Iraq is a Dangerous Place

Last week a member of our headquarters died in a helicopter crash. He was in the Air Force, on a six-month tour. He was 24 years old, one month from going back home, and, from everything I’ve heard about him, was the nicest, most hard-working person you could ever hope to meet.

Iraq is a dangerous place, no matter where you are, but where I work is probably one of the safer places. I get up in the morning, go to work, sit at a desk most of the day, and go back to my room at night and watch TV. Most of the time, it’s not all that different from a lot of other jobs.

Because of the relative safety of my job, it seems that the real war is elsewhere – that life only hangs in the balance for people working outside the gate. I often feel like the real mission, the real difference, is being made by the soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines on the streets of the cities, kicking down doors and fighting, not by those of us churning out powerpoint slides and presentations for generals.
I’ve changed my mind to some degree.

I think about all of the times I’ve taken trips in a helicopter here, and how any one of those trips could have ended much worse than they did. Or how one mortar or rocket landing a few hundred meters from where it did (given the apparently haphazard aiming that seems to be the hallmark of the ones fired at us) could have been a “significant emotional event” (as folks in the army like to call it).

So what has changed for me? Not much. I haven’t had some kind of epiphany about my mortality, and my feelings about the futility inherent in much of the work I do remains. I haven’t discovered a passion for slide presentations, or information papers, and I will not be comparing the risk involved in my job with that of an infantryman in Diyala province anytime soon. I will probably still be a little bitter when somebody on a six-month tour tells me how exhausted they are, as I reach the tail end of my 12 months. And I will still get a little angry (ok, a lot angry) when I see someone who apparently doesn’t care whether they are helping the team, and seems to just be counting the days until they leave.

But the 24-year-old airman who just died obviously cared about his job, worked hard, was respected by those he worked with, and was very close to heading home.

And that hits pretty close to home.