Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Zero Hour

"Now, this is not the end. This is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning."

--Winston Churchill


After two years in the Army, the time is finally upon me. I'm preparing to deploy to Iraq. I've known for over six months now, and I've been thinking about it every day. I've had to spend a lot of time taking stock of my life, evaluating my choices and examining my priorities. I've had to spend a lot of time evaluating my relationship with my wife, and preparing her for the hardships which lie ahead.

Are we strong enough to handle this? In my honest opinion: yes. Anne has been with me since long before I joined the military, and during that time her support has never flagged once. I am grateful to have had her by my side for this part of the journey, but as I've said before, some journeys must be made alone, and even now I wrestle with feelings of guilt over leaving her behind.

After a recent personnel shake-up, my squad has simultaneously lost a few members while doubling in size. There are a lot of new faces, and as of now, my crew looks like as follows. Names, of course, have been altered:

Staff Sgt. Moseley-- my section sergeant. Black man, mid-thirties. Sgt. Moseley is both a relaxed and savvy leader. He constantly motivates us to work harder, while treating us with a level of respect many of my soldiers are not accustomed to. Our lives are in his hands, and all things considered, I am fully confident in his leadership abilities. I'm lucky to have him as a mentor.

Sgt. Killeen-- our squad leader. Brought in to replace Sergeant Burroughs. My age, but a veteran of the last deployment. Seems to regard his position with mixed emotions. Sergeant Killeen can be tough, but he's certainly fair, and I expect that he will be a confident and capable leader.

Spc. Freeman--myself. I'm relatively inexperienced, but I do my best. With the recent demotion of one of our soldiers for striking an NCO, I have emerged as the ranking member of my crew. The pressure will be on me in this next year to step up and assume a leadership role. There are some who say I'm being groomed for a promotion to Sergeant within the next year or so. I sincerely hope that I am up to the challenge.

Spc. Miers--female type. Apparently a former NCO in the Air Force, she has returned to us after a long stint outside of the military. Her combat patch suggests she was deployed with this unit once before, but little else is known about her. It's difficult to judge her just yet, but the occasional spark of leadership sometimes makes itself known in her demeanor. My most immediate competitor for a spot in front of the promotion board.

Private First Class Brooks--formerly Specialist Brooks. Demoted for hitting a sergeant in Second Platoon one night several months ago. Currently slaving away his nights performing Extra Duty, but still a seasoned veteran of the last deployment, and a good soldier. I'll be counting on Brooks to help guide me in my growth as a soldier over the next year.

Pfc. Falls--also female type. Oldest member of the squad at 32, but a good soldier. She's not experienced yet, but I expect she'll pull her weight more than sufficiently. We will see.

Pfc. Stein--Kentucky boy. The youngest man in our squad. Quiet, shy, but a quick learner. He'll be fine.

Pvt. Jones--Detroit. Chubby kid. His street cred is proven by his upbringing, and he's an all-around nice guy. But his value as a new soldier is yet to be determined. He remains an unknown factor.

Pvt. Oswald--my best friend. Jokingly referred to as a "career private," Oz is nevertheless a combat vet himself, and has been a close friend of mine since I joined the unit. Currently languishing at the bottom of the food chain, I expect he'll regain rank quickly. His experience will prove invaluable to this squad. Oz and I are close, but if I get promoted to Sergeant before he leaves the Army, the dynamic of our friendship may change. Here's to hoping that doesn't happen.

All in all, I find myself in a pretty decent linup. If I had to pick a group of guys to deploy with, these soldiers would be it. My loyalty to them is unquestioned.

In other news, I finally got some tattoo work done this weekend. It's been something I've wanted to do for a while now, and I'm pleased with the choice. Inscribed now on my inner forearms, in black block type, are two words. On the left forearm, there is written the word "WISDOM." On the right: "COMPASSION." It's not a choice of design I expect many to understand, but for me the decision was sound. As I prepare to go downrange, to see and experience things beyond my understanding, I chose to have written upon my body the two goals of self-development most central to the practice of my Buddhist faith. I want to remember that the pursuit of those two ideals, and their cultivation within me, must at all times remain my central priority, regardless of whatever else happens to me during my time in the desert. I only hope I can remember why they're written there.

I've had a lot of time to order my thoughts and feeling during the last month I spent on leave. Some of the lingering doubts I held have been resolved. Some remain. And in the place of those that were soothed, still new anxieties have emerged.

Have I been a good husband? A good son? Will I be remembered as I would like, should something happen to me in the Sands? Will I return from the desert having lost my identity; my ideals? The truth is, I don't really know. But for now, I have made my peace with the future, and together with my friends I look forward to earning my pay as a soldier, and returning after the year as a group, our ranks undiminished. I am confident that, together, we will bring each other home, and when I return, I can look forward to the first shining face I see on-post being that of my wife.

Am I excited? Yes. Am I afraid? Of course. But I also know that I am ready. I expect this to be the start of a hiatus on this blog, and I don't know when or if I will post next. But rest assured, I will remain in touch, even if the entries become a bit sporadic. Meanwhile, those interested can browse through the archives, or email me at:

milofreeman@hotmail.com

I go to an unknown fate now. What I may see is a mystery. But I expect to be the eyes on Iraq that so few in the American public get to have. If I can bring knowledge and experience out from this journey, thus enlightening a few others, then such an accomplishment would be more than enough for me. I pray that those reading this will keep in touch and support me in this endeavor. To those I say: Take care.

So ends The Calm.

So begins The Sand.

5 Comments:

Anonymous IAI said...

You'll be fine, Milo. Trust me. You have a good head on your shoulders and that is what you need. And your crew sounds A-OK. And your wife adores you.
Best of luck, keep us updated. I'm an email away i_a_i@writeme.com

6:12 PM  
Blogger cinnabari said...

"Female types." Heh. Some of us call them "women," but, you know, that's a technical term. :D

I think you'll be fine. From all our conversations--you're smart, you're capable, you think. You've got a strong partner to be your anchor. And of course, being sensible, you're nervous as hell. I'd worry more if you were all blasé.

Update us when you can. I'll throw the occasional email into the black hole of your inbox, and let you know how the battle with 46 freshmen progresses...you know, so you can think, "well, at least I am not grading papers. That's a perk." :D

Pax. I'll be thinking of you.

7:17 PM  
Blogger Phantom Scribbler said...

I've been lurking here ever since you left a comment on my b;og, months ago. Thinking of you, and hoping for your safe and speedy return.

Thank you for sharing your journey with us.

7:53 PM  
Blogger Softball Slut said...

Aww Man, after listening to what Vanessa has been going through, I truly feel for your wife, and for you. Please come back safe and sound

5:29 PM  
Blogger The Hackademician said...

Best of luck. Update when you can. Send a wish list for care packages.

-nous

8:37 PM  

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