A Veteran’s Tale: “My deployment experience”
After serving seven and a half years in the U.S. Army as an aircraft electrical and avionics technician and five years working with Gulfstream Aerospace’s research and development department, I decided to embark on what I deemed to be the beginning of a new life.
I have always believed we should treat our lives as if we were sitting at an earthly poker table in which, not every hand you are dealt is good, but you have to keep trying to find that card that will give you a winning hand. In this game of life, there is only one difference- you are never allowed to fold!
So I didn’t.
Personally speaking, a short time ago my hand was not very good so I signed up to redeploy to the Middle East, this time as a civilian contractor working for a helicopter repair and service agency.
I clearly remember my previous deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan and, quite frankly, in making my decision to return, I had to erase all previous memories of the years I spent there.
One thing is certain- redeployment is always hard since there is no easy way to leave behind your kids, family, friends, job, and, in my case, the special aspects of my life which I greatly enjoyed like cooking at El Boricua restaurant, dancing, performing as a singer with the Latin band, Grupo Kachimbos, and, my favorite of all, spending time with my kids.
I am inherently committed to our society and our culture and extremely proud of how our Hispanic community continues to show its intrinsic value to the Savannah area and I really regret the idea of not being present to help with and witness every stage of this magnificent growth.
Even though a civilian deployment process differs from the military in many aspects, there are also many similarities. But, let’s face it! This is not what I really want to talk about.
It is my hope that these words will help our community have a better understanding of the experience of thousands of soldiers and civilians who have endured a deployment and experienced the face of war up close and personal.
The transition begins when it is time to say goodbye to everybody who is important in your life. In your mind, you realize this could possibly be the last time you will ever see them. For me, the single most disheartening episode, one that will remain as one of my worst memories, is when I had to say goodbye to my two sons, ages eleven and three, and tell them that I would be back soon and everything would be okay.
My three-year-old's confused stare pierced every single layer of my heart like a mortar pierces a tank’s carcass and, at that very moment, I realized it was something I could never have adequately prepared for. This feeling was so unbearable because my two main passions in life are my boys.
When I finally arrived in Iraq, it took every bone in my body to resist the idea of getting back on the airplane and returning home where I belonged. Just like before, I was convinced that I was witnessing the earth itself dying, little by little, every time I stepped out of the airplane and looked at my new home in the desert. The green grass, trees and flowers surrounding Savannah, Georgia had been replaced by what looked to be an endless horizon of tan sand, the beautiful Savannah river replaced by a dirt road and the green hills now massive sand dunes.
The city I was to call home for the next year or so is intensely fortified with miles and miles of fences topped with barbed wire and thick cement walls precisely constructed to keep out unwelcome guests. It felt as if, for some abnormal reason, I had been sentenced to an entire year of seclusion from everything that represents the beauty of nature and I had to remind myself that, in order to secure a better financial future for my loved ones, I had elected to live under these circumstances.
The feeling was certainly mind boggling and, at that point, I looked for the mental switch that subdues all these feelings of melancholy and turned it on. This became my first and most important survival tool.
Even though I was not instructed to stay within the walls of my compound, the daunting notion that outside them I would find certain death was enough to keep me from going out in search of adventure.
Since everything within my view is naturally tinted with the same tan color, any thought of sightseeing or embracing my innate enthusiasm for cultural exploration became absolutely pointless.
Once I reached Iraq, everything around me changed without warning. Beautiful houses painted in a variety of colors and surrounded by vibrant foliage turned into colorless tents and trailers surrounded by oversized cement T-walls and improvised roads made of rocks or leveled dirt.
I had exchanged my comfortable home in Savannah for a small square trailer that I shared with another employee who snores like a construction site and my soothing restroom was now a common shower in which the use of footwear while bathing is highly encouraged to avoid infections. The intense variety of multicolored vehicles on Savannah's highways had been replaced by enormous tanned metal vehicles devised to assure passengers will survive in the event of an explosion.
My enthusiasm for indulging in a myriad of diverse restaurants was suddenly reduced to a single dining facility in which good flavor is definitely not the chef’s primary concern. My means of communication were abruptly reduced by the 8-hour time difference and a general lack of phones. The weather is extreme and everything is covered in thick layers of dust.
I can’t help but wonder and question every day what it means for me to be here. I knew firsthand what my presence in this place entailed and under what conditions I was to live. So, what pushes a person to voluntarily submit themselves to these conditions?
If you ask any soldier who has been here he will almost certainly have the same answer. This land is unforgiving and can slowly weaken your spirit and deteriorate your morale. Each one of them, me included, will have a different story of their experience while deployed, but inside every anecdote you will definitely observe that they all will have something in common.
We all share an authentic sense of pride in serving our country and protecting the safety of future generations.