I’ve got a week to go here in this hot, dusty, hard, boring place known at Camp Liberty/Victory near Baghdad, Iraq. I feel the need to assess my attitude and begin the push toward a strong finish of this project. So forgive the navel gazing for this post. This is an exercise in attitude self-adjustment.
So here are my reasons in roughly ascending order:
Number one, there is money involved. It’s not a great deal of money, but it’s not trivial either. It’s gap money. It makes the gap between what is in the bank and what is owed every month a little wider and that’s not a bad thing. It will also pay for my post-trip rehab (vacation with Dr. K). For many of the contractors here, that is the reason heard most but those folks are doubling, or more, the amount they would make or save working a normal job in the states. But for me, for just one month, there has to be more to it than just a little financial boost to make this a bigger reason to be here.
Number two is the adventure. I’m a sucker for a reasonably safe adventure. Coming to a hellish part of the world and testing myself against the discomfort and long working hours, lack of transportation, bland meals, second or third rate working conditions, and more, is something I have to do to myself to feel that I still measure up. The stark difference between the life I have in the states and life here makes me all the more respectful of our military men and women and all the more thankful for the life I lead back home. The saying goes “you don’t appreciate things until they are gone,” I come here to make sure I appreciate all that my life is and to put perspective around my disappointments. I also need to press my limits here and there to see where they are now. I can imagine the great explorers like Byrd, Livingston, and Shackleton thinking the same way on a much larger scale. My job just offers a war zone and army life as a small scale testing ground for me.
The economy has something to do with it. This is not the kind of economy that I want to be out in looking for a job. My heart goes out to my friends who have been forced into that situation. It is much tougher than just not having a much money as before. No one has threatened my job nor have I been told I need to “pick it up.” My billable hours were down for the FY one month in and there is nothing like 5 84 hour weeks to get that back in line. But I also show myself to be a team player by taking assignment that others might not. I know that some folks have situations that prevent them from these assignments, but I have a wife that understands some sacrifice for a career and we have no kids, so I do this to put a bit of a gap between me and the headhunters. I’m not married to my employer, so I want to leave in my own time for my own reasons (I’ve been saying that for 15 years now). This helps.
I’ve really enjoyed gaining and regaining new skills in the SQL Server product family. I found out that I already know more than I give myself credit for, but I’ve not had a month of consistently working with Integration Services, Analysis Services and SharePoint as well as building servers and putting them into production. I wanted to come here and hone my skills and I’ve gotten just that.
The biggest reason I’m here is that I support what is going on over here and I get a sense of pride out of giving of myself toward that end. Now before you make any political assumptions about the meaning behind '’what is going on over here', please hear me out. What I see here is a people with a chance at freedom. They have a chance to make for themselves a place that is safe and strong. A place that loads less of a burden of worry about the life of loved ones on their shoulders.
The debate about how this country got to this point has merit on both sides and I really don’t know if the ends have anything to do with the means. But I can see what IS right now. I can see what not finishing this job correctly will mean for this place. I’d say the chances of this place finding anything close to the peace I describe as very slim (due as much from our political friends as our enemies), but that’s a far better situation than they had 2 years, 5 years, or 10 years ago.
I’m also very proud to be from the place that has produced the men and women that I’m working with, namely the officers and soldiers of the US Army. These are not people who are interested in killing anyone. They are committed to ending this thing the right way for the people of Iraq. They talk of freedom often. They understand the difference between a lawful and unlawful order and they have a cause and are committed to it. Sure, there are outliers, those who don’t fit the above description for one reason or another. But the average soldier here is smart and strong and noble. This is a historic place and a historic event. The boots on the ground here are the best ever. It is what I believe our country is and should be – Smart and Strong, and Noble. There are still patriots and some of them are here. I’ll return home proud to have served their mission.
This is already a bit long, but I want to pass on a story that I received in email this morning that I really enjoyed. I hope you do, too.
From a Chaplain in Iraq :
“I recently attended a showing of 'Superman 3' here at LSA Anaconda. We have a large auditorium we use for movies, as well as memorial services and other large gatherings.
As is the custom back in the States, we stood and snapped to attention when the National Anthem began before the main feature. All was going as planned until about three-quarters of the way through the National Anthem the music stopped.
Now, what would happen if this occurred with 1,000 18-22 year-olds back in the States? I imagine there would be hoots, catcalls, laughter, a few rude comments; and everyone would sit down and call for a movie. Of course, that is, if they had stood for the National Anthem in the first place.
Here, the 1,000 Soldiers continued to stand at attention, eyes fixed forward. The music started again. The Soldiers continued to quietly stand at attention. And again, at the same point, the music stopped.
What would you expect to happen? Even here I would imagine laughter, as everyone finally sat down and expected the movie to start. But here, you could have heard a pin drop. Every Soldier continued to stand at attention.
Suddenly there was a lone voice, then a dozen, and quickly the room was filled with the voices of a thousand soldiers, finishing where the recording left off:
"And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air, gave proof through the night that our flag was still there. Oh, say does that Star Spangled Banner
yet wave, o'er the land of the free, and the home of the brave."
It was the most inspiring moment I have had here in Iraq . I wanted you to know what kind of Soldiers are serving you here. Remember them as they fight for you!
Pass this along as a reminder to others to be ever in prayer for all our soldiers serving us here at home and abroad. For many have already paid the ultimate price.
Written by Chaplain Jim Higgins
LSA Anaconda was at the Ballad Airport in Iraq, north of Baghdad”