On a radio interview I did for Memorial Day, I had a hard time describing how I would spend it this year. Before I enlisted, Memorial Day seemed a convenient way to have a long weekend away from school. In my first year in the Army, it was spent sleeping in without having to do any PT. No push ups in the mushy Ft. Lewis grass for us that day.
A year ago, Memorial Day was spent in the confines of our small outpost on the east side of Baqubah. We had converted a two story house into a fortress deep within the city to keep close to the roads and buildings that concealed homemade bombs, waiting for us to wander helplessly into them. It was part of the surge strategy: total immersion in the communities we patrolled.
1/2 of Team Destructon talking to Omar
I don't know why I'm being dressed in the background
The outpost was a home away from home, one where we spent four days out of seven without plumbing, running water or relative safety. All that was found miles away at a huge forward base. We were on our own, two platoon's worth of scrawny, hungry, tired and irritable men heading into month twelve of the deployment. On the day we were supposed to be home, everyone gathered on cots on the second floor, shouting phrases like "fifth quarter, fuck yeah!" and "Overtime baby!". We were, as you can imagine, a little disappointed in June of 2007. We were supposed to be on American soil by then, sipping beers and laughing about the deployment and how cold Washington was. Instead we were chugging boiling water in between guard shifts and slapping mosquitoes off our necks in the Diyala River Valley.
We named the place COP (Combat Outpost) Battle, after our company motto of Battle Hard. It was here where routine almost started happening again, a schedule of patrols and raids that weren't too hard to follow. As I've tried to explain before, war is a time spent largely on your ass or on your feet, waiting for some guy in some office to tell some other guy what to do. COP Battle wasn't so much of a base as it was a lounge for second platoon. Sure, it didn't have furniture and we burned our own trash outside, but it was all we had for a couple months. A place you dreaded going to, but when you got there, you figured it was alright.
OK Kyle, here's a picture of you without a shirt. Can I have my $10 now?
Not too many places to cut hair in an abandoned city
How do I spend Memorial Day? Like any other. If the occasion is about somber reflection of the valorous dead, killed in battle, then every day is Memorial Day to me, and I imagine, to my friends. I cannot get through a day without thinking of Chevy or Jesse, without their images running through my head over and over, thinking about how they gave their lives in the most selfless way imaginable so that we may live through the war and carry their spirit home with us. It was easy at first to separate my time in Iraq from the present, here in civilian life in the states. Now it has become a constant battle not to be drawn back into that past, that reality left behind.
It's bafflingly difficult to explain the feeling of wanting to go back, but when you think of those times, like at COP Battle, it doesn't feel out of place. I remember watching bootleg DVDs of The O.C. in between patrols. In passing, people would ask "Is that the fucking O.C.?" in a disapproving voice, only to join in and become entranced. I remember the Iraqi Army stealing flip-flops and CD players from us, almost resulting in cross-culture fist fights. I remember standing on the roof in shorts and a t-shirt, trying to get cell phone reception on the shitty Iraqi service long enough to call Lauren. I remember the funniest thing I have ever seen in my life: a truckload of water and rations falling off a flatbed truck in an attempt to smoothly place it on the ground (see above for the aftermath).
Most of all, I remember the jokes and laughs heard throughout COP Battle, where the worst times of our life turned out to be pretty good. Where memories of Chevy and Jesse carried on every single day after their deaths, their sacrifices heavy in our hearts and in our minds. Memorial Day isn't so much about remembering the dead as it is remembering why they died for us, their brothers. It was to get us closer to home, if only by a few seconds, so that we may live.
How do I spend Memorial Day? By carrying on, like Chevy and Jesse wanted us to.