Tag Archives: Middle East

The World’s Greatest Cheeseburger

Lunch

Too bad our MREs don’t come with the promise “Have it Your Way”!

I still think about it from time to time, when I am craving something that is no longer possible, something that probably doesn’t even exist, something that I can never go back for.  It was the best cheeseburger I have ever tasted.  There wasn’t anything inherently special about it, and maybe it didn’t even taste that great.  But it was a cheeseburger in a combat zone, a very rare treasure, and that made it remarkable.

Soldiers would travel through dangerous territory, risk the wrath of IEDs, mortars and rockets, then stand in a slowly snaking line in the hot sun, sweating their asses off to shell out hard earned cash for a bag of greasy Nirvana from the indomitable Burger King vendors.  Why go to such lengths to eat a humble cheeseburger?  These Whoppers that were so challenging to procure created a momentary transcendent connection to favorite memories: high school dances, first dates, football games, family barbecues, college graduation parties, honeymoons, newborn babies.  They were a conduit to the memories of American life that we all craved but couldn’t have.  Before dining facilities had been constructed and supply lines had been formally established, Burger King had opened up in a tiny metal hut on BIAP and was selling burgers at an unbelievable rate to thousands of homesick soldiers.

One of my tent mates brought me a Burger King Whopper one day.  A supply and arms room clerk, she had to make daily runs to BIAP’s Supply Yard to check on shipments for our company.  Any trip away from the Engineer Village compound was an excuse to do a little shopping, exploring, and “dining out”, and when she returned, she handed me a wonderful smelling paper bag with little oil stains forming on the bottom.  I don’t remember if there was a specific reason why she brought back a cheeseburger for me.  Maybe she owed a favor because I had kept an eye on the supply tent while she was picking up supplies.  I suspect that she just wanted to do something nice for me, because that is the kind of person that she has always been, and I remember uttering surprise at the sight of a real Burger King Whopper.  It had been ages since I had eaten actual American food.  A cheeseburger in the Middle East!  What a concept!

After choking down lackluster food for months on end I had come face to face with what I will forever remember as the World’s Greatest Cheeseburger.  The bun had been toasted on a grill, the beef patty  (I hope it was beef) was tender, juicy, and a little salty, the cheese had melted perfectly and fused onto the patty, and there was the perfect amount of mayonnaise and ketchup to add sauciness to the Whopper.  I recall a small piece of onion as well — not too much and not too little, but just enough to enhance the flavor.  I don’t remember if the cheeseburger came with lettuce and tomato, but it would have surprised me if it did.  It was quite difficult to get fresh vegetables during OIF 1 and tomatoes and lettuce wouldn’t have traveled well back to camp, but I digress…

Once I had tasted that Whopper I became a bit obsessed with cheeseburgers but never had another like that first from the BIAP Burger King.  I went back once during my deployment, stood in line for two hours sweating profusely and questioning the rationality of it all, but when I finally got the burger it didn’t taste nearly as delicious as the first.  Cheeseburgers in the chow hall were a joke — overcooked, rubbery, tasteless hockey pucks on bland bread with boring accoutrements.  Nothing came close to that first Whopper.  It had ruined me for cheeseburgers!  It still ruins me.

I somehow ended up with a centerfold of a burger — yes, this is true.  No pictures of sexy men in my corner of the tent, but I did have pictures of food!  I often looked longingly at my sexy burger (so pathetic) and thought of the day that the yummy Whopper had been delivered into my astonished hands.  The World’s Greatest Cheeseburger was exceptional for two reasons.  I was so homesick that the novelty of classic American comfort food made me feel nostalgic as I slowly savored every last bite.  The fact that, as she stood in a very long line for a very long time in the horrid Baghdad sun, a friend made the decision to pass along a kindness to me in the form of a humble cheeseburger. That act of kindness has resonated through the years.

— G

To prove that I did not hallucinate my entire cheeseburger encounter, check out the links below!  The first is by a WordPress blogger who was also in Iraq during OIF 1 and who also experienced the wonder of the Whopper on BIAP.  I recommend this article for another veteran’s take on life at BIAP and the challenges of procuring Burger King.  Enjoy!

http://www.vice.com/read/welcome-to-bahgdads-very-own-hotel-california

http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/iraq/saddam-iap.htm

Survivor Kuwait: Camp New Jersey Edition

Photo not retouched -- this is the effect caused by a Kuwait sand storm!  My Rebel G camera survived!

Photo not retouched — this is the effect caused by a Kuwait sand storm!

After arriving in Kuwait we lived in an area named Camp New Jersey, out in the desert, miles from Kuwait City and anything else that resembled an advanced civilization.  The desert was so hot and arid that our mission most of the time was just day to day survival.  My Colin Powell autobiography fell apart on an extremely hot day when the glue in the spine disintegrated and the pages fluttered across the sand.  There was an argument about the actual temperature; some said that 135+ degrees registered on their temperature gauges and others said it was impossible.  All I knew was that I needed a new book.  The Kuwaitis were known to be more active in the nighttime and morning because temperatures were favorable during these hours.  We soldiers adopted this practice upon finding we also were more alert in temperatures such as 85 degrees at 2:00 a.m. rather than 115 degrees at high noon.  The rising sun also tended to bring a nasty wind that blew sand into our tents no matter how hard we tried to seal them.  It was quite common to find tiny sand dunes piled on our gear after sand storms had roared through the camp.

Getting settled into the big yellow tents at Camp New Jersey.

Getting settled into the big yellow tents at Camp New Jersey.

We were warned upon arrival that we would be sharing our space with some very inhospitable critters such as desert vipers, rats, camel spiders, lizards, and scorpions.  I only saw one large lizard and some terrifying thing that was accused of being a camel spider.  Whatever it was, it fearlessly chased a soldier screaming for his mother several yards before scuttling into a hole, apparently satisfied that it has established its territory.  To keep critters off my cot when I decided to sleep under the stars one night, I stacked three pallets outside my tent Princess and the Pea style.  I watched the stars all night while listening to The Band on my CD player.  For some reason, the constellations seemed closer and brighter in the Middle East.  Maybe it was just the time of year and the fact that we had no excessive street lamps or city lights to distract from the view.  Another night several of us scrambled onto the top of an abandoned tent like monkeys and had an outdoor slumber party.  We didn’t get much sleep but lying on top of the tent was remarkably more comfortable than trying to sleep on our foldout cots.

Our biggest worry wasn’t getting enough sleep or getting into scraps with local vermin, but rather the treks across the camp for daily luxuries like food, water, showers, phones, and anything else that couldn’t be easily found inside the sleeping tents.    There was an AT&T center located a short quarter mile jaunt through the searing sand, and if we could get calling cards that hadn’t expired the second we paid for them, we would try to make long, long, long distance calls home, at a “low!” rate of about 99 cents per minute.  We dreaded the phone center.  Here’s why.  There were some twenty tiny semi private plywood phone cubicles set up, and 85% of the time, in the middle of everyone’s personal, special conversations, the phones would all just go dead because of ‘commo blackouts’.  Commo or communications blackouts occurred for a variety of reasons, but in Kuwait, at the little AT&T center, it was almost always because we had too many people making calls and the system couldn’t handle the overload.   It was immensely frustrating to be in the middles of a conversation with a loved one and then hear a morose click, then the hum of dead space.  The worst insult was probably the phone cards though.  The scam AT&T was running was so unethical, and we couldn’t do anything about it except scream.  We would spend God only knows on prepaid phone cards and after activating them, AT&T would immediately bill down half the minutes as activation fees or some other bullshit.  Worse yet, the cards might already be “expired” upon purchase.  This problem may have been fixed over the years, but I dealt with this for my entire deployment.  So when commo blackouts occurred, very frequently, at Camp New Jersey, the sound of soldiers banging their receivers against the plywood walls and yelling obscenities, usually directed at AT&T, resounded through the air.

Preparing to depart on our convoy north to Iraq.

Preparing to depart on our convoy north to Iraq.

When we needed nourishment we had to hike 3/4 of a mile one way to three huge circus-y looking tents set up as our dining facilities.  They offered a slight revival from the march through the hellish heat: low light, huge fans blowing icy air, and freezers full of popsicles for dessert.  The food was nothing special, and one day there was something called (I shit you not) Sloppy Elroy on the menu.  I don’t think anyone was brave enough to try it.  One day I ate what I still believe was camel steak.  It wasn’t half bad, with a texture and flavor not unlike a nice elk steak.  The food was clean, decent, and it got us through.  I loved to grab a rose flavored popsicle on my way out the tent flap door.  I know, it sounds weird, but I liked them and they made me feel a little better about the fact that I had obvious armpit stains and sweat running into my eyes while I was walking back to my tent.  Since the mini PX was on the way back (that would be another 3/4 mile) to our home base, many of us would stop to do some shopping for things like postcards, magazines, snacks, or CDs and lots of extra batteries.  In the heat, battery life was shortened considerably.  Because walking a mile and a half through blowing sand and blistering heat three times a day to eat quickly lost its appeal, many of us cut our meals down to two a day.  Usually this was the midday meal since it was so hot and many of us were passed out in our tents sleeping off the worst part of the day.

Goofing around on the playground at the Marble Palace.

Goofing around on the playground at the Marble Palace.

There were good highlights I remember from Kuwait.  On a trip to Camp Doha for a free day, I witnessed a troupe of British soldiers strip naked on the street and then proceed to put on their civilian clothes without any modesty whatsoever.  God save the Queen, it was glorious!  That same day I saw Gary Sinise perform with Kid Rock and Brittany Murphy at a USO tour at Doha.  When Gary Sinise walked onstage, there was a split second of confused silence, and then someone yelled “Hey, it’s Lieutenant Dan!” Then the entire crowd, thousands of soldiers, screamed our lungs out for him.  On another free day to a leisure park called the Marble Palace, I played on a large fancy children’s playground much like an overgrown child, and had my first frozen Starbucks drink.  Yes, I had to be deployed in order to experience Starbucks!  I found an old letter that I sent to my parents from Kuwait before we departed on our convoy to Iraq.  We stayed in Kuwait for about one month, just long enough to try to become acclimated to the harsh conditions and prepare our equipment for the two day journey into Baghdad.

Dear Family,

My beautiful picture

Howdy from Camp New Jersey!  Well, it’s hot here.  I’ve been trying to stay busy.  So far I’ve learned how to play Rummy and I’m in the process of learning how to play Spades.  I bought a Saddam Dollar the other day for the scrapbook…they’re kind of expensive but I’m going to try to buy more.  We are all pretty bored here.  I will attempt to describe this place.  It is flat as a pancake, nothing but sand for miles!  Clouds are rare, but I guess since it doesn’t rain there is no need for them.  The sky is always washed out with a blazing hot sun scorching anything it can reach.  Camp is really spread out.   The chow tents are about 3/4 of a mile away, so it’s a long walk back and forth three times a day!  It’s not so bad in the morning and night, but the mid-day walk to lunch is brutal!  Each soldier is allowed six 1.5 Liter bottles of water each day…I think that comes to about 2 gallons a day.  We sure sweat it out fast in the heat!

I haven’t seen any camels yet, but a few days ago a soldier caught a big lizard and showed it to everyone, then let it go.  The last couple of days I have felt really homesick.  This is definitely the most difficult thing I have had to do.  I sure won’t take anything for granted when I get home!  We are all nervous about the convoy north to Baghdad.  As long as we do it right, we should be okay.  Hundreds of soldiers from the Third Infantry Division have moved into camp.  They were at the spearhead of the war and have seen a lot of combat.  The stories they have told us are amazing!  I know that this letter is short and I am sorry, but there isn’t much to tell…

The soldiers from the Third Infantry Division who spent time in our camp on their way home had been involved in heavy combat in Baghdad and the overthrow of the old regime.  They looked faded, worn out and old even though many were younger than me (and I was young!) and they often gazed out into the desert with the trademark thousand yard stare of PTSD sufferers.  I lost count of how many times I saw a 3ID soldier break down in the chow hall after looking down at his meal and seeing something other than Salisbury Steak.  They were haggard, like they had exhaled much of their souls into the desert, and we National Guard soldiers were still so new, bright, shiny, a little bit fat, and very naïve.  A First Sergeant from a tank company attached to the Division spoke to me very candidly about a connection he noticed between our two very different units.

Headed for a free day of Rest and Relaxation, with my camera ready.

Headed for the Marble Palace for some fun.

“Please don’t take this the wrong way, but seeing so many smiling, happy, gorgeous female soldiers who are clean and well kept and friendly is the best possible thing to happen to these boys in months!” he suavely purred through a mustachioed Latino smile.  He went on to explain that his boys had been in such disturbing forms of combat and many had taken enemy lives; they were still reeling from the natural ethical consequences of these experiences.  He told me that they felt no better than a pack of wild dogs and that they still had bad days when they acted no better.

“But when we got here and saw this company full of angels from…where did you say you are from again?  South Dakota!  I have never seen so many beautiful women in one company before, and again please do not take this in a harassing manner, Sergeant.  My boys’ morale skyrocketed when they saw female soldiers.  So I told them to try and talk to you all, to practice making conversation, because for the last several months they have only spoken and acted like war hardened soldiers.  They have not seen women in such a long time, they have forgotten how to act around women!  Now it is time to become softer and kinder, to stop acting like a pack of wild dogs.  They are good boys and they all served so courageously.  So I hope you and your friends do not mind if my boys try to make conversation, however awkward it may be.  But you ladies just might be our saviors before we go home and face our families.”

It was a strange favor to ask; maybe not everyone in the Army would consider it professional or even appropriate.  But war is a strange place and stranger still is the ongoing struggle between the sexes.  I think the First Sergeant was onto something, and there was nothing perverse in his intentions.  Having compassionate females to talk to proved to be helpful to those still coping with demons.  In some ways, the females in my company who did talk to the soldiers going home acted as freelance counselors without even knowing it.   By the time we left Kuwait we were anxious to get out of the repugnant sand pit, or the world’s largest litter box, as many called it, and move on to something new.  We all survived Kuwait, but we had experienced a major eye opener thus far in our new world.  We had seen that life in Iraq was going to have an effect on us.

— G

Preparing for the Journey to God’s Country

Training Up

Giving my teammate the bunny ears.

When our company was activated in the early spring of 2003, we had several phases of training and prep before actually leaving the country.  We spent a few weeks at Fort Meade, South Dakota, attending classes to prepare for possible engineer projects.  Fort Meade is a tiny, beautiful historic post established just outside Sturgis in 1878 to enforce a military presence in the Black Hills and Northern Plains during settlement, Indian wars, and gold mining in nearby Deadwood.  Training on a post so steeped in military history was amazing and humbling!  We slept in barracks on bunk beds with wool Army blankets and did much of our training outdoors in the fresh pine scented air. We also had inventories to perform to make sure we had all the gear on our MTOE, or Mission Table of Organization and Equipment.  Basically we had to figure out what we could take and what we needed to reorder through supply channels.  My survey team had more inventory than other sections because for some reason surveyors need ridiculous amounts of equipment to perform various missions.  It seemed to take forever to get through the inventories and compile a list of what we still needed for deployment.

Me after testing out my chemical suit and gas mask at Fort Meade.

Me after testing out my chemical suit and gas mask at Fort Meade.

Finally the big day came for us to get on the bus and ride to Fort Carson for a few more weeks of mobilization training.  As we drove away from the Black Hills we all took one last look at the home that we loved.   Once we arrived we had to live in old World War II barracks that had yet to be demolished because there was a space issue at Carson.  The accommodations were miserable, and rumors went rampant that the building was full of lead, asbestos, and non-potable water.  We stayed in our rather ‘campy’ conditions until our trip out to the field, which was actually a welcome retreat from the smelly, potentially toxic barracks.  Out in the field, we practiced setting up and tearing down camp, running different types of operations such as small construction projects, and reacting to an attack.  The cooks were in full form, setting up their MKT, or Mobile Kitchen Trailer immediately to provide hot meals for us in the field.  If it wasn’t for the hot meals we might have perished on the field after a strange dust storm blew through and practically violated every corner and crevice of our bodies.  Little did we know this was just a taste of things to come in the Middle East.

Charcoal is supposed to protect the skin from chemical agents.  Added bonus - it makes you look crazy too.

Charcoal is supposed to protect the skin from chemical agents. Added bonus – it makes you look crazy.

When we came back we  moved into nice barracks close to a chow hall and a huge field.  We had clean bathrooms with private showers, a day room, and a large yard.  The barracks were within walking distance of the PX, or Post Exchange, where we could buy snacks, CDs, and movies.  In fact, we were in a prime location to walk to many places on post, and we had a taxi service available to take us into Colorado Springs on the weekend for dinner, shopping, movies, and of course, the bars!  One weekend a popular country singer had a concert so close to our barracks that we set up chairs outside, cracked open beers, and listened while watching the sun go down over the Front Range.   It wasn’t all fun and games though.  There were plenty of classes, Combat Lifesaver training, range visits to test weapons, gas mask and chemical suit inspections, a trip to the gas chamber, ID card updates and life insurance changes, and there was also the waiting.  Waiting was the hardest part.

Time to Fly

Getting duffle bags lined up.

Getting duffle bags lined up.

The day came when we had to say goodbye to Fort Carson and board the DC-10 to fly to Kuwait.  This process was quite rigorous.  First we had to line our duffle bags up outside the barracks and wait for transportation to the airfield.  After lugging the bags outside and then waiting for the buses, we crammed the bags into the compartment under the buses and squeezed in wearing our full personal gear.  This did not make loading easy; we felt like cattle hefting ourselves up into the buses and then jamming our bodies into seats that suddenly seemed too small.  I found an entry from an old notebook that I used to record thoughts and observations of the first few days of the actual deployment.  It describes accurately what we experienced.

A comfy place to have a seat.

A comfy place to have a seat.

…I weighed in at 215 pounds at the manifestation center, 85 pounds of gear with my weighted flak vest, DCUs, boots, Kevlar, LBV, pistol, magazines, assorted accessories, the guidon, and my carry on.  After tipping the scales [for accurate weight load estimate for the flight] we lounged around the center waiting.  We were issued malaria pills, cold dinners consisting of sandwiches, cookies, chips, and juice, and we were allowed to pile up our gear and rest.  I was so exhausted I fell asleep almost immediately, curled up with the guidon.  It’s not a cozy sleeping arrangement, but then nothing is in a tactical environment.  Around midnight we got back into our full battle rattle and climbed into the bus to go to the Colorado Jet Center.  I had to smoosh into the seat with another soldier and somehow we ended up figuring out a comfortable sitting situation by linking arms and resting our heavy Kevlar helmeted heads on each other’s shoulders so our gear wouldn’t cause any injuries.  By 0100 we were boarding the plane on a flight to Bangor, Maine.  I can never stay awake on flights, and was too exhausted from all the deployment preparations anyway, so I fell asleep immediately after takeoff. 

Waiting to load our gear.

Waiting to load our gear.

The stop in Bangor was short and uninteresting.  We were confined to one area of the airport where we couldn’t distract civilian travelers, get lost, try to buy beer, or do anything that might get us in trouble of any sort.  I had been thinking of my family the whole flight, mostly of my son, and also the guy waiting for me in Texas.  I kept looking at the picture of him that I was using as a bookmark.  He had given me Colin Powell’s autobiography the day he left Fort Carson, and I took it on the flight to ease the boredom.  So far I find it fascinating. 

Stretching out a bit during the long layover in Ireland.

Stretching out a bit during the long layover in Ireland.

We arrived at our second stop, Shannon Ireland, at 1835 Ireland time.  The layover was supposed to only last two hours, but it turned into four because France didn’t want us in their air space, the dirty bastards.  Again we were confined so as not to “disturb” the other travelers.  This time our area was much better than what was provided in Bangor.  There was a small pub and although we were not allowed to order alcoholic beverages, we took notes on what we would indulge in on the return trip.  The gift shop was a well equipped tourist trap.  We ransacked it and bought trinkets to send home.  I found something for everyone.  I chose an absolutely gorgeous Celtic cross made of Waterford crystal for my sister, a vibrantly enameled pin shaped like an exotic bird for my mother, a plush pug for my son, a tiny leprechaun for my father, and Guinness souvenirs for assorted friends as well as for myself.  I love Guinness!  I also purchased this little notebook that I am writing in now…

"No Ma'am, I cannot serve you beer, but I'm available," says the adorable bartender.

“No Ma’am, I can’t serve you beer, but I’m available!” ~ Adorable Bartender.

When it was finally time to leave the airport we boarded excitedly, jittery, chattering, and hopped up on the chocolate and coffee we had overdosed on during the layover.  Those of us with a bit more caffeine in our systems broke into Steve Miller Band’s ‘Jet Airliner’ as we boarded: “Oh big ol’ jet airliner, don’t carry me too far away, ooohhh, big ol’ jet airliner…’cause it’s here that I’ve got to stay!”  As we took off, the last symbol of western civilization blazed brilliantly in the night sky in huge golden letters: SHANNON.  The airport sign was warm, glowing with comfort and tenderness. a stark transition to the world we were about to embark upon.  Another entry from my notebook describes the way our world changed as we traveled east:

Hell on Earth

At 2100 (home time) the darkness of the DC-10 was broken by shards of bright morning light as one by one the soldiers lifted their shades and looked out the windows at our new home for the next year.  It was early morning in the Middle East.  A soldier let me borrow his window seat for a while so I could take some pictures of the topography.  I had met a woman at a cosmetics counter at the Citadel Mall in Colorado Springs who gave me her address and asked me to write her a letter.  “You are going to God’s country,” she said.  “The Garden of Eden, the Red Sea, everything that God made first is there.  It’s the most beautiful place on Earth.”

A glimpse of land below.

A glimpse of land below.

As I looked down from the plane all I saw was pink hued sand, a huge river system and little mountains, then suddenly the coast line of the Red Sea.  We marveled at huge white caps breaking thousands of feet below.  They exploded like great stars in the water.  As we approached our destination, we saw another coastline, then Saudi Arabia below.  We flew over a huge chain of nothing but sand and mountains intertwined.  Where was the Garden of Eden?  Soldiers were plastered to their windows all over the plane, curiously gazing at the strange new world.  I spotted a tiny village along a thin, snaking road, and then there was nothing at all for a long time.  I had never seen so much desolated land.  It seemed to go on forever.  It was immense and frightening. 

When we landed at Kuwait City Airport we were immediately herded onto little City Port buses (no time for bathroom breaks!) and shuttled to Camp Wolf.  The camp was a very well manicured place where we were allowed to rest for a few hours before getting back on buses and hurtling at terrifying speeds across completely barren desert to our temporary home in Kuwait.  The heat in Kuwait felt like an oven blast, and riding the tiny lurching bus was almost sickening.  We had no air conditioning, no water, and even less space for movement than on the American buses.  Before anyone threw up or passed out we arrived at Camp New Jersey and unloaded.  Everyone was in good spirits.  Some of us laid out on hot stones that were used as pavers.  The stones felt good on our aching, travel weary bodies, and after the rollicking drive through the desert, the breeze was beginning to feel refreshing…

Ten Years: A Retrospective on My Deployment

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.

Love You

At my camp with a sign I made for family and friends back home.

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.

Headed for a free day of Rest and Relaxation, with my camera ready.

Headed for a free day of Rest and Relaxation, with my camera ready.

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!

— G