Justin originally published this post in February. During August, he’s taking a break from Reflect. He’ll be back with fresh content next month.
A few days ago I began reading through some blog posts I wrote while deployed to Iraq. It was interesting to me to see what I was thinking and reading and reflecting on as a 25 year old husband, father, and Army Second Lieutenant. Frankly, some of the writing was a bit cringe-worthy to read. I hate listening to my own messages or sermons, and I discovered I don’t particularly enjoy reading my blog posts from ten years ago either!
Still, I found it a useful exercise for a few different reasons. First, it’s a reminder that people are always changing and hopefully maturing and growing. Second, it provides me a window into the thinking of 25 year old Soldiers that I serve as a chaplain. I was probably somewhat atypical from a lot of 20 something Soldiers in that I already had an undergraduate and graduate degreee, been married for five years, and had a young son. On the other hand, I feel I’ve lived a lot of life since then. My family size has doubled from three to six. I went from being an intelligence officer to a chaplain. I began pastoring, and I gained one more graduate degree.
Here are some excerpts from the first blog post I wrote in February 2010. Hope you find it interesting.
This morning I spent an hour packing up my things. I have to be ready to go at a moment’s notice. The outpouring of support from family and friends has been amazing. I still think about the day we left–how the city of Lebanon turned out, waved flags, and bid us farewell. Just wasn’t expecting that, and it humbled me. At the same time, I realized again how much I love Tennessee and our friends and family here. I hate being away from home for a year. Well seeing the crowds that lined the streets of Lebanon brought some tears to my eyes (as unHooah as that sounds–I’m forced to admit it). I am glad I was sitting in the very back of the bus. =) I wasn’t the only one moved by the scene. It was hard not to be. Most of the guys remained quiet and silently waived back. One of the positive things about being deployed w/ the 278th, is that I’m going to war with fellow Tennesseans. It’s just not an experience I would get if I were in the regular army. Most of these guys have lived in Tennessee their whole lives and love it just as much as I do. The 278th is spread across the state, so I’ve made friends from every “grand division…”
Eventually, we got word that had the green light to begin movement to Iraq. We waited several hours in Kuwait for our flight to arrive. Hurry up and wait. Logistics always plays a key role in every conflict. We crammed into a plane, and I mean we were wedged in their like sardines. I have a greater appreciation for how guys get through airborne school. You’re so jammed in there, you’d prefer to jump out. I had my assault pack on my lap, my M4 rifle, my M9 pistol, and all my body armor on. A Marine sat next to me, and he was headed back the US. He was one of the last remaining Marines to redeploy back home. Officially, all the Marines are out of Iraq now.
Anyway, we finally made it into Iraq and then we waited for our flight to our forward operating base in Taji. After landing, we had a few hours to kill and then we went to Taji. Once we got into Taji, we gathered all our gear and headed over to meet the soldiers we are replacing. They oriented us to the installation by taking us up to the roof of one of the buildings. From their we had a pretty good view of our surroundings. Finally, we took our things back and got settled into our CHUs (pronounced chews–centralized housing units–our apartments). This past week I’ve been studying how things work w/ the soldiers we’re replacing. I’ve met a lot of people I’ll be working with.
Going to the Iraqi Army side of FOB Taji is pretty much like venturing into the wild west. They have no speed limit and plenty of potholes. On the plus side, I enjoyed flooring my SUV on one of the roads that is relatively pothole free. The Iraqi Army is infiltrated by insurgents, so their side carries more risk. There is a detention facility on their side that houses thousands of Iraq’s most
dangerous thugs, terrorists–bombmakers, and assassins. It also houses petty thugs that will plant an IED for $50. I always take extra security measures when I go back and forth over there. “Chemical Ali,” Saddam’s cousin and ruthless regime enforcer used WMD against the Kurds (chemical attacks). He viciously put down the Shia uprising after the Gulf War. After the 2003 invasion, he was captured and imprisoned at Taji. He he was hung a few weeks ago. Chemical Ali once operated in Taji. I had a friend snap a picture of me standing next to his old HQ.
Getting to Iraq so fast was really a Godsend. It definitely beats piddling around Camp Shelby for a few weeks or doing the same in Kuwait waiting to get here. Now that I’m in Iraq, I’ve been able to start learning my job and making all the contacts I need to make. The internet here is very unreliable and down more often than not. It’s very frustrating and definitely not worth the $60 a month. But if it gets me more access to you, than I guess it’s worth it from that perspective…