So I spent a year in Iraq, during which I read, posted, or diaried on DailyKos several times a week, if not several times a day, depending on my work schedule. I took a month off when I got home and that included political discourse. I will post a diary this week about my experience (with pictures), but since May is over now I've been drawn back into the fray. This isn't a policy driven diary, I just want to make a few seemingly obvious points about military service that are not discussed on a regular basis.
The most noted hardships associated with being deployed revolve around violence or the potential for violence. While those are certainly the worst aspects of living in a war zone, the most pervasive and persistent negative was the lack of freedom. I was stationed at three different locations of varying size and at the biggest base I was allowed maybe two miles of discretionary wandering. As an inherant wanderer the song "Don't Fence Me In" felt quite prescient. What with the razor wire perimeter and guard towers it isn't too much of a stretch to call a military post a prison. The only difference is that we volunteered to be there, we got paid a lot better than dudes making license plates, and we wouldn't get shot on sight if we tried to leave (but they certainly would come after us).
Add to the geographical limiations the fact that being deployed means you are at work every second of everyday. We had a "work" schedule that adhered to the traditional eight hour workday, but in war you are always on the clock. Imagine getting personally woken up in the morning by your boss, working all day, and then coming home at night to socialize with your boss because you live with your boss. I had great people on my team, superiors that I would follow in a heartbeat, but the concept of "the weekend" where you have your own life and don't have to deal with people from work does not exist in war.
So I was restricted in my movements and, much of the time, living with my supervisors. Given the situation, beer would seem to be a good answer to the problem. And the army provided all the beer I could drink. Provided it was non-alcoholic, of course. During the first five months of my deployment, until I came home on leave, I had booze on the mind. Especially in the late afternoon/early evening, when the scheduled workday was finished, I would dream of cracking open a beer (just like I'm doing right now, oh delicious beer), sitting back, and playing my video games. And after I went home for leave and got drunk everyday for two weeks I didn't think about alcohol as much when I returned, but it was still something that I missed (it didn't help that a late add-on to our team was constantly commenting on the great beer drinking weather during the Iraqi winter).
Restricted movements, constant supervision, and no beer.
Say what you will about the Pentagon and the military, my transition has been frigging great. For active duty guys it might not be as easy, but I don't have to go to drill until September and I have more money in the bank right now than I usually make in a year, so going to work is an option for me, more of a time killer than a necessity.
With my newly acquired freedom and temporary financial freedom I have taken the month of May for myself. I've spent a week in the NYC area, caught two Mets games, went down to Atlantic City for a night, spent Memorial Day weekend in the Adirondacks camping, and generally prowling around my hometown basking in the glow of a city coming out of a prolonged winter slumber. And all the while I've been comparing my current state to what I would be doing in Iraq. I don't have to put on a really heavy vest, a helmet, and carry an assault rifle to walk about town. More importantly, I can jump in a car and drive thousands of miles away if I want without anyone stopping me (unless I'm speeding of course, then the cop will find out that I have a suspended liscense and I'll get in a lot of trouble, but that's beside the point). But most importantly, I can do it all with anonymity. No uniform, no suspicion, no fear, no differentiation. Once again, I'm just another guy.