When a far-away war hits home

by Lauren Cartwright

I’ve been mulling over this column for months. I’m one of those people who usually has something in the back of their head that stews until one day all the pieces fall into place and I have one of those “ah-ha” moments that Oprah is always yapping about.

This one has been a biggie. It’s this war we’ve been maintaining in Iraq. I say maintaining -‘ you know like you do a car, not losing or really winning, just sticking with it. I know, I’m losing some of you right now. Isn’t there enough talk about the war? I don’t really think so. It’s not up in our faces like it is with the men and women in Iraq and their families in the US. Truthfully, there have been days when I haven’t even thought of the war.

And I’ve not really taken a stand either way on how I feel about it. I’m such a lousy American. And, honestly, I didn’t really have an opinion. That was until it came into my backyard – until someone close to me went over there. My step-brother, a colonel in the Army, was sent to Iraq in September and will likely be there for a year. And that’s tough to wrap my brain around. I thought he wouldn’t get called up, I guess, because his rank is only a few clicks down from the big-dog Generals. I thought maybe he’d stay stateside, but of course over the years of knowing him I’ve learned that we civilians don’t really know anything.

Military people are different. They use words like “tactical,” “logistics” and “disclosure” in the same causal way that I say “Nicole Richie needs a cheeseburger.” If I spend any time with his family, they refer to everyday people as “civilians,” like we’re a different class of citizen. I’ve caught myself thinking that way too’… Yeah, those civilians’… wait, I’m a civilian.

He has a family – two kids, both around middle-school age. His wife is in the military as well. She had gotten out of the service but reenlisted after 9-11 because she figured she’d get called back. And now she’s serving as a General’s aide at the base in Nebraska, so she travels frequently. Her sister has had to come live with the kids while their mom isn’t in town.

The communication in this war is different than before. Back in the day, people would write letters, hoping they would reach their loved ones. Soldiers would eagerly await a letter from a significant other that was written and might never reach its mark. Now, my stepbrother and I e-mail each other three or more times a week. The e-mails from him have Unclassified stamped at the top. I feel so unimportant. I get really nervous when he doesn’t answer me immediately, which I know is silly, but it’s not like when one of my friends doesn’t e-mail back. He’s got stuff to do. Besides, with the difference in time zones he sometimes isn’t awake when I write. In the meantime, I hear on the evening news how many troop deaths there are in a Iraq for the day.

He claims he’s in a safe area, somewhere north of Baghdad. But I’m not sure if anywhere is safe. He’s sent pictures of his barracks and office -‘ not the best conditions, but maybe like a cheap summer camp. I asked him what he does, which of course he can’t tell me. He said he was busy last week – planning. He’s probably planning attacks on insurgents. Or something. He says they only hear the occasional mortar, and one night he woke up under his bed. He had instinctively rolled under it when he heard the shelling. I pray for his safety, so does that mean that fate will move someone else into harm’s way?

I have to wonder if the Iraqi people are less than excited about us being over there. Sure, we have gotten rid of Saddam, but now there’s countless insurgents strapping homemade bombs to themselves and hiding explosives under roadkill. Saddam was a known enemy – now anyone walking around could be harmful.

In one of the pictures that shows my step-brother’s living quarters, there’s a child’s drawing, like the ones most parents hang on the refrigerators, that hangs on the wall beside his bed. I can’t make out exactly what’s in it, but I have a feeling I could guess. I bet his little girl drew a picture of her family, their house and their pets, and in the picture her daddy is right there with them, probably holding a fishing pole. She drew it how she thinks things should be.

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