I have seen 8 of those 15 American deaths - or at least post-mortem - since I have been in theatre. In 2007, during the equivalent to the month I have been over here, I would likely have seen ten times as many dead soldiers, 10 times 10 times as many amputees, and 10 times 10 times 10 as many who left this place without the naivete with which they arrived, and burdened now instead with endless, unwelcome nightmares. The 3 suicide attempts we have seen this past week may have numbered 30 or more; and far more of them were "successful".
I have written, with levity, about day to day life on this blog several times - and will continue to do so. Some of this reflects ways that we entertain ourselves during downtime, and it may even reflect some of the boredom we now experience. As I have previously mentioned, however, I am happy to be bored given the alternative. In the past, quick passage of time over here meant doctors were busy caring for injured patients; the clock ticks slower now, but this sacrifice for boredom-away from family and career-I make gladly. True, tens of thousands of troops are still here, in harms way (truthfully, I am near the rear of this installment), as the walk behind the talk, and when most Americans debate the wisdom of international entanglements over wine and cheese, they need to remember those walking that walk. Further, they, and we still here walking, need to know that since 2003, the walk has changed.
Everything is relative. The marines who first arrived in the desert in the late hot spring of 2003 called this place "The Suck." I think that it is still an appropriate moniker, but I also know that there is not a marine alive who would not scoff, and many who would deride me, for such the damning of my air conditioned "Single-wide Shangra la." They did not have air conditioning, they were saddled with gear to establish their camps - often over 100lbs per person - they took daily hostile fire, all while donning a plastic chem warfare suit, which we call MOPP gear. They defecated in the grass and ate once daily MREs. The first medics may have been behind this line, but not far behind, and they endured austere conditions beyond what I can imagine, taking many casualties.
The marines, in particular, and the medical corps have a very healthy mutual respect each realizing the impossibility of doing each others' jobs, each in awe of the execution of the respective skill set in a coordinated well-fashioned machine (eg - a field hospital contructed in 72 hours for stabilization of battlefield trauma or a marine unit taking a stratgeic post from 10 times as many well-armed enemy soldiers, in order to secure safety for 1000 non-combatants). Fittingly, these marines, the army infantry and the special operations troops I meet, remind me, most often, without uttering a word, of the relative comfort I now enjoy. They edify my respect and humility for those on the rocky road before it was paved. With great humility, today I honor those here before me. Thank you: to all of those who made it so I could be bored.