July 7, 2007
Sitting at my parent's house in Maine with a good nine hours of sleep under my belt, I'm at a loss of where to start. I think I should offer some sort of closure on my year, and reflect on what I've learned. Although I've only been home for three weeks, it seems as though Iraq is both a distant memory and a current reality for me. On one hand, driving my own car, buying what I please at the store, and coming and going as I like has come back to me so naturally, it's as if I were never gone. On the other hand, when I walk outside taking in the beautiful Maine scenery, my brain is still unable to process that what I'm seeing is reality, and not just a photo or a movie…I'm so used to seeing only one color outdoors: tan! Also, certain noises (especially loud ones), still startle me beyond explanation.
Strangely, I miss Iraq. I think that has something to do with being used to a certain routine and lifestyle, then suddenly being pulled out of it. I would definitely say I have mixed feelings about leaving…..there are so many memories wrapped up in my year there, so much that I learned, so many friendships made. Getting onto the bus that would take us to our airplane out of Iraq was one of the hardest things I had to do during my year there. It was if my legs didn't have the strength to move and take me away from the life I was used to. But I did move and get on the bus (not like I had a choice), and now here I am!
What are some of the things I learned? Well professionally, I sure learned a lot about journalism and my job in the Army. I learned how to write great stories and how to carry myself in a multitude of different situations. I learned how to take photographs that could be used by newspapers, but more importantly, to capture moments that people could relate to. Of course I learned more about Army life, and I learned that I can deal with a whole lot…probably a lot more than I thought I could.
Have I changed? Probably. Although my mom says I'm still the same (aren't mothers supposed to say that though?). I don't think that my hopes and dreams have changed at all, but maybe I'm more in tune to what I actually want out of life and a career. I don't think my personality has changed at all either. There sure were a lot of opportunities to be ridiculously goofy—even in a war zone. If anything about me has changed, maybe it's that I'm even more accepting of trying and stressful situations than before, and more relaxed when things are going bad because it happened a lot! I also always believed in my capability to work hard, but I think I've proved it to myself now that I can not only keep up with a grueling schedule, but can usually exceed what is expected of me.
I would say that I learned a lot about Iraq and the situation there, but at the same time, I know even less than I did before. I know that sounds like a contradiction, but my view into the Iraqi situation was so limited, microscopic even, that I prefer not to cast judgments, hold an opinion, or even attempt to predict what the future there will bring. Yes, I served there and traveled the country, and spoke to local Iraqis, but what is really going on—the big picture—is so far out of my range, that I cannot act as any kind of spokesperson…all I can talk about is my own personal experience.
For those who are wondering though, I will offer this. I have been asked a lot since my return to the States if I felt as though any progress was being made in Iraq . This is certainly a hard question to answer, especially since I am not in the position or rank to do so. But I can say that from my own experience, it seems as though the Iraqi Army is doing everything that can to become reliant only on themselves—and we are helping them. During my time there, a number of bases were turned over to solely-Iraqi control, and U.S. Forces left those bases. This is a good sign. It means that the Iraqi Army it taking on more responsibility, and from what I've seen, they have been very cooperative.
The Iraqi soldiers are also to be commended, as most of them can never leave the bases they train on in uniform for fear of being killed. Some Iraqi soldier's families don't even know they are in the military, because the families of soldiers are targets too. I feel that in the world there are good and bad people wherever you go, and that the Iraqi soldiers are fighting for the betterment of their country—something they believe in—and that is a great thing.
Other than that, I won't comment on politics, or other areas that are way above my level. I will say that I was blessed to have had the chance to tell the U.S. Soldier's story, something that I and the rest of the military journalists feel is deeply important. There are many Soldiers who had it a lot worse than I did—saw horrible, unspeakable things, and yet they will walk around with smiles on their faces because they believe in what they do. There are Soldiers who lost friends, who lost limbs, and lost countless other things because of this war, but they still serve because of the internal strength they possess. Much of this is due to the support they (we) are receiving from home. The selflessness of the American public during this time of trouble humbles me, and I am so impressed how they have come together to support the troops.
During the year my comrades and I were practically bombarded with letters, packages, and e-mails, from people all over the States who we didn't know, but were sending us well-wishes. There are whole organizations devoted solely to sending troops care packages and goodies from home, and that compassion is remarkable. I won't talk too much about soldiers returning from Vietnam, and the welcome they received then (because I wasn't there)…but this is a different country today. Soldiers are made into heroes, and we receive clapping and handshakes when we walk through an airport today rather than dirty looks. This certainly says a lot about how much our country has changed, and how far the general attitude to support soldiers has come.
In closing, I'll say thank you to everyone who has read this blog throughout the year. You have all been so supportive! I'm really glad I got the chance to represent Elon this way, and hopefully I've given someone a glimpse into what life in Iraq is like. Overall, I loved my time there, and will gladly serve again (and I'm sure I will be over there again in a few years). I want to stress that everything written in this blog is my experience alone, and my opinion. Other Soldiers may have had very different experiences, and I do not attempt to speak for them. Also, there were several things I couldn't share through this blog for security reasons, but I believe I painted an accurate picture of what my year was all about.
Thank you again for reading & please support the troops!