Search This Blog

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

144th ASMC and Iraq... Part Six (The second 6 months)

The atmosphere during the latter half of our deployment at Scania was in stark contrast to the first half.  During the first 6 months I mentioned that the deployment felt nothing unlike the year I had spent in Korea several years before, the most significant difference being we could not leave the post to go downrange and get some drinks.  That, and the fact that I never wore anything but Army uniforms as per regulation while deployed to Iraq.  Otherwise those first 6 months were relatively peaceful, not a whole lot of concerns about the conflict from our standpoint, most the violence and action was north of us and only on occasion did we see combat related injuries.  That peacefulness changed, and once it changed, the change wasn't for the better, nor would it return to what it was those first 6 months.

Once we started receiving mortar or rocket attacks, well, they kept coming.  Luckily for us, it only averaged one a week through the last 6 months of the deployment, but that is enough to rattle everyone from time to time.  Especially when it occurs while in a dead sleep.  It was always interesting waking up to the sounds of mortars or rockets detonating and for the first few seconds of discernible consciousness wondering if it was real or not.  I would lay there and it wouldn't be until the subsequent rounds hit that I would realize it was real, unless the post-wide alert system had been activated prior to the trailing rounds shaking the ground.  They never shot a single round, I think the most that was aimed at our post during a single attack was 12.  But, as I mention in my book, they weren't very good at hitting anything that was of great importance.  Only a few of the attacks even landed near habitable areas on post, and when they did we did not see any injuries for the length of time we were deployed form attacks on our post.

The insurgency outside the wire started to creep south towards our location also, the frequency of attacks, IEDs, etc started showing up closer and closer to Scania over those second 6 months.  To the point that we started to see more injuries related to blast injuries.  Luckily for us, the severely wounded were evacuated from the point of impact/injury and only the non urgent casualties would be routed to our location.  Also, those poor souls killed in action (KIA) never passed through the door of our clinic, there was a mortuary affairs team that handled all the KIAs that came to our location.  We only had to deal with the effects of those deaths on the living that came through our doors after such events, although some would argue that is just as painful.

I hypothesized in my book the possibility that the increase in violence was somehow directly or indirectly related to the cease and desist order form our brigade on treatment of local nationals.  The first 6 months of the deployment were extremely gratifying, but that humanitarian mission ended quickly and quietly and there were minimal confrontations with locals who we had been treating for months for severe burns that eventually understood that the medical rules of engagement had changed and thus so did our mission midway through the deployment.  My hypothesis that there was any correlation between the end of our local humanitarian mission and the sudden consistent mortar and rocket attacks was most likely just simply coincidence.  This was the time in the very early stages of the "surge" and the movement of violence south to or location was most likely the easiest way for the insurgents still willing to make some noise to continue to do so.  However, this is all my opinion, I have no verifiable data to conclude why the violence increased, I only know that is did.

So the second six months ended, through pure luck, my entire unit, including the team I led to Scania returned home, without physical injury.  Although we were leaving Iraq, for many of us the conflict was too strong to let go, many of us carried the mission home, held on tight, and it would take many months and years for us to return to somewhat of a normal life as we had known prior to deployment.  It was silly to think that we would ever return home the same persons we were when leaving, but I know that is how I thought, that nothing would change, that it would all be the same once I got home, but that was far from the truth although I wouldn't realize it for a few years after stepping back on American soil. 

So one chapter of deployment ended, and a new one would begin.

Excerpt from Combat Support; The True Burden Of Sacrifice
Chapter 13 "The Homecoming"

Our plane took off with the sun cresting to the east, spreading light and doing its best to heat up the cold November air. I kept to myself for most of the flight, speaking only when spoken to, trying to savor the knowledge of what was truth. That truth was just miles away, in a valley in which I’d lived for nearly eight years, minus the last fifteen months. It was still as if I were in a dream. I couldn’t comprehend it all, the finality of this deployment. Soon enough, though, there would be no time for disbelief and plenty of proof to make me a believer.

It was a pleasant ride. The mood inside the plane was, to say the least, upbeat. As we were told we’d begin our descent into the Salt Lake Valley, we all looked out the windows into the valley below. I hadn’t seen the valley pinched between the Wasatch Mountains in the east and the Oquirrh Range in the west in many months. The beauty of the valley is stunning no matter how many times you see it; it’s always awe inspiring. The Great Salt Lake spread out to the north and west of the Salt Lake International Airport like a great protector drowning all who would invade the valley from a direction not surrounded by mountain peaks. Although the smell of the lake does not impress, it’s as much an awesome sight from the air as the rest of the valley. I can’t recall which way we came into the valley; I’d made this trip many times, and this was the most memorable, but I can’t remember which path we took. It’s all a blur. Then the landing gear was down, and we slowly drifted down until rubber met the pavement of the Salt Lake International Airport runway. It was a sweet, smooth landing.

The Utah Air National Guard base is adjacent to the Salt Lake International airport. All that remained was for our plane to taxi out to the hanger that housed our welcome home committee, consisting of several top brass of the Utah National Guard and Governor Jon Huntsman, Jr. But the most important welcome committee was those who had sacrificed the last fifteen months of their lives so we could go thousands of miles away to a strange land, to fulfill what we felt was an inherent responsibility for our nation. I joined the Army during peacetime, and never thought that I’d have the opportunity to serve my country in this capacity. I’ve never felt more proud of completing a goal or mission in my life than I did on this day. I may never again have the opportunity to serve this way, but no one can take away the fact that we’d done it, and now all that separated us from our families and completed mission were a few hundred meters of asphalt and a fuselage door.


No comments:

Post a Comment