29 December 2010

If... and Christmas!

If… Rudyard Kipling

IF you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: 'Hold on!'

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
' Or walk with Kings - nor lose the common touch,
if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!

So I found this poem when I was reading Bridget Jones:  The Edge of Reason (which incidentally is not a bad book… I picked it up in some transient location somewhere out of a lack of things to read… I’m rationalizing).  I found it to be remarkably reflexive of the whole deployment experience (the poem, not Bridget Jones).  While things here gone well overall, the experience is still at times trying.  Deployment has a way of stretching your every last nerve in every direction.  Enduring the experience is an accomplishment in and of itself.  Surprisingly after the experience is over, it’s generally positive in hindsight.  I know I have dozens of “one time at band camp…” stories that I subject my fellow soldiers to all the time gloating about how wonderful of a time I had in Afghanistan.  The work of transitioning a deployment from a reality to a memory is the most difficult part… an endurance test of its own nature… one that I think is captured in Kipling’s poem.

In other news, we just finished up with the Christmas holidays.  I set the Christmas tree on fire just yesterday.  I understand that lighting Christmas trees aflame upon the conclusion of Christmas is not a tradition, but I highly recommend that we make it one as it provides a youthful anticipation reminiscent of Santa Claus.  The crackling and uncontrolled flames alongside the wanton sense of destruction make for a very positive experience.  Above you will see a picture of the Christmas tree in the days before Christmas… note its unsuspecting look of innocent ambition… it never saw what hit it.

I helped cook breakfast on Christmas morning.  Cooking is one of my favorite pastimes (aside from setting Christmas trees aflame… and using the word aflame) so it allowed me a little release.  We cooked sausage, scrambled eggs, and pancakes for approximately 80 soldiers with wonderful results.  The morning looked grim at first after a handful of near electrical fires (due largely with issues related to scaling down 220 volt power sources to 120 volt power).  With a faithful crew of electricians/cooks we managed to put breakfast on the table just in time.  The breakfast was nice as it gave us a break from realizing that we were away from home on Christmas morning.  The amount of work that people put in organizing and setting the whole venture up reflected the spirit of the holidays.

After the breakfast, I had the pleasure of getting to watch my daughter open her presents over Skype.  She was extremely happy about all the tape and paper that she got, and did not seem too annoyed by all the toys that she had to separate from them.  One remarkable thing about this deployment has been the proliferation of technology as part of the soldiers array of crap they carry around with them.  Unlike my previous deployment, we can enjoy special moments in person by proxy via webcam in the privacy of our rooms (instead of in shared computer lab facilities).  We have better access to stay in touch with those at home.  Honestly, I think soldiers have surpassed the military in their ability to use modern infrastructure to communicate.  I know more about what individual soldiers have done all day and how they are feeling through Facebook (across a wide variety of locations within Iraq) than I know about them through the official military channels.  Sometimes I feel like I live in a BestBuy commercial.

Well that’s it for now...

16 December 2010

Life following leave

So I have a tendency to stop posting when the situation shifts to such a state where the emotional vividness or the social mechanics of the situation become difficult to articulate absent the context of such a “unique” time and place.  It’s most likely laziness or lack of literary adeptness on my part, but it’s sometimes difficult to describe what’s going on here as so little of what happens stands out as events that can be easily be isolated and relayed.  In fact, everything here is interwoven into some incredibly complex, utterly disturbing, and distortedly civilized tapestry that creates an abstraction of humanity which stands as a piece of postmodern art.  Most things that happen here only make sense here and only through the lens of the experience that has brought us to this point in the deployment.  I struggle with accurately relaying that content.  Not to mention that most of our conversations and antics are not to be repeated among polite company.

I enjoyed a wonderful leave for a large part of my absence from blogging.  Leave is truly a bittersweet thing during which the military is kind enough to give us our lives back only to cruelly rip them back away from us once we truly begin to feel again… once we truly understand what it is we are missing.  I relished the moments to see my daughter walking around for the first time and exploring the world in a way that only a mind unblemished by the negative aspects of humanity can do.  I had the opportunity to experience the anticipation of a new baby in a way that’s not possible here given the complexities of living in two realities.  It was a chance to enjoy the experience without worrying about arbitrary deadlines and issues of contrived experiences.  I glimpsed briefly into the incredible difficulties that my wife has experienced in playing the role of two parents, working, and dealing with the emotional turmoil of deployment.  I will never completely understand what she has endured, but I am humbled at her ability to take on the other part of a deployment… the part that gets far less glory and very little press recognition.  In short, I had a vacation to be a whole, real person again.

Back in Iraq I have quickly fallen into the daily routine of moving things around, shuffling paperwork, and gossiping like a bunch of middle-school girls.  Our days are a countdown until the end of our deployment and an extended waiting period between meals.  Meals are for all intents and purposes the clock that drives the Army.  Our focus has started to shift on getting ready to get out of here, but there’s still plenty of time left to go.  We have created a pretty rigorous social and entertainment schedule that gives us enough to look forward to push us through each day.  Our nights are marked by dinners eaten with the company of Pat and Alex as we compete through episodes of Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune.  The weekends bring Risk tournaments (complete with complex scoring and ranking system) and movie night.  Time passes slowly, but it passes in good company.  For all the negative facet of a deployment, the people make up for it.  The soldiers set the tone of mutual dependency and camaraderie that makes it all bearable.

The picture at the top is me following my daughter as she leads me through the airport to get my luggage at the start of my leave.  And as always I promise to attempt to try to possibly post more… that’s it for the moment.