It was twenty years ago yesterday that the United Nations authorized the use of force to remove Iraq's armed forces from Kuwait. License to kill. If there was any doubt in any of our minds about the war happening, that removed it. If there were still any airmen thinking they'd be home soon, they threw that idea out when they heard about the UN's decision. Me included.
I am having a hard time with it being twenty years ago, now. So much has happened since then, some of which I remember and some of which seems like it never happened. I don't want to forget. I can't forget. Here is a hard place. Even though I have friends here who are veterans, they're all veterans of the second Gulf War. They've been to Iraq and Afghanistan. It's a different war, different circumstances, different reasons.
In many ways vets from Iraq and Afghanistan understand each other, but in many ways we're separate-- I hear vets talk about being in the same unit. My unit wasn't the only one of its kind, but there certainly weren't many like us. We had a specific mission, and a specific area of responsibility. We were made up of interchangeable parts that when assembled, surprisingly worked. No one knew who we were, outside of the other units we were connected to (and through). My unit was not made up of secret squirrels, but to some extent we worked in the shadow of our customers. Highly regarded by some, but quietly. You won't read much about us in the history of the first Gulf War, but everything you read is connected to what we did.
I've never run into anyone from my unit since I discharged, with the exception of one person I've kept in close contact with. I'm in contact with several people from my unit on Facebook, and so I've seen pictures of their kids and wives and houses and cars. I haven't seen any of them in person since my last day on active duty.
There were 500,000 of us, over there in that Desert. That's almost the population of the city I grew up in.
I look at my patches, my ribbons, the bits and pieces of life that I brought back. I didn't know at the time what I'd wish I'd brought, so I only brought a few things home. Newspapers, a coffee mug, a jar of sand, some pictures. We didn't have digital cameras then, and even if we did, pictures weren't encouraged where I worked. It's so strange now, to think that I was in Saudi Arabia, at war. It feels exactly like yesterday. I wonder if it's real, but I always know that it was. Some days it's like a mirage. Others days, today seems like the mirage.
It takes a couple of years, I think, to get to where I'm standing. You come home and you put the uniform away, and get on with the life you dreamed about all those nights while you were deployed. You achieve a balance, sort of... thinks are okay for a while. It takes time for things to unravel. When I talk about where I am, more recent veterans don't always understand... they haven't unraveled. (Yet. some will, some won't. I hope no one does.)
That might be why I'm feeling a bit isolated, why I'm feeling so withdrawn lately. Why I don't want to leave my apartment. I'm scared of the world right now, because I don't feel like anyone understands what I'm going through, this time of year (and especially this year).
A local museum is working on a Desert Storm exhibit; I'm going to contribute an oral history, as well as some of the pictures and newspapers and other things I've managed to hold onto all these years. It is a very strange feeling, that something I was involved in warrants space in a museum.
Now, I'm headed to the campus vets office to study, something I haven't done much of the past week or so. I didn't make it to class yesterday or today. It might be the anniversaries of things this time of year, the change of season to dark and gray winter, the changes in medication, or all of the above. I'm trying to pick it back up, one step at a time.