So this is how it all ends? Boot Camp at Parris Island, leading to School of Infantry, leading to the fleet and all of the ranges and training, leading to … Iraq.
It is hard even to know how to begin to express my feelings. My usually quick hand taps the keyboard in boredom and listlessness as I try to write this post. My mind, usually capable of handling Alvin Plantinga and Paul Helm, darts from one disconnected thought to another, and my prayers have become literally childlike-simple, even utterances and mumblings and repitition. Sleep comes very hard these days. When trying to figure out how we felt, the only thing to which my wife and I could make a comparison with the deployment of our son was a recent death in the family. The fatigue, the sickness on the stomach, the sadness; deploying him has been like enduring a death in the family.
The mere thought of silly and trite television viewing makes be sick, and I want more than anything else information about the war. Not the biased and leftist information from the main stream media, nor the cheerleading sis-boom-bah reporting from the conservative web sites. No, I want the truth … and frankly, I think I am entitled to it.
I have followed Operation Iraqi Freedom for a while, writing as often as I could to express both agreements and disagreements, make observations, and give my readers an alternative view of the things that are transpiring in Iraq. In the time I have been writing I have had to learn about counterinsurgency, MOUT, snipers, EFPs, body armor, rules of engagement, nonkinetic operations, squad rushes and room clearing tactics, Iraqi geography and the differences between Sunni and Shi’a. I have jettisoned my reading list and picked up the Small Wars Manual and the recently published Counterinsurgency Manual. My favorite e-mails are from people discussing military matters – because nothing else much matters at the moment.
It is hard to know where to go from here. I spend much time in prayer and some time in fasting. But writing? It has been too difficult, and I have not posted in some time. I recall the counsel that Donald Sensing gives concerning writing on a web log: do it mainly for yourself. If others benefit from your journal, then so much the better. I suppose I will keep doing this, albeit at a slower pace. My wife and daughter think I am driving myself crazy with my study of the war. My other son Joshua thinks that if I don’t study and write I will drive myself crazy. Perhaps they are all wrong and I am already crazy. In the end, my son deserves to be mentioned in my journal, so as hard as it was to send him off, here it goes.
We showed up in Jacksonville, N.C., on Saturday morning to begin our last visit with Daniel before he deployed. It was good to be with him. Not good in the usual sense of the word. Our words flow too quickly and without serious thought when we aren’t under duress. No, it was really good to be with him. The visiting actually started the weekend before when we met him at the beach, family and friends, to spend quality time together.
This time it was different than previous visits. The stress was gone, and the preparations for what was going to happen were completed. There was only the here and now, the time to sit at the beach and talk and play football, the opportunity to grill steaks and enjoy meals together.
But the weekend we saw him off things moved apace. Backpacks and sea bags were packed, geared was stowed away, and weapons were checked out of the armory. He and I did manage to slip in a movie, and along with a Corporal in his unit who stayed with his family, Daniel stayed with us in the hotel the night before he deployed. Again, it was good to be with him. We kept his truck, and getting up at 0430 hours to get him back to Camp Lejeune wasn’t exactly in the plan, but I adapted with the help of some caffeine.
When my wife and I went back later in the morning to the parking lot between the barracks and the New River, we arrived to a mountain of backpacks and sea bags, M16s, SAWs, cars and families seeing their sons or husbands off. Daniel tailgated with us for a while, and we got in another meal with him at our car. Pictures were taken, families huddled up, and hugs were frequent in the parking lot that day. A truck showed up, and backpacks and sea bags quickly made their way via a chain of Marines to be loaded up. Contrary to the predictions, the busses arrived as scheduled.
Seeing them get on the bus was the hardest part. My wife cried, and as I turned to look at the mother of the Corporal who stayed in the hotel with us the previous night, she was crying as well. [This was the Corporal’s third combat tour. Note to self concerning subsequent deployments: this doesn’t get any easier.] Wives were distraught, but the men were jacked up and ready to go. The busses rolled out soon after arrival, and then it was over.
The long drive home was lonely. The exhaustion and preoccupation the remainder of the week was debilitating, and remains so to some degree. I guess I expected much of this. What I really didn’t expect was the reaction of some people to my son’s deployment. Perhaps I should have known. I recall a fellow marine parent from Connecticut wrote me once and expressed surprise at the reaction of his ‘friends’ to his son’s deployment. In Connecticut, he said, many people saw the war as criminal adventurism, and he and his wife literally lost friends due to his son’s involvement in the war. My son Josh made an insightful observation about this, responding to me that this father didn’t really lose friends; he weeded out the worthless.
With us it hasn’t taken on quite as draconian a form as that. It is more subtle. At first my wife wondered why those strange people were giving her those strange looks and gestures, until she saw what they were looking at when they did those things: her USMC car tags and stickers – things that Daniel calls moto-gear (motivational stuff that he wouldn’t be caught dead sporting … his only moto-gear is a USMC tattoo in Old English down the back of his left arm).
But there is an even more subtle form of disrespect that has become apparent to us. Ignoring us, our son’s service, and the cost to our family. To be sure, some people at work mention it and tell me they’re praying for his safety. Some people at church do as well. Were it not for our small group fellowship at church, we probably couldn’t make it. But for those long time ‘friends’ at work and (yes, even at) church who, after hearing us mention our son, fail even to say a word, much less say they will pray for us, it causes me to wonder how I could have ever considered those people friends. How odd this seems to me. How could my discernment have been so poor?
Now there is only the waiting, and hoping that a fateful phone call or visit doesn’t happen. It is the not knowing and not hearing that makes this so hard. All we can do is pray, write to him and pray some more. And lean on our true friends. I would go to Iraq in a heartbeat to write and report, but don’t even know how to make such a thing happen. For the time being, my body is at work every day, but my heart is in a place I’ve never been. Iraq.
Just before the busses arrived, a pile of sea bags in the background, SAW in hand.
[Note: Nothing related to operational security has ever been or will ever be divulged on this web site.]