In March of 2004 I was on my way home from Iraq.
My unit and I were in Kuwait to be precise, and we were there to clean up our vehicles after a long year in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Our vehicles were hungry for a wash by the time we got to the what I imagine was a Nestle’s Industrial Truck Wash since it was a truck wash and there was a big Nestle’s sign hanging over the left side of it.
While the washing was going on our unit was bunked in a nearby warehouse with all the other spare parts. We slept on army cots as per normal for service in Iraq at the time. I spent my days either at the wash racks talking to soldiers or intensively studying a textbook entitled Patterns of Infidelity and Their Treatment, I still have the book in my library.
The long year in Iraq had taught me all I ever wanted to know about infidelity, but I still needed to know more. I needed to know more because it was my job to help some of my fellow soldiers deal with the fact that their relationships at home had come to an end.
One day I was walking across the rock yard in our camp, called “Fire Base Steel” after the fact that we were the 3-18 Field Artillery “Steel Professionals”, when suddenly my best friend Mike (Big Mike), who was also commander of Alpha “Gator” battery, came running up to me and said, “Chaplain, I need you to come over here right away, my driver is in trouble”.
So I ran over to Mike’s HUMVEE and I spotted his driver sitting behind his seat in the back. He had his SAW (Squad Automatic Weapon M249) in his hands and the barrel was pointing at his face.
One novelty of the SAW that makes it a better combat light machinegun than it’s predecessor the M60 is that it can be belt fed or it can be magazine fed. Mike’s driver had a magazine in the reciever and had charged the bolt.
For a moment I only saw the private and the SAW, as if I was in a dream. I knew the man I was looking at well, and I knew his young wife. The couple was around a decade younger than my 36 years, and they had an infant.
Big Mike, my best friend at the time, escaped the scene quickly and jogged back over to the TOC (Tactical Operations Center): I imagine to update his supervisor, the Battalion Commander, with a SITREP.
So I got in on the passenger’s side, in the back, and spent the next 4 hours talking to my new “battle buddy” until he was ready to go to the hospital.
We got him to the hospital, we kept him safe, and I then I started meeting with him weekly for around 6 months, until we finally left Iraq.
But back to Kuwait, the wash racks, the dirty vehicles, the warehouses, that is where I started after all…
I remember reading that textbook while lying on my cot, crying at times, and feeling about the soldiers affected by the patterns identified in the textbook.
I felt deeply then as I feel deeply now, I cannot help myself.
I wondered where the soldiers whose spouses had let them down would go once they got settled again at “home”. I wondered if they could even feel a sense of returning “home” under the conditions that they found themselves in. And I wondered if my marriage could survive Iraq; I wondered where I would go if she wasn’t there when I got “home”.