The Desert Excursion: 365 days in Iraq - a 24/7 Soldier Medic

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Well folks, here it is. The is my last official blog from the Middle East.

It has been a long road but finally we can see the end. Our bags are on our backs and we are headed home. It has been lots of fun sharing this whole experience with everyone and I have enjoyed all the comments and e-mails from all of you.

Thanks to all of you that kept in touch, sent letters or packages, and thought about me. I hope to see many of you when I get home.

See you in the states,

Friday, June 15, 2007

The Waiting Game

Another long break in the blog. . .

Next month I will be coming home. As exciting as that may seem for people at home, for the majority of us here it will be a nerve racking experience. Believe it or not, but I have more anxiety when I think about coming home then I have ever had while I have been here. In short: we are scared.

Inevitably, almost all discussions with my fellow soldiers at this point leads to talking about home. They chat excitably about what their plans are, where they are going to school, who they are coming home to, their jobs, their kids, and their spouses. Then they proceed with caution and nervous voices as they talk about what all those things actually mean. What am I doing when I get home? Who will be there when I get home? Will life be the same as it was before?

So, with only a few weeks left the tension is building and our patience is running thin. It's almost like punishment when you don't have any work to do because then your mind is relegated to thinking about home and the anxiety sets in again. I can only go to the gym so much and the rest of the time off I sit and stare at the ceiling. Most our our things are gone and the two bags left are ten minutes away from being packed. Now it's a waiting game and we are trying to find anything to make the time pass by unnoticed.

More next time,

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Eye of the Sandstorm

One of the best sandstorms I have seen in the past 13months here. The sky is actually orange.

Well things are certainly interesting here lately in Iraq, but then again that is par for the course I suppose. I wish that I could talk about what has been happening but I will have to limit my narrative to those things that won't result in my blog being shut down by the "man".

We had a wicked sandstorm here the other day that undoubtedly is the worst I have ever seen. The storm actually left a silty layer of sand and dirt throughout the whole area. Stepping out of my room in the morning it felt as though it had snowed because you could actually see trails through the rocks where people had walked through the sediment that accumulated after the storm. You couldn't go so much as 20 feet without being completely covered head to toe in sand and yet even the shelter of the hospital couldn't provide relief. Our emergency room, halls and ward looked as though an explosion had shook the whole hospital into a cloudy haze.

I noted earlier that I have started boxing in addition to my daily workouts and I have to say that I am really liking it. I sparred for the first time last week and once this week also. I am getting a hang of the concept but it takes a while to really be comfortable out there one on one with somebody punching you. One bloody lip and and a bruised nose later I am ready to go again.
As this deployment winds down we hope that we can prevent as many losses as possible. It would be a shame to come this far to lose somebody now but we came close recently and that is something we would hate to have. It has been almost eerily inevitable, if you believe in superstition, that you will go the whole tour without a death and then just as you are handing off the mission to the next unit it happens. Sure, we have lost soldiers in our brigade within the other battalions but we have yet to lose one in our unit. So goal number one still remains: bring everyone home.

Anxiety is slowly setting in to those who are thinking about home. Next month should be our last, and for most the idea of going home is just an impossible thought. Are they really going to send us home this time? Most of us have held to the theory that we won't believe it until we are on that plane ride home and even then I am not sure I will be able to grasp the reality that I am heading back to the real world. What is that like again?

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

An Oasis in the Middle East

After another long break from blogging, I come writing again from beautiful Iraq; sunny skies and 115 degrees.

After plugging away through 12 months here and with the extension added we were allowed on pass for four days to Qatar last week. We had a great group of us from our unit going and needless to say we had a spectacular time together enjoying a calmer portion of the Middle East. It was almost surreal to us at first that we could actually go out in public without weapons, body armor, or armored vehicles. People didn't hurl insults at us, they didn't glare, and they weren't trying to kill us. It was an altogether great feeling to be accepted as a human being again without the stigma of soldiers in uniform; we were just there to relax, and the work of the soldier was put aside.

The beautiful country of Qatar that is famously known for it's early pearling endeavours and more recently their oil production is one of the richest countries in the world and quite modern by western standards. We were able to eat some great food, swim, see the Persian Gulf, and enjoy a little bit of the culture. The country is very small but rapidly rising and their racial diversity is near what you would see in urban America, with workers from the East and West migrating there for business prospects. The trip was definitely a highlight of my deployment here so far.

And now we are all back to work, and in our heads we still dream about all the fun we had. Now our focus is on how nice it will be to finally go home and trade our military life for the stark contrast of the civilian world. What a relief that will be and yet nerve racking at the same time. We had our "60 day out" redeployment brief the other day warning us about the things we are to expect upon going home. Some of it was serious, but most was quite comical. ". . .Watch out when operating lawn mowers, you haven't used them in a long time. . .Be careful swimming, you may not be as capable as you used to be. . ." And somehow this is ironic considering we have been carrrying and operating multiple automatic weapons, watching the highways for road-side bombs and hoping that a mortar or rocket doesn't fall on our laps while we sleep. Call me crazy if somehow a weedwacker just doesn't sound too daunting at this point.

Now I am not saying officialy or un-officially when we are coming home because I don't have the right to do that but I can say that we are packing three out of four of our bags in connexes by the end of this month. I will say that I am thinking I will be enjoying August in Minnesota and maybe even a couple weeks of July. Take that for what it is worth, but I can't say.

Enjoying the wonderful Iraq summer,

Thursday, April 12, 2007

April showers bring May. . .Sandstorms?

Well friends, it has been quite a while since my last post and I suppose I have wet your appetite.

With the temperatures rising and the days getting longer, the soldiers are beginning to scatter like camel spiders as soon as the sunlight begins to show itself. It is still relatively "cool" right now with temps in the 90's but soon enough we will be experiencing the full wrath of the desert rays.

Congrats to all the new units that have heard about the new extension orders for all Army deployments increasing from 12 months to 15. Since our unit has already been extended and we are nearing our 21st month on deployment I have little sympathy, however, I would never wish for any unit to go this long. With the Army making the new deployments 15 months, and like I said we are near 21 months away from home, the Army is shattering it's reputation and it's attempts to make this war appear like progress is being made.

First, taking a National Guard unit such as ourselves, and deploying us for nearly two years away from families, school, and occupations is ludicrous. Then, expecting them to deploy after only a year back home just puts the icing on the cake. The Army is going to lose many veteran and young soldiers alike, including myself, as a result of this decision. Second, National Guard families are not like Active Army families and the impact of these prolonged deployments will diminish the support of the families and in turn the soldiers' commitment to this military.

Today's Iraq Tip: Watch your boots when things get bloody, it's hard to wash off.

Until next time,


Book Recommendation: Henderson the Rain King, Saul Bellow

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Bryan McDonough - We Won't Forget.

Memories of Bryan

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It's been over three months now and I still cry every time I watch this. I will never forget Bryan or any of our other soldiers for the rest of my life. No matter what you think of this war, just remember that good Men and Women are putting their lives on the line, and some pay with their life; it effects us all.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Martius iam?

Emily and I in the ER

So it is March now. If you may recall, this is when I arrived over here a year ago. More pointedly, March 14th was the date that we were supposed to hand over our missions to the unit replacing us. In effect, you could say that we now begin our official extension. I won't lament any further than I already have in the past, just quickly making the notice that, arguably, we have served our required time here; for most, March 21st will landmark the year and a half point for this deployment. The question now is, will our extension to support the "surge" in troops actually get anything accomplished? Only time will tell, but even then the answer will be murky.

Life in the ER is quiet here for the most part. Most of the time we see the common ailments, sprains, kidney stones, infections, cuts and so forth. Occasionally, such as the other day, we had a patient with a gunshot wound to the neck which would be the most excitement I have seen in a few months.

Spring is upon us and the key feature is the sandstorms; dust inhabiting every corner, falling lightly upon anything in our metal can that we call a room. We had one that lasted for nearly 24 hours last week and is was not a pleasant experience. Do we really have to stay here for another summer? It was bad enough to go through one summer here, but a second time? Luckily, I work the night shift and I haven't had to deal with the temps that are rising during the day. Nonetheless, we head into the wicked climate of the desert summer soon.

Until next time,

P.S.- Recomended fiction reading: Darkness at Noon, Alfred Koestler; Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov; Catch-22, Joseph Heller.

Non-Fiction: Into Thin Air, Jon Krakauer; Marley and Me, John Grogan.

Monday, February 26, 2007


Despite the fact that I work everyday in a war zone thousands of miles away from my family and friends, my most depressing point this week was somewhere else: the gym.

I stepped into the gym for the first time since getting sick two weeks ago. For the week and and half that I had been bed ridden I hadn't even thought about wanting to get out of bed, let alone lift an arm or a leg. I hadn't eaten the whole time I was sick and I was just able to get food down my palate when I decided it was time to get back to work. I stepped on the scale. I knew it wasn't going to be good, it wasn't. I had lost 15 pounds as a result of the infection and the resulting surgery. I didn't have 5 pounds to spare, let alone 15. My sanctuary was turning on me.

I began my workout and realized from the start that it was back to the basics. I couldn't lift nearly what I had before and it took every ounce of energy I had in me to persist through the sets. What had once been a place of calm, a place to burn off energy and release steam had become a place of perpetual torture and torment, with the weights becoming the tools of the torturer. Needless to say, I did not enjoy the workout.

Update: I am eating persistently now and I can even taste the food, although I am not sure that is an improvement at all. I haven't taken a day off since getting back to work for few reasons, but mainly that I have nothing better to do. My avid reading addiction has been helping to pass the time and my attempt now is to read the top 100 novels of the 20th century before I leave here. I have read 12 so far, but I am limited to the books that are here so I have had to order many to be sent. To keep pace, I have calculated that I must read a book almost every day. For this to be accomplished I am going to need a steady flow of books so I must get on the ball.


P.S.- I am using a list published by the Modern Library, the Board's Choice for guidance on the novels.

Monday, February 19, 2007

What a week!

It has certainly been an interesting week and a half since my last post. Let me fill you in.

The morning after the golfing extravaganza I awoke with a sore throat. I knew right away that I was going to get sick, I don't get sick often. Thankfully I didn't have to work that night so I tried to relax as best I could, drinking water and taking my multivitamin, hoping that I would beat this one out. Little did I know that my efforts never would have a chance to fight this one into submission; I began to run a fever.

At first I was just generally miserable: sore throat, myalgia, malaise, and fever. The fever was keeping me up all night and I was popping acetaminophen like candy, but the fever was getting the best of me and eventually it shot up over 103 at which point I decided it was time to get seen and get some antibiotics. The doctor saw Strep Throat and so I grumbled and started taking amoxicillin. I have had this before and at least I knew the antibiotics would help me kick it fast and I would be back to work in a couple days. I assumed too much.

Just a day after starting the amoxicillin I noticed that my throat was actually getting worse and I couldn't hardly speak with such swollen glands. I hadn't eaten in four days now and I was beginning to feel weak, ready to submit to this horrible monster. My fever was going down but the swelling was more prominent than ever, I couldn't open my mouth more than a few centimeters, and as a rather peculiar side effect to the infection, my salivary glands were on overdrive. I was paralyzed, fever ridden, and drooling; time to see the doctor again.

The diagnosis this time was clear: Peritonsillar Abscess. I needed to see a ENT specialist and so it looked like I was going to go for a helicopter ride to Balad. We found an accepting physician there and I was put on IV antibiotic therapy before I headed out on the chopper about six hours later.

Then next morning I met with the physician and it was clear that I needed surgery. Four hours later I was put out and under the blade. I came to about an hour later dazed and struggling to get myself into a bed in the ward. I don't remember if I went to sleep or not but I was quite relieved that the swelling that had been in the back of the throat was mostly gone now. I spent the next two days after that on IV antibiotic therapy and on the third day I was discharged. Now I was unto the biggest challenge yet: trying to make it back to home base.

I didn't have my ID card, a uniform, or a weapon, not a great start to get a flight. It was time to get McGyver again. I scrounged around the hospital and assembled a uniform from old Air Force tops and bottoms and found a pair of boots. Lacking the essentials that characterized me as military, I blended in as a civilian as I found my way to the ID card office. After sweet talking the clerk, she assured me that she could get me and ID the next day, I was in business. I had to cajole my way through security to get back into the hospital and the next day I claimed my new ID card.

0400 this morning- I walked my happy butt to the Passenger Terminal at the airfield in my newly assumed identity and carrying my armor and kevlar. No flights to my base, but there was hope that the Army could get me there in a Sherpa. Yes, it's a called a Sherpa flight. I made it to the Sherpa terminal just in time and two hours later I was riding in the small prop plane they call a Sherpa. I am back now and in just a few hours it's back to work, and it feels good. It felt like a month, but I am back to health.

Oh so relieved,

Thursday, February 08, 2007


Forget running, just golf! Mike and I went out this morning after getting off work and did some golfing. Some random person back home sent a hodgepodge of sports items and as it so happened they sent seven different golf clubs also. To our dismay however, they didn't send any golf balls. So Mike went online and ordered 100 used golf balls and had them shipped over. Day in and day out we waited for the package to get here and then it finally arrived. We were so excited that we went out right after shift at the hospital. We climbed out unto one of Saddam's old hangars and swung away on a small pile of dirt.

While some may say we have too much time on our hands or that we spend too much time on the base, we disagree. To that we have only one response: we did our time out on the road, saw as much as we want to see, and now we are extended. So now it's time get comfortable and enjoy life on the FOB. I have also decided to begin another endeavour here.

Starting next week I will be publishing a second blog. It will have nothing to do with Iraq but instead will be a blog concerning topics in science. I have e-mailed a few friends to join in and to co-author the site. It is my prerogative to have a topic posted weekly or bi-weekly written by different authors of the site. The topic can simply be objective or the author can take a stance and voice their personal views on the topic. Then, readers/authors/visitors will have the opportunity to comment, critique, and voice their opinions. I guess you would call it salon of sorts. As soon as I have decided on the site I will post it here.


P.S.- If anyone is interested in writing on the new blog, (i.e. is interested in writing some articles related to science) please e-mail me.

P.P.S.- Mike and I eventually were booted from the top of the hanger after we apparently almost hit someone. FORE!!!