But, God… (Part Two)

(TWO YEARS LATER)

12th Evacuation Hospital

Saudi Arabian/Iraqi border to Weisbaden Army Air Base, Germany

May, 1991

An excerpt, via Chapter 4; Operation Desert Shield/Storm, from the Borden Institute novel titled Skilled and Resolute: A History of the 12th Evacuation Hospital and 212th Mash, 1917 – 2006

“In 101 days of hospital operations, the 12th Evac saw 10,309 outpatients and 1,299 inpatients; the average exceeded 100 per day, but the intensity of operations fluctuated. At final tally, 22 Iraqi prisoners, 130 civilians (both Kuwaiti and Iraqi), and 10 Coalition military personnel had been treated; the rest were Americans.”

I volunteered for duty on the “rear detachment”, at the end of the war; I simply did not want to go home. Rear detachment meant that I would stay with our supplies and equipment until it passed final customs checks allowing its return to our garrison base in south western Germany. It also meant that I had no idea of when I would ship out: re-entry into Europe, via the strenuous military customs process, was extremely challenging. It entailed an immeasurable amount of meticulous cleaning only to be nullified by painstaking inspections. Then, unavoidably, it would be followed by even more cleaning and more inspections.

The tedious process suited me just fine. Anything, other than treating casualties and answering questions about my experience, seemed extremely appealing to me.

I had no idea how to process what had just happened. “Processing” wasn’t a part of soldiering. It was a nightmare, plain and simple, that finally ended. I didn’t want to relive it – ever. I naively visualized myself anonymously slipping back into the world, as a civilian, and merrily going about living the rest of my life – unnoticed.

Torturing women and children, brutally, was standard operating procedure for an invading Iraqi military.

I had a problem. It hung heavy around my neck like an over sized, tarnished steel prison shackle. I had close to three years of active duty left to fulfill. I couldn’t even muster the fortitude to go “home”, let alone complete three more years of this. I couldn’t sleep, I had no appetite and I barely had enough energy to report for duty each day. I felt like an eighty year old man trapped in a twenty year old’s body. My spirit was exhausted but my flesh reflected its youth.

Two weeks later, rear detachment passed our final inspections allowing us to fly back to Germany. The following night, approximately four hours after the duty day had ended (2100 hrs – 9:00 pm), “Sgt. Rob” – my beloved squad leader who encouraged me throughout our deployment – drank over half a bottle of Jack Daniels and slit both of his wrists, the long way, on his rack in the barracks.

A week (or so) later, “Sgt. Johnson”, an O.R. Technician and close friend of mine, purposely OD’d on pharmaceuticals that he stole from the supply room.

I had had enough of blood, burns, human suffering, death and carnage to last me a life time.

We were able to save both men, yet I never saw either of them again. The Army has it’s own special way of making “weakness” disappear. Three days after Sgt. Johnson’s “event”, the entire personnel roster of the 12th Evacuation Hospital received orders to go our “homes of record” on leave. Leave was normally requested by the soldier – it was never a direct order. Thirty-days “mandatory leave” for everyone; whether we had it accrued or not. They were giving us credit on paid time off? This was unheard of.

The Army has vast understanding of statistics, numbers and propaganda. Driven by its political backbone of government agencies, it had been spoon feeding the American public an onslaught of media based hogwash since the start of this middle east “crisis”. Americans were eating it up, like a malnourished third world baby, too. It didn’t take much to understand the reality of this “mission accomplished”, however. This was only the beginning. With the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1990, and the impeding death of Communism in eastern Europe, the American military-industrial complex would soon be in need of a new foe.

Back “home”, Americans were watching ticker tape parades, celebrating our “victory” and listening to national heroes being interviewed on the morning talk shows. The Army was even “strongly encouraging” us to fly back to the States, on leave, proudly wearing our uniforms through the airports . Local politicians encouraged Vietnam Veterans to come out of “hiding”, so they could be welcomed home, finally, and stand right along side of us.

America loves to overeat its bloated, albeit comforting, force-fed media chow.

I hadn’t been “home”, to Mama and Papa’s house, for over two years. My life there – my childhood and all that went with it – felt more like a daydream I experienced while deployed to the desert; it wasn’t real. It felt like I was being sent to a stranger’s house, for a month. All that I craved was to stay put, safely tucked away in the barracks, with the men that I served with. They were my family now. We were brothers. We had just spent the last two years training, building/tearing down/rebuilding an Evacuation Hospital, retraining, deploying and surviving.

I didn’t want to go back to my life of yesterday. There wasn’t anything there for me, I imagined. Plus, I knew that I had nothing to give.

Regardless, I had no real choice in the matter. In Army life, orders are orders. Defiance was possible, yet, the consequences for such were laborious and painful.

**********

I purchased my round trip flight tickets from the Hauptflughafen (main airport) in Frankfurt, Germany for just under $1200.00. That’s about one months take home pay for an E-3 (Private First Class). I flew, with one hold over at LaGuardia airport, New York City to Midway Airport, Chicago. I had made this ten hour flight once before holding paperwork ordering me to the US Army’s 21st Replacement Battalion in Germany. Now, I was holding paperwork ordering me home.

When I stepped off the plane, mid-May 1991, Papa, alone, waited at the gate for me.

“…Security plans involved more than “bugging out.” {Iraq} had international
support from Libya and the Palestine Liberation Organization, both of which
sponsored terrorism. The 12th was protected from car-bombers by the sand
berm, and enough guard posts were scattered around the perimeter to sound
an alarm. The posts, plus roving guards, employed 45 enlisted personnel every
night. Guards were located on military vans (MILVANs) positioned around the
perimeter to see over the berm, and other MILVANs were used to dampen noise
from generators, keeping noise levels lower at night. Inside the compound, tents
were partly protected with sandbags. Chemical defense training included practicing donning gas masks and chemical defense suits. Soldiers took the training seriously, especially after the nearby crash of an F-16 jet, which sounded like a missile exploding …

Excerpt from “Skilled and Resolute” – {} inserted by RL Gabriel

******************************************************************************

*** stay tuned for “But, God… (Part III)” finale next week ***

Published by rrlgabriel

R.L. Gabriel is a US Army Airborne Combat Medic (veteran), former drug addict, father, husband, construction worker and follower of Jesus. He writes with an uncommon honesty while chronicling his past and describing how he walks by faith. His self reflecting memoirs will be published weekly. He lives in the American Midwest with his beautiful wife Meldie. Together, they host and tend to a diverse group of backyard critters while raising an indoor goldfish named Petey.

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