Monday, December 03, 2007

Photo Story Monday - Peace Out

On August 4, 2004, I turned my back on my family. They dropped me off at a hotel in Dallas so I could begin my Army career. As I walked toward the door, my dad said to me, "You're a man now, Alex." They didn't see that as I checked in, I had tears in my eyes. I had a few jobs before then, but it would be the first time leaving home. Needless to say, my environment was going to change a little.

I signed up for three years and sixteen weeks. The sixteen weeks accounted for basic training and infantry school. The three year countdown started when I graduated on November 24, 2004. I got my orders to go to Ft. Lewis, Washington to be in the "Stryker brigade." Well, what in the hell was a Stryker?

Pulling into Seattle for the first time, I was a little startled. I never saw trees so green and water so blue. I figured I'd like this place.

It took only a few months to find out the Army wasn't for me. I was among a group of new guys that was integrated into a unit that had just gotten back from Iraq. That meant hazing, and a lot of it! Since we hadn't been to Iraq, they had a free pass to do whatever they wanted. They laughed and joked while we crawled down hallways with our faces dragging on the floor, grinding the dirt and dust that came off our boots. I made it a point to stay in my room, even abstaining from using the bathroom.

It was from this treatment that the new guys formed a bond that we would carry throughout the years. Some moved up in the ranks and became one of 'those guys,' others couldn't get past the paradoxical Army life.

To kill time during that first year, we would go out into a field and lay down white tape on the grass to simulate rooms of a building. They would show us how to clear a room and then have us try. Finishing up for the day, one of them said to me, "By the way, that isn't how we clear houses in Iraq, at all."
"Then why don't we train in the real way?" I asked. "Isn't this just a waste of time?"
"Shut the fuck up."

For those of us who couldn't stop ourselves from asking the ever important "Why?", we counted the days until we fulfilled our obligation, resisting the calls to reenlist before, during and after our tour in Iraq. Some fell for the not so subtle coercion and blackmail, sadly. The rest banded together to wait it out.

Dirty mofos

Personifying 'Army of Dude': Long hair and hands in the pockets. From left to right: Steve, Dozer and me in Yakima, 2005

Everyone has heard the saying that war is boring with short bursts of intensity. Imagine how exciting it is to train for one! Making two trips to eastern Washington, we would find out. There were a few intense, realistic missions spread out among two weeks of freezing weather and sitting around.


Attention taxpayers: This is how we spend your money. Ta da!

It was in these moments that made all the unbearable times a little easier to take. Inside jokes were born. Arguments and debates went on without end. Friendships flourished. We were together all the time in cramped quarters, getting to know each other better than our own friends and families back home. Our speech patterns and slang words were interchangeable. We'd be going to Iraq as a family.

Before the loss of innocence. Kuwait 2006

More of those boring moments crept up throughout the deployment with a certain element of danger. We'd stay at an outpost for a couple days at a time away from decent bathrooms, internet and phones. We'd complain the whole time but managed to keep up the jokes and friendly arguments. Chessboards would come out and crowds formed around heated matches.

Our platoon once drew a mission to escort some guys north of Mosul to an open desert. They would be looking in abandoned bunkers for signs of WMDs and weapons material. After a while we decided to get out and walk up a hill overlooking a village in the distance. Realizing we were dozens of miles from anyone important, we took off our helmets.

How high

Dudes on break from left to right: Me, Dozer, Matt and Jesse

The rest of the deployment after Mosul wasn't all fun and posing. In Baghdad and Baqubah, our men lost limbs and minds. Chevy was killed in March, and Jesse (pictured above) was killed in April by a sniper. We spent days shoved into tiny rooms of the outposts we created, carrying on the friendships we had left.

On September 12, 2007, Bravo company returned to the states without two of our own. The guys getting out by the end of November would start the process of paperwork and mandatory briefs. As always, we did this together. On November 30, we would say our final goodbyes.

I spent three years, three months and twenty five days in the Army. I saw the best and the worst of the men this country has to offer. I have seen and experienced every extreme of the human condition. I saw and did things I'm proud of, and other things I would only tell the guys I was with. Fifty years of life experience were crammed into 173 weeks.

I'm often asked if I would ever do it again with the hindsight I have now. I would, only for the people I've met. The other parts of Army life made me leave. I'm just another vet now, full of memories and a shorter temper. However you take the contents of this blog, I'm satisfied with how my short career went down. I just miss my friends, alive and dead.



Anonymous said...

Alex~ Ive been back home for a little over 3 days, what a change of pace!! I still wake up early, but now because of the change in lifestyles of my friends, i usually sit at home and either: a) look at pictures of Iraq or b) read your blogs and relive everything that we had done. I dont miss the Army at all, but i do miss my friends. I hope if anyone else from the platoon is reading this, they know i think about them. I hope you and Laur-en are doing well and Im looking forward to meeting up again.

Unknown said...

A fitting coda to your life in the Army, but only a middle chapter in your story with much still to be told.

Looking at the shot of the two soldiers deep in concentration inside the Stryker, I was reminded of the similar tech manuals we used to study in the Navy.



The Minstrel Boy said...

beautifully said dude.

Anonymous said...

As a fellow vet (albeit one from the 1991 Iraq War), I have to agree with you on a number of points.
It's a bit of a letdown when you realize that the Army isn't for you. That doesn't make the decision to join a bad one of course; life lessons are priceless.
Hang in there and many congrats on ETS-ing.

TFLS said...

Wonderfully moving article, Alex. I’m curious about something - what does your family think of your blog? Do they read about what you have experienced and how you feel about it all? You mentioned your father's reaction to your joining up. What does he think now? Has he read this? More people should be exposed to what life is really like during war. May your blog find a wider audience, my friend.

Anonymous said...


I'm guessing that you're writing from the comfort of home, and so, congratulations. Thanks for sharing yourself as you have done; you have a good eye for detail and a fine way with words. I am happy that I was able to be part of your Army family for a little while, and I wish you the best of luck in your next adventure.

-2LT Mike Hoffman

Unknown said...

The words you write, the manner in which you write, the pictures... AMAZING! Your feelings and honesty are refreshing. Thank you for all of it, and for every single second you served this great land of ours!

lutton said...

Thank you, Alex.

I hope this won't be the last we hear of you.

Long-time RN said...

Most enjoyable posts, thanks for letting the civilian world see and hear parts of the military experience. Hope transition is smooth and life is good.
Cathy B

Anonymous said...

Good story and yeah I'm thinking of you guys too. But im still in gay azz WA i'll be going home soon. Oh yeah you think u were slick leaving a D bag of bs ta-50 in my car mert well i put it in Strats room, sucka. Peace.

SUEB0B said...

Thanks for your stories and your photos. Both are just great.

slag said...

Interesting comment about speech patterns and slang. It's amazing to think about what we subconsciously absorb from those around us.

Oh--and we try to keep the wonder that is Seattle on the QT. It rains ALL the time here. Trust me.

debkakes said...

Mr. Dude, glad you are out and intact. The world needs you. Keep writing! And keep fighting the good fight for truth and transparency with a huge dash of sly humor.

meg2414 said...

Thanks for sharing!

Misty Fowler said...

Thanks for this blog. It's not always easy to read, but it is one of my favorite blogs. It means a lot.

unhappycamper said...

Same shit, different war.

You'll be fighting this occupation/war with fellow veterans for the rest of your life.

Viet Nam, Korea, and WW II vets are currently engaged in a 'dialog' about their wars.


Unknown said...

Hands in your pockets! I love it. I miss my friends too. I have been out for a few years and I have come to think I will never have friends like I did when I was in. I will become Red Forman from that 70's show. My wife says I am on my way.

A little advice. Keep your contacts up. It is too easy to loose track of people. Get there parents, sisters, or brothers address just in case.

The Army sucks, But I would do it again too.

Carry on brother

Anonymous said...

I think of you guys all the time. I was just outside and started thinking about the most random things we used to do. Your quick quips about Menough, Mert flipping out for small reasons, Seth being a piece of crap..... The good times.

Marmoset said...

Great post, but I hope you are working on a more detailed account.. like, say.. a book. I realized the army really wasn't for me on the first day at reception station, but I kept reenlisting like a jackass for many years to come. I am very grateful that I retired before this madness got started, but still feel a tinge of guilt every time I read about what you guys went through.

Must admit I am shocked by the brutal hazing... sounds more like the Russian army than what I experienced. Must be what comes from long, drawn out brutal wars.

Keep writing, Dude!

Anonymous said...

The shot of the guys against the sunrise/sunset is great! I love that someone has raised his arm as tho to grab our attention.

You have such a great eye for photography, I hope to find that you've included it in your education when I reach the end of this blog.

BTW: I spent 12 hrs on this couch yesterday reading and commenting - tho I don't know why I leave comments because this is history for you and I'd be surprised to hear you go this far back to check on comments...

So, here I am again. I can't stop until I get caught up with you. I REALLY needed to go to the grocery yesterday but I figure the pets can eat canned chicken for a day, tho its a dangerous precedent to set :-)