Monday, July 14, 2008

From Nation Building To Net Roots

It's a strange concept to me, being home ten months, yet I left for Iraq more than two years ago. To put that into perspective, I got on that big, beautiful plane as a clueless twenty year old. This week, I'll be turning 23.

These days, I have a less deadly (and therefore less exciting) job in a warehouse. A regular 9-5 until I wait for school to start. I was always a quiet guy, never really the kind to strike up a conversation with someone I didn't know well. Introverted as all get out.

Lately, I feel that personality trait rearing its head again. I thought it was gone; anyone from my platoon can tell you that I absolutely loved to debate anyone and anything with my partner in crime, Steve. We were an arguing force to be reckoned with, and I always carried a big voice when we discussed everything from capital punishment to evolution.

Now in the break room, civilian as hell, I can barely muster a hello or keep a conversation going. It's not shyness, it's a breakdown of understanding the culture I left and readjusting to it. While deployed, we knew society moved on without us. What we didn't realize is that it would keep going even after we got home, still without us.

The two dueling wars, fought by neighbor's cousins and friends from high school, have little to do with day to day life. When I tell someone where I was the past two years, they usually respond with "oh." They're either too embarrassed to ask about it or too bored at the prospect. Questions begin and end with, really, what was it like? I often give two descriptions: hot and shitty. There's no point in telling the truth, that for better and for worse, my time there changed me. There's no point in describing the feeling I get walking down the street in my run down neighborhood, a sinking uneasiness when I imagine the passing cars could explode. The same exact feeling when you hear a bullet whiz by you for the first time, coming close enough to ring your ears. No, I just tell them how stepping in human shit can really damper an afternoon stroll in Baghdad.





L to R: A rare picture of Chi's face, Dude, Jesse and Payday on our maiden voyage


Two years ago this week. I'm getting old.

My antics here and at Vet Voice got me a spot at the milblogging panel at Net Roots Nation this week. I don't know what I'll be discussing, but let's see if I can get over that whole 'not talking' thing. If you're attending, let me know and I'll tell you how to get around Austin (hint: don't get on I-35).

AH

21 comments:

Jeremy said...

I know what you're saying, dude. I started terminal leave right before Christmas. I was so excited to get home and not have to go back to Ft. Hood. The thing is, though, once I got back, the only person I could really talk to was my older brother who did two tours in Iraq. Even some of my old friends, some of whom I've known for 20 years, seemed out of touch. It's so hard to relate. There are so many people who tell you "thank you," but you don't want to hear it. So you just stop going out because you get sick of just sitting there trying to shut your head off. Then you see all those damn "I Support the Troops" magnets on cars. Sometimes I want to ask if it's true. Did you vote for Bush? If yes, then sorry, you don't support the troops. You know what I mean? Anyway, good luck on your transition. I don't know if anyone ever goes back to how they were before they got on that plane from Kuwait.

azmatsci said...

Dude, sounds like you need a hobby where you can be someone other than the Dude. Good luck in the fall.

olgreydog7 said...

Iraq is like a big time machine. It's just a year or more completly gone. Unless you have done it, you can't understand it. It's like another dimension or something. Austin kicks ass. Lots of treehugging hippies, but it's still the coolest town.

Cryptofreq said...

Don't lose your DD214!! You will need it to get back in the Army!!

Alex said...

Crypto:

It may sound like that, but I could never go through that bullshit again. Once was enough for me. The cons of going back in definitely outweigh the pros.

Anonymous said...

Dude, I'm retired from the Army and spent a year over there myself in 2003/4 (OIF-1). I know the feeling about everybody moving on, but my transition was fairly painless. I used to wake up from mortars exploding in my bedroom at home, and was a really angry person for about a year until I realized I wasn't "quite right". Talked with a doc, and he gave me some Lexapro. (mood stabilizer) Took it for about 6 months, and literally quit talking about the Army, and reading about it. I had to "move on" to get "over it". I'm all better now, and am the staunchest supporter of the Armed Forces you'll EVER find. Can't stand Bush/Cheney, but I love my brothers in arms, and can now read about it, and talk about it. Go talk to someone. Your outlook on life will change. You were exposed to shit they will never see. they can't begin to fathom it, so they don't want to talk about it. The civilians that do want to talk about it, and weren't there, are but dreamers. I don't blog, so just call me anonymous.

Mean Rachel said...

I'm going to listen to the Milblogging panel. Try to say something useful, will you?

Ronster said...

Got a chance to go check out the Netroots site, and uh, seems they lean a little left for my tastes. I'm all for individual preference in politics, until it gets to the absurd level of the KOS, or even some of the rants I see from that whiney nancy Brandon Friedman. I liked your posts when they said, "hey, this is what its like to go on patrol in hell", but I'll be the first to disappear (as if) if this blog turns into "Bush Lied Kids Died" crap.
All Im saying is that it is very easy to get caught up in the drama that is the Left. Case in point..the "Bush gave 43 million to the taliban in 2001", that Brandy proclaims to have un-earthed on Vetvoice was just a spin job to bash Bush. Truth: the 43 mil was given to the UN for famine relief and completely bypassed the regime in place... But that doesn't stop the left from lying about it. A little fact checking would help, but the drama queens of the left just start yelling "The sky is falling!" and all the other lemmings run for cover without a free thought in their heads. Don't become one of those lemmings Dude.

Oh, and thanks for your part in helping win the Iraq war. Make sure you speak up at Nutroots when someone from codepink starts screaming that we lost it, Mmm K?

Alex said...

Ronster,

Thanks for your concern, but contributing to Net Roots doesn't mean I fall in line with the left on all issues. I don't get into "Bush lied, soldiers died" territory, but it's obvious from the news coming from Afghanistan that our heart isn't in the real fight. And that is extremely unsettling.

As for my coworker and friend Brandon Friedman, I wouldn't be quick to call anyone that has shot dead an insurgent a 'nancy.'

raven said...

It's there brother and it'll never go away. I left Vietnam 39 years ago and it seems like yesterday. You have a great gift of communicating on a level that is rare. Maybe it's just in writing but I'll bet it will emerge in other ways as well. Stay with it, make something of your life and dedicate part of it to those who won't have that chance.

Rick said...

Dude, anonymous sounds like the guy to listen to. I was a soldier for the 20 but was out before Iraq got started. Been to a few places but nothing like what you went through.

Must say I'd like to bounce the Ronster's head off the hood of a hummer. Sounds like one of those right-wing tough guys that just never found the time to enlist... probably had other things he needed to do. The word is Chickenhawk.

David M said...

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 07/17/2008 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

Alex Steed [of Make Something Happen] said...

Alex -

I very much appreciated your contribution to the panel and I live-blogged about it at the site linked to my name.

Re: concern about how "left" the conference was, everyone on the panel kept it pretty moderate when it came to any of the few opportunities to express political preference, etc. Alex was especially mum, but his contributions to the overall conversation were quite worthwhile. I was very much looking forward to the panel and I very much appreciated everyone's insight. Finally, I wonder if anyone ended up asking to stay on your couch after all. Ha!

Take good care,
Alex Steed

Rachel F. said...

I'm without words. I feel for you. I'm getting married to an MP out of Fort Hood in October, and I have seen that sort of thing in him after Iraq that you are talking about. It makes me kind of sad to read about anyone feeling that way, but I guess it's unavoidable. Stay well. :)

Cris said...

I've never been in a war zone, don't have a clue what it's like, the life you left. You say you're quiet now, don't talk much in your civilian world. But you communicate loud and clear in your writing. I hope this world recognizes your talent, and you carve out a place that's yours. Thanks for the work you put into this blog, and for helping us understand and see another world through your eyes.

Moon Rattled said...

Civilian here who has never been exposed to war except on television. That awkwardness on this side of things is due feeling all kinds of right but worried about saying the wrong thing. I for one despise Bush and Cheney for the big fat lie that put men and women over there and caused so much destruction. I know there are soldiers who don't want to hear that. I support them so I guess it means keeping quiet on that front. By the same token there are soldiers who are angry and, like a lot of Americans, despise the Bush administration. But you can't tell until you know someone. There is a huge divide between people who have known war and those who haven't and I sometimes think the best thing to do, as a civilian is STFU and be available. Know that you're supported, regardless of the awkwardness I guess I'm trying to say.

It sounds like school will be a welcome change, and keep up your writing because you're so good at it.

Moon Rattled said...

P.S. I agree with the other guy who thinks Ronster is an armchair warrior who has never served in any armed force much less seen a war first hand. Except in his own mind.

liberaltexan said...

I understand what you are going through...I left the Navy about a year ago, and although I am happy to be out of the military, there is definitely something different about being a civilian.

Deborah W. said...

Alex, we talked via email a bit and I just stopped by to see what you've blogged about recently. You probably don't remember, but I work for the Army, training soldiers preparing to go downrange. I see them when we go to the training site, and I often wonder how they will be changed by what they will see. Who will come back? Who won't? I wish there was a way to freeze them in that state of innocence, that before the war cheerfulness. I think a lot of people know or suspect the horrible things they will see and all we can possibly say is "I'm sorry." I recently spoke with a Specialist who was facing his 4th deployment. He's only 23. To go once is bad enough, to make it through, and then realize you have to go back...again, and again. How demoralizing. Those of us on the sidelines need people like you to remind us of the humanity of our soldiers, the reality of their youth, and the reality of what will be lost to them forever. Keep writing, find happiness in it, and know you have made a difference.

cathcatz said...

deborah, good words. thank you. and i hope it helps you, dude.

PETE said...

Ditto all of it. Being married makes it even more complicated. We have a thing in my family- when ever I say something totally direct and offensive or coarse- it's followed by a, "transition comment!" to let everyone know it's not my fault- I'm still part Army idiot. I still can't seem to adjust fully.