For the month of November I have decided on a writing project that will be very challenging, but hopefully rewarding. I will be sharing stories that until now only certain family members have heard. I have been scouring my closets, old photo boxes, scrapbooks, and my external hard drive to piece together fragmented memories of the time I spent in the Middle East. It was ten years ago, so while many details are extremely vivid, other things like specific dates, events, and especially people have become fuzzy. I was hoping to gather enough helpful documents, photos, and memorabilia to jog my memory. Some of these mementos were not to be found: a favorite picture of pillars near a body of water as we whizzed by on our way to a survey project, letters from family and friends that I likely packed away so carefully I just forgot where I put them, and little objects purchased in the bazaars that probably went missing after so many moves. However, I did find enough other items to assemble a clearer picture of where I was, literally and figuratively, ten years ago, and how far I have come since then.
In 2003 when I deployed to Iraq, I was barely old enough to drink alcohol legally, just on the verge of true adulthood, and suddenly bombarded with so much responsibility in a very dangerous world. Life at the time was far from easy, and yet the fact that I stuck with the mission gave me a deep sense of gratitude for being part of a bigger picture. I sacrificed, knowingly as well as unwittingly, more than I like to admit, but I would never go back to undo my decision to sign up for National Guard service or try to get out of deployment. I served, and I gave a piece of myself for my country and for Iraq too. I believe that has made me a better person despite all that was given up along the way. Ultimately my life has only become better because now, after ten years of wondering what it was all for I can look back and say it doesn’t matter why I went to Iraq, just that I went.
An Iraqi translator who took a shine to me gave me the nickname ‘Malak’, which is the Arabic word for angel. I was surprised to be given this lofty title, especially during a time when I constantly felt insecure, self conscious, stressed out, lonely, homesick, scared and far from perfect. When I asked him why such a special name, the translator said he liked my smile. Well! He also pointed out that he knew I had potential to be like a guardian angel to many Iraqis, and that I could spend my deployment reaching out a hand to those truly in need instead of worrying about my own shortcomings. His words inspired me to think of others rather than myself, to take chances and risk my own safety to be there for others. I spent the whole deployment trying to live up to the name Malak. Not every day went well for me, but I came home knowing that I did good things for as many Iraqis as I possibly could while I was there.
I have been warned by another blogger, who is also an Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran, that writing my stories about deployment will not be easy. I didn’t want to believe him, but it turned out he is right. Just gathering the mementos and jotting down notes to piece the stories together has been painful. Many of my memories of deployment are at best unpleasant and at worst, quite sad. However, some of the memories are good, and some of the bad memories are worth sharing. So I am left with deciding which are worthy of turning into stories that readers will find valuable, and which are best kept to myself for the time being. Not everything could make the cut, so I followed my husband’s advice: “Share the stories that will benefit and educate the readers. If you don’t feel good about writing it, don’t share it.” Please visit me frequently throughout the month of November for more stories. And don’t forget to hug a veteran in honor of Veterans’ Day!