I recently marked the twentieth anniversary of the ‘first’ Persian Gulf War, Operation Desert Storm. I served with the lead brigade of the 1st Armored Division as an Ammunition Team Sergeant on a 155mm howitzer section. My 100 hour experience was filled with constant firing of artillery in support of the infantry and armor units to our immediate front. For those unfamiliar with this operation, a 155mm artillery piece makes an earth shaking boom with every shot fired. And we fired a lot.
Since that time, I have had the distinction of two more combat tours in Iraq. Each time was something unique. Each time had its own level of horror. There are specific memories that bubble to the top of my consciousness, less frequently as time passes, but challenging to deal with at the least.
I think back to the times I experienced after the initial campaign in Baghdad in 2003. We had relocated west to the town of Fallujah. It would be these last few months that would be the pinnacle of the deployment. These moments are the times that I spend the most energy cleansing from my spirit. I found it remarkable that some memories that I had suppressed came flying back as I thought about my times in the deserts of the Middle East two decades ago.
They say that only the dead have seen the end of war. That is not true. The survivors of war live with it every day. It shapes how we deal with people, issues, conflict and day to day interactions with the rest of humanity. It can consume us if we let it. Sometimes we have to make a drastic change in our lives to put the past behind us. Sometimes we have to detach.
Let me clarify here. Yes, war is bullets flying while you serve your country on a foreign battlefield. War is also surviving an abusive relationship, whether that is parental or spousal. War is a thug who accosts you in a dark alley way as you are walking home. War is waking up at 2:00am to realize there are burglars in your house. War can take many forms in our lives.
I spoke of the dangers of attachment in my last blog. Warriors (someone engaged in or experienced in warfare) need to be able to detach from their experiences. Warriors need to strive to constantly remain in the Here and Now. Warriors need to be self aware to remain mindful of the dangers of becoming too attached to warfare. It will consume the body, mind and soul. Detach. Empty your mind. Have “Mushin” – no mind. It is not an easy path. But, neither was surviving war.