14 May 2006

The Difference Between Iraq and Vietnam

Greyhawk points us to an article from today's Washington Post about the impressions of soldiers after returning from Iraq.

Through our work at medical facilities in Germany, we've met hundreds of troops who have been sent out of Iraq for medical reasons and suddenly - very suddenly - find themselves in a non-combat environment. Often we spend evenings with guys who woke up that morning downrange.

From the article:

One day they were in a war zone. Then, suddenly, they weren't. Home for the first time in a year, Dan Ward woke up in his bed, went to the kitchen and fixed himself a bowl of cereal. And that's when the Marine Reservist realized: His war was over. It was almost surreal how something so familiar could seem so strange.

"Almost the most nerve-wracking thing was how normal it was when I came back," he said. "I'd been gone for 11 months, and it's like I've been gone for 11 hours. Then it hit me: This is so normal."

If the normalcy is disconcerting for troops who have gone through the normal redeployment process, the transition for medevac patients is extreme.

Which is exactly what Army Capt. Tyler McIntyre was trying to explain to some family members while eating at an Italian restaurant when he was home on leave a couple of years ago.

He looked across the restaurant and saw everyone stuffing their faces with pasta and drinking wine. "And everyone's kind of just sitting there doing it," he said.

Which is really sort of extraordinary, he said. The country is at war. People are fighting at this very moment. Don't these people know what's going on? Don't they care?

And because they are not yet home, there is an additional anxiety for the medevac'd soldiers, one with which that had not yet had the opportunity to consider due to their circumstances: What is it going to be like when they do get back to the U.S.?

Civilians. After the war, they seemed so different, no matter how many war movies or how much CNN they had watched.

Which begs the question of whether war coverage from the mainstream media is adequate, and if their coverage of Americans' attitudes about it is accurate. But that's another story...

"The media talked so much about how the American people don't support us," he said. "But they do."

I recently brought four soldiers into the Soldiers' Angels Germany mail room to get them some supplies: A young Arabic-speaking soldier who works as a translator, two Currahees*, and a 53-year old sergeant who is a veteran of Vietnam, Desert Storm, and now, Operation Iraqi Freedom.

"Do you want some sleep pants? A handmade blanket? Oh, here's a stuffed animal for your son! Need any hygiene items?"

They kept asking where all the stuff came from, and I told them it was from all the people back home who love and support them.

"Your units all have mottos. Well, we have one too."

May no soldier go unloved.
May no soldier walk alone.
May no soldier be forgotten,
Until they all come home.

Their eyes got bigger and bigger, and then they got misty. (Ok, mine were getting misty at this point, too.)

"This", I said, pointing to the stacks and stack of boxes, "is the difference between Iraq and Vietnam."

* Recent video of these guys in Ramadi here. A must-see.

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