On my first deployment to Iraq I met many people like me. Like me, they volunteered as a reservist to fight for their country in a war they didn’t really understand. In actual fact, like me, they were just running away from their problems at home, hoping the problems would disappear.
Almost 9 years ago I was driving the 4 hour journey back from my weekend of reservist training when two cars crashed and flipped several cars in front of me. I didn’t see the crash, but I sat for two hours waiting for the emergency services to do their thing, and All I could think about was how that could have easily been me. I could die just driving on these roads-any day. So why not join my squadron in Iraq? Why not volunteer to deploy to Iraq? I had more chance of dying here on the UK roads than being killed as a logistician in Iraq. So the next day I emailed my unit to tell them I wanted to deploy. 2 weeks later I left my safe analyst government job and was heading into my pre-deployment training.
It wasn’t just the car accident that prompted me to deploy. A couple of months prior Chris had dumped me. We hadn’t been dating for too long, but I was gutted. It was a complicated time in my life. I also had graduate loans to pay, a new apartment I recently bought with my ex that I could just scrape by to pay for. Quite frankly, I’d had enough of men. I was single, I needed time away to figure stuff out and I could do with the money.
And during my tour I met many others like me. Particularly those who were recently single. I can tell you from experience that the problems from back home never go away. And for some, going back to any sense of normality after a tour in Iraq would never be possible.
As a logistician by trade I knew I would be on base, nice and safe. Well that’s what I told my family anyway. But it wasn’t until after I volunteered to deploy that I discovered that the bases were being bombarded by lethal rocket attacks on a daily basis. The news never covered the truth of these attacks or the number of people being sent home injured. I quickly found out as one of my jobs was helping plan medevac flights out of Iraq back to the UK. The flights were frequently full and sometimes people would have to wait a few days longer to return to the UK than ideally desired.
At the worst of it, the rocket attacks would be 4-5 times in a 24 hour period. They would attack at 11pm just as I was falling asleep. I’d roll out of bed get under my bed on the floor and throw my body armor and helmet on. 20 minutes later the all clear alarm would go off and I’d climb back into bed. Then again 2 hours later, the incoming rocket alarm would go off and I’d roll out of bed onto the floor in a hazy state. Sometimes, I’d fall asleep under the bed waiting for the all clear. I set up a second bed under my bed for those mid-night rocket attacks.
After several weeks of this I stopped automatically rolling out of bed, and I lay there as I heard the rockets land in the distance, calculating whether or not it was worth getting out of bed for. Which was ridiculous because a rocket could land anywhere, anytime. It was exhausting. The enemy sure knew how to mess with our heads.
It was only towards the end of my deployment that they decided to build Kevlar bunker beds for everyone to sleep in. Basically we called it the metal coffin. A mattress on the floor with bricks built up all around it, sheets of Kevlar metal on top to create a roof, a door to crawl into the bed space and something like 60 sandbags on top of the metal roof. Yes, this seemingly overkill ‘coffin’ did actually save lives and even someone has been known to survive a direct hit from a rocket sleeping in this thing.
Anyway, why am I telling you this story? Well it is 2AM here in Virginia, I can’t sleep because my belly is swollen from ovaries full of growing follicles and we are in the midst of a storm. I am wide awake because all I can think of is the huge pine tree that is swaying and groaning in the winds outside our bedroom window. And it’s the irony of surviving all those rocket attacks in Iraq that I will be squished to death by a tree whilst I sleep in my bed.
Messed up, isn’t it???