Being deployed is a lot like being in prison – your schedule is beyond your control, there’s not a whole lot to do in your free time other than work out, and you don’t want anyone there to touch your genitals.
Deploying is an interesting time for us service members. It’s a time when we have to say goodbye to our loved ones and travel to a distant land in the name of patriotism and freedom. For many it can be an excruciatingly tough time as the separation often leads to numerous family and social problems up to and including divorce. And that’s just the external problems, the internal ones are what are more often than not the most damaging. The stories of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) run rampant through the news and soldier suicide is a topic oft covered. I would never make light of any of these situations as they are indeed quite serious issues which need to be addressed to keep our service members as safe as possible, especially when they come home from fighting. These are the things of which most people are aware, and for good reason. But after experiencing my first deployment there were a few things I wasn’t entirely prepared for. Things like…
1. Sand Is Everywhere
I accepted the fact I’d be spending a lot of time in the desert a long time ago. I’ve flown dozens of missions around Iraq and Afghanistan as well as a myriad of other countries in the Middle East. I’ve seen almost every country in southwest Asia and I can honestly say it looks like a child’s sandbox you would see on any playground in any elementary school in America. Except without the wooden or plastic borders to contain it to a nice and neat 6’ by 6’ frame. Or any toys or semblance of fun or enjoyment. What you have is sand. More sand than I could ever have imagined. And I can imagine quite a bit. This is the guy who came up with the idea of genetically modified super giraffes. But, honestly, the sheer magnitude of the amount of sand here is mind boggling. I’ve lived in it for an extended period of time and I still can’t wrap my head around how much sand there is. I’ve flown over sand for such long periods of time it begins to look like you’re frozen in space. I’ve had to double check my GPS to make sure I was in fact moving and not trapped in some sort of space-time-sand-continuum vortex of despair. And that’s just in the air. On the ground it’s even weirder. And tastier. That’s because with all this endless, flat, expanse of sand there’s nothing to block the wind. Which is carrying a large amount of – you guessed it – sand. Right into your face. A result of this is that you will always have the taste of sand in your mouth. Hot, gritty, crunchy, gag-inducing sand. And no matter what you eat, whether it’s pop-tarts or steak or ice cream or soup, it will always have a slight hint of sandy-goodness and an unmistakable crunch – which can be really confusing if you’re eating ice cream.
2. You Will Learn A New Definition Of The Word Hot
There really is no accurate way to describe just how hot it gets in the desert in the summer time. The best I can come up with is that it feels like being trapped in a dryer for several days, both will leave you excessively warm to the touch and with a headache strong enough to slay a rhinoceros. It is a five minute walk from my living quarters to the dining facility. If I am fortunate enough to be on the ground during lunch time and have to walk at high noon I will arrive with a t-shirt so soaked in sweat it’s wetter than the tourists taking pictures at the bottom of Niagara Falls. Once we were outside at night, about 3am, and we all stopped to appreciate just how nice it was when the sun wasn’t beating down on us like an angry step-dad. That is until we saw a thermometer on a nearby building. It was 103 degrees out. Somehow that felt cool to us. There really is an odd feeling that comes over you when you see the weather forecast predicting the low temperatures in the Middle East are about ten degrees warmer than the highs back home in the States. And as sure as eating baked beans will give my father gas strong enough to wake a coma patient people back home will still complain about the heat not fully knowing exactly what real heat is.
3. You Will Miss The Weirdest Things
When I left on my deployment I realized I’d be going without all the luxuries of the first world I was used to. However, I knew the military would provide for me and I’d have everything I’d need, even if I was lacking the things I wanted. I had electricity, food, clothing, a real bed, and running water (it counts, even though drinking it would make you sick enough to potentially poop out a lung). The bare necessities. When I left the States I knew I’d miss my family, my friends, my car, my home, my freedom. And you know that old cliché about how you don’t really appreciate what you have until it’s gone? I’m now convinced it was coined by someone on a deployment. As I mentioned before it’s really hot out here (if you didn’t get that then reread paragraph two, if you still don’t get it then hop on a plane going to the desert in the summer, you will) and because of this you have to drink an unearthly amount of water to avoid terrible things like heat exhaustion and heat stroke. A very known side-effect of drinking this Poseidon level of water is you’ll be going to the bathroom more often than an octogenarian with prostate problems. And since this is not your home every time you wake up you have to fumble in the dark (to not wake the others who are sleeping nearby), get dressed, put on shoes, and walk out into the light (which will blind you and sear your retinas if it’s daytime) before you can relieve yourself. Now imagine doing this several times a night – because you will. I miss getting a full night’s worth of sleep without having to wake up to pee every few hours like the people on that TV show “The Biggest Loser” miss high fructose corn syrup.
4. People Who Have Not Deployed Will Have No Clue What You’re Going Through
Most of my friends are in the military (a majority being pilots like me) but that’s not to say I don’t have a lot of civilian friends. Every girl I’ve ever dated has been non-military (there are a lot of reasons for this which I’m sure I will get into at some point), no one else in my immediate family has served, and for those few friends of mine I still keep in touch with from high school they remain blissfully ignorant of military life. And because of all this it becomes very difficult to explain what’s going on in your life. A lot of these things can relate pretty closely to any very specialized career field – simply put, people on the outside really cannot relate. However, when you’re deployed people have a general understanding of what’s going on – the news is extremely vocal about what goes on in combat zones. The problem is they are less specific about where and when things are happening, just that they happened is good enough for ratings – and since we can’t really be overly specific bout our locations, whereabouts, and what we’re doing the experience I’ve had is that people back home always assume the worst. Which can be pretty nerve-wracking for loved ones. And as difficult it is to be deployed it can be equally challenging being the one left behind. Just because Christopher Columbus’ crews ate in the dark so they wouldn’t see how horrible their food was doesn’t mean they didn’t know they were being fed crap. People say being deployed is easy, some say it’s hard, some say it’s fun, and some just want to go home, it varies for everyone but I always try to be as honest as I can. Hopefully this helps shed some light on how we live on the other side of the world.