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  • Writer's pictureMike E.

Trauma #3--The War, Part 1--Goodbye

Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s army invaded its small neighbor, the oil rich country of Kuwait on August 2, 1990.

August 7, 1990 The U.S. ordered a military buildup to occur in the Persian Gulf in response to the Iraqi invasion. This became known as Operation Desert Shield, a huge army of several different allied countries massed together in the desert together with the U.S. Known as the Coalition, these countries were all committed to ensure Iraq didn’t go across toward Saudi Arabia, which would’ve given Saddam Hussein command of at least half the oil in the whole world. Britain, France, and others would join the U.S. in forming the biggest military coalition since World War II.

Our artillery unit at Ft. Lewis, WA wasn’t called up. Everyone in the unit felt a tinge of relief about it. But I was beginning to develop a heart to go over there. My reasoning was that I felt the need to put all the training I’d done into action for my country, and especially my fellow soldiers. I knew that some friends I’d met in the Army previously had already deployed. When I would drive to work, I would listen to the news on the buildup in the desert.

I thought to myself maybe this is to be my greatest adventure. I was a twenty-three year old kid on a cloud of innocence and naiveté, not considering the terrible reality of war. I thought of my friends who were over there, and I felt wrong about sitting in luxury when they were sitting in the desert.

I had remembered from my youth the story of Uriah the Hittite in the Bible. Israel was at war. Uriah had been called back from the battle by King David, who'd been sleeping with Uriah's wife and gotten her pregnant. The King schemed and had his military commander order Uriah to come home, thinking Uriah would sleep with his wife. But Uriah was a man of honor. A soldier. He refused to go sleep with his wife, instead sleeping at the palace entrance with the King's servants. When the King asked Uriah why he'd not gone home to his wife, Uriah replied, “The ark and Israel and Judah are staying in tents, and my commander Joab and my lord’s men are camped in the open country. How could I go to my house to eat and drink and make love to my wife? As surely as you live, I will not do such a thing!” (Read the full story from 2 Samuel 11.)

My wife, Shari, twenty five at the time, and I had the discussion about deployment. She said, “Whatever you do, don’t volunteer without talking to me first.” Of course our two small children, Ryan and Christi, then six and five years old, were a big part of her thought process. I agreed to her request.

January 16, 1991. President H. W. Bush (the elder) had given Saddam Hussein until January 15 to get out of Kuwait. President Bush gave a televised address to the nation from the Oval Office. announcing the transition from Desert Shield to combat operations he said would be codenamed "Desert Storm." It's officially designated "The Persian Gulf War" by the U.S. Government. Before the speech, the president had given the order. The allied bombs began to fall on Iraqi forces. When I arrived at work, there was a sense of excitement and other emotions going through the unit.

I didn’t know what had happened. I found out that a call had come down for us to be called up to go to the desert. But this was different. The call wasn’t for the whole unit to go. It was to have a limited group of soldiers go over and be attached to different units that had already been in the desert for six months.

To determine who would go, volunteers were asked for first. I didn’t hesitate to raise my hand. I felt it was my duty. I was sad to see that not everyone had volunteered. Even with the fact of me having the young family and my promise to Shari, it didn’t stop me, realizing this was a time in history that would define my young life. Regrettably, I told my wife I had been picked to go, because I had failed to talk to her like I had agreed to do, and feared her response to the truth.

Before leaving, I eventually broke down and told her I had volunteered. She was very upset with me because I’d broken my word to her and then further lied about being picked to go. Of course this was not the right thing to do, even shameful. “You don’t know what can happen in a war,” she told me wisely. She was, of course, correct. I didn’t know. Her warning would prove to be fateful, for me and my family.

January 17, 1991- We packed up the kids, Ryan and Christi, into our red Dodge Shadow, and drove to the base, where they were holding a goodbye rally for us in a gymnasium. They had games and things for the kids. I remember feeling stressed already, anticipating the reality of what I’d gotten myself into. I was a combat arms soldier, an artilleryman. I was going to see combat, if it came to that.

I felt agitated and wanted to get on with things. I wanted my family to leave, not because I didn't love them, but because I did. I was already, in that moment, hypervigilant, a symptom of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) That's right. I had PTSD before I even left for war. It had developed in me due to the abuse of my father (SEE BLOG POST "TRAUMA #1-Dad") and the sexual abuse I experienced as a child. (SEE BLOG POST "TRAUMA #2-The Dentist).

Of course, I didn’t tell them I wanted them to go. I told myself it was just that I wanted to get things going. But the military is well known for its “hurry up and wait” culture. They stayed for hours. I just kept getting more agitated, already stressing hard. The families stayed until the buses arrived to take us to McChord AFB, WA, just a few miles from Ft. Lewis, where our United Airlines plane was waiting for us.

We all went outside, hugged and kissed our loved ones, and it was time for them to leave. One of the strongest memories that’s seared into my mind was watching my family drive off in the red car. My daughter, Christi, was in the back seat with her brother. I could see her little face as she was crying hysterically and keeping her eyes fixed on me. I looked on as Shari slowly drove away. Christi, even at the tender age of five, understood what was happening, at least as much as a five year old can. I stood there watching. It broke my heart. My emotions were already haywire. It gave me flashbacks of the time I was sitting in the back of my family's car, screaming while my dad beat up my mom. It was just the beginning of the psychological toll it would take on me and the entire family.

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