Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar

Experience has its benefits. Last night, after sharing a couple drinks and a cigar with a couple of old Army colonels, I walked back to the barracks to get some sleep. I felt lonely and tired of being in yet another barren desert country, on yet another bleak military base–a typical reaction to a week in a place like this.
To someone who has never done it before, depression might present itself as the inevitable next state of mind. I know the mental progression, at least for myself, from experience on several real deployments. (That is, the kind where people not only want to kill me, but actually try.)
The first week is annoying with all the trivial-yet-necessary administrative tasks and getting accustomed to new surroundings. At the end of that first week I say, “Wow, this place sucks. Wish I were home.”
After a month, I’m angry and depressed, but it’s OK because I know why I’m angry and depressed. After six months, I’ve figured out all the survival skills needed in a particular place to stay out of trouble. Everything has its routine, from getting enough exercise to what’s best to eat (and avoid) at the mess hall. I’ve learned to embrace the concept of the Suck Factor, knowing it won’t last for the rest of my life. (unless I die here)
At twelve months, I look at journal entries from the previous year and feel sorry for myself. This is OK. I know why I feel this way, and I know it can’t last forever. I soldier on and pray for strength not to do anything out of desperation that might interfere with getting home. At any point beyond a year’s worth of deployment, I live in a sort of smoldering indignation at missed holidays, birthdays, my anniversary, an inch of my childrens’ growth, and having slept alone for so long. How can it be fair that this should count against a man’s lifespan?
At anything beyond a year I’m not fit company, except for others in the same situation. There’s a perpetual grit between my teeth, and my lungs are full of brown dust. By this time, at least one of my fellow soldiers has seen (from a distance) his marriage disintegrate. I’m sick of the people I work for and the unique corporate culture that makes all this possible. I’m looking at who I have to kill to get out of this stinking country.
By fourteen months in-country, my attitude couldn’t be much worse. You don’t like my attitude? Screw you and the camel you rode in on. What are you gonna do, fire me and send me home? Sounds great. Get me on the next thing smoking outta here, you friggin’ tool.
So, I’ve learned the mental stages of military duty in the Middle East. The little twinge of homesickness I feel at the one-week point is to be expected. Thank God this time I can pack my bag and head home at this stage of the process, early enough that I can still smile at people on the way out.

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