Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Last Quarter

If you ever played football there is a point when you are on the field that everything else around you fades away; where you don’t hear the crowd, where you aren’t thinking about what you’re doing after the game or if you have gas in the car. It becomes so intense and your brain is so connected to your experience that for that brief moment, it is your reality and you sense everything. Capture that feeling and you understand being at war.

War is sensory overload. It is brutally long hours of hard work, though not always physical. War is loud and creates noise of all kinds; generators, trucks, rockets, artillery, helicopters and tanks. War is boredom and the blandness of chow hall food; it’s close quarters, semi-clean laundry, lack of privacy, uneven ground, dust and mud. It is meetings, deadlines, fluorescent lights and friendships. It is the juxtaposition of normalcy interspersed with heart-racing violence and moments of unexpected tenderness. It’s finding humor and absurdity in everything. Mostly though, it is about getting your mission done and serving honorably.

As I enter my last six weeks in Iraq I’ve noticed that what was once new is common place and my life back home is somewhere far away. To me, it’s perfectly normal to put on my flak jacket and helmet and then head out in an up-armored vehicle. To me, loading my weapon is as natural as you putting cream in your coffee.

Life in Iraq seems so normal at times. Heck, we have a duck pond in front of our building. You see Marines and civilians alike coming to feed the nineteen geese and ducks in an act I assume makes them feel closer to home. Yet, it’s just yards away from where someone was killed by a mortar a few months ago.

Like the football game, with the final whistle it will be over for me. I will look back one last time at the field I spent so many days on and try to burn the memory into my brain.

I’m worried about when I come home and the rush is gone. I wonder how I’m going to replace the high that is flying in a helicopter at 150 mph 300 feet off the deck, staring at an IED, or visiting with Marines at a remote combat outpost and seeing the best that America has to offer. I wonder how I will feel when I see self-centered and soft Americans instead of the hardened swaggering Marines who ask for nothing more than a chance to kill some bad guys and make a difference.

I wonder how I’m going to fill that void that is a sense of belonging to something greater than one’s self. It is an irreplaceable feeling and one of complete satisfaction. Today I feel that way because I am so far away. But I know the moment I see Nancy and the kids for the first time, Iraq will quickly begin to fade away. It will fade and take its place in the far recesses of my mind until one day I will wake up and think of war no more.