneeze as I listen to music from my childhood on YouTube or my iPod.  I hear bits and pieces of my life set to music, as so many people pass through, some fleeting, some lingering.

The Kleenex treat me like the cool side of the pillow.  The Vicks comforts me like my grandmother’s hands.  The music plays a soundtrack to a life I’d forgotten how to love.

Current plans have me attending the funeral of a fallen comrade and the wedding of a dear friend in the same weekend.  And such is how life goes.  And as life goes, I find that I’m moving along with it, but only making motions.  Watching it more than living it.  Observing, listening, appreciating, respecting it, but yet to revisit it.  Life.  As it goes.

A friend suggests that I might be exhibiting subtle symptoms of PTSD, but I doubt it.  It’s natural for folks to worry.  I wish they wouldn’t.  The monsters don’t come for me every night.  Something about the music seems to keep them at bay.

Post deployment indeed has me hovering between perpetual states of mourning and celebration.  It’s true that my patience is shorter.  My threshold for bullshit is even lower.  Self-control is a thin, yet deceptive enough veil over crazy.  Grief strikes me at the oddest moments.  Tears and dread and angst almost always follow.  For life lost, life wasted, lives forced into destinies of struggle and turmoil, and for others who will choose to walk the most difficult, misguided, and ill-advised of paths.  And then I smile or laugh in remembrance or anticipation.  Or appreciation.

My bathroom is two, maybe three feet away from my bed.  My bed is soft and warm.  The water in my shower is hot.  I just bought new shoes that I have absolutely no plans to wear any time soon.  And I no longer write with a rifle on my lap.  Simple things.

 *Originally posted on Swint’s blog, Write on Time.