19 July 2015

This time of year again?

It's hard not to look at the calendar; each different day of a week, or a month, I might have a different schedule. It might be a day that I have to work, which is further divided into "am I working quality assurance at the help desk?" or "am I working project hours writing php and JavaScript for the software development team?" I have two main software projects of my own that I'm working on this summer, so I schedule time to work on those. Depending on the day, I might stay up until morning. Some days I head home (and to bed) before daylight. Other days, like today, I'll be up until and through dawn. I work nights, and I've worked nights for several years now, so I'm used to this schedule. It's still pretty wonky, but it works.

About that calendar, though. It's July 18th. That means it's almost August the second.

August 2, 1990. No, 2015. Shit.

In terms of Desert Shield and Desert Storm, July 18th doesn't really mean anything. It's just another day, and in 2015, it's 25 years later. Maybe the 18th does mean something? I don't know. In 1990, where was I? I'd been back stateside for just about a month from a remote 15-month tour to Turkey. I think my household goods had arrived, but I hadn't unpacked most of it. I'm pretty sure I had eaten at least a few cheeseburgers and enjoyed a few beers. I'm certain I hadn't finished in processing at my new base, although maybe I'd started. I already knew, basically, what my unit's AOR and mission was. My (now ex) wife had already been there for about a year, so I'd been briefed, more or less.

This day in July 1990 was therefore, just like any other day. Get up, shit shower shave, put BDUs on, lace up the boots, do the pocket dance and make sure everything is where it's supposed to be, and haul ass to work, a 45 minute drive away. A hurricane had blown through a few months ago so there were a ton of temporary contractors in town around the base. The closest available apartments were that far away. I can picture the place, sort of. I remember the inside of the apartment, where furniture was. Outside the apartment, where the cars were parked, where the tennis court was, the trees, almost everything.

It's easy to go back there. If things weren't perfect, at least I was back stateside with my (now ex) wife, finally, and life could begin going on instead of just a continuous progression of red X's marked on a short timer's calendar on the wall.


I wasn't Special Forces of any kind; no black ops, no secret squirrel shit, nothing that anyone would ever write a book or make a movie about. I was a something, though most people who weren't that something have probably never heard of what I was and probably don't care. I was Ground Radio. I was-- I am-- a Ground Rat. I worked on a bunch of different kinds of radios and all of the stuff that gets plugged into and attached to radios. Having spent most of the 80's until that point being a hacker and phone phreak, working on electronics at U. S. Air Force scale was fascinating, and I loved doing it. I was serving my country, doing something important. If my radios didn't work right when they needed to work right, a lot of things would go wrong. People might die. So I wasn't nearly as high speed as some parts of the military, but I still had an important job. I was a part of something bigger than myself.

There were a lot of things I didn't like about the military-- being an airman means that you get tagged for details outside of your shop when you're supposed to be in your shop learning your job. You do things like sweep the floor, clean latrines, mow the grass/rocks, and all sorts of things that you'd really rather not be doing. But, you're an airman, and shit rolls downhill. On you. Me. Whatever. If I could tell me back then one thing, it would probably be a reminder how important all of that shit work was. (I know, now. Doesn't mean I all of a sudden have a thing for scrubbing down urinals though.)

There were also a lot of things I didn't understand about the military. In 1990, I'd been in for two years. Looking back on the whole thing, it takes your first four years to really get a handle on what's going on. It also takes time, and life, and experience, and thought, and reflection, and all of those kinds of things. I understand my role in the military, what I was doing and what it meant, far more deeply now than I did when I was actually on active duty. Maybe that's wisdom. I'm not always sure. As much as I think I understand, there's no technical order to check.


This time of year-- the weeks just before the anniversary of Iraq getting uppity and actually invading Kuwait-- is a time of relative calm around here. No classes. Work isn't that busy, because the majority of the students that are here during the academic year are not here. Summer in Madison WI is pretty chill, just as it was pretty chill in South Carolina in July 1990.

It is hard-- difficult-- for me this time of year. On any given day, I'm pretty hyper aware. I look at a sunny blue sky, and in one blink I see the sunny blue sky replaced by bad things that I know could happen. I don't know if I've seen the worst of things that could possibly happen-- Desert Storm was short, compared to so many other events in history. Things could have been a lot worse. It was fortunate, for everyone involved, that the Persian Gulf War was over so quickly (although time didn't seem to be passing very quickly at the time).

Except that it wasn't actually over, and every single one of the half million troops involved knew it. We all knew that the cease fire hadn't settled anything. We all knew we'd be going back someday, to fight again, and if it wasn't us it would be the next generation. That's exactly what happened. I make it a point to avoid politics when I write, so please don't take this as political commentary (it's the PTSD talking), but I fear that we're headed towards another war which will be worse. I have this fear, every year, every summer, because the relative calm of summer is a reminder that somewhere in the world, some crazy motherfucker is loading up tanks with shells and rifles with bullets and tomorrow or next week or next month, something is going to happen.

It's not an irrational fear. I know it can happen.
It's emotion. It's an emotional reaction. It's how I feel, not necessarily how things are.
I'm trying to convince myself that's true, but lately it's difficult.

It's times like these that I miss the military the most. On active duty it's your job to prepare for the worst possible thing that can happen. If a chemical attack happened today I'd know what to do. If nuclear fallout started raining down I'd know how to decontaminate. These crazy things made sense, in the scope of being in the military. 

Even the worst of the worst tasks I was ever assigned was still part of the mission. I'd gripe, bitch, and moan, as airmen have done about shit work as long as there have been airmen, but I'd still get the job done. At the end of the day, I was still an airman. Still a Ground Rat. Still doing something that meant something.

Now, what am I a part of?

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