Promises

Christmas in Baghdad: The tree is mightier than the sword. We were decorating our room with some things sent from our families, and I took the opportunity to challenge my roommate kevin to a tree duel. he didn't have a tree, so i won pretty handily...

I’m pretty sure I’ve been here before. The deployment is getting close to an end. It’s been emotional, it’s changed my perspective on just about everything - it’s changed my life. (You have to wonder how many times you can change perspective in one lifetime – apparently there is no limit)

I feel the onset – the part where I start thinking ahead to being home and promise myself to always remember the things I’ve seen while deployed, the feelings I’ve had – I want to make sure these experiences shape my future life. Not too surprising, I don’t think…I mean, pretty much everybody does it to a certain extent, when they find themselves in a situation not particularly to their liking. It’s something of a coping mechanism, I suppose.

When I came home from 6 months in Kosovo in 2001, my first deployment, I was feeling pretty worldly. I had BEEN somewhere. Coming from a pretty sheltered college experience at Santa Clara University, where the most traumatic daily experience I had was when the frozen yogurt bar shut down early at dinner, my eyes were opening wide.

Besides being in charge of 23 guys for the first time in my life, the 9/11 attacks occurred while I was out on patrol in Kosovo - I’ve never felt more away from home than at that moment. Everyone seemed hostile. Which is a lesson in itself – the local Kosovar folks were no more deserving of suspicion than 90% of the Iraqi people I interact with every day. But it’s hard to shake that wary feeling; it was then and it is now.

In 2003, returning from Iraq, the feelings were intensified. A couple of friends were killed, which took me a while to come to terms with. I was angry about a lot of the decisions that were made, and the fact that any decision could be life-and-death didn’t help. Nothing gets the adrenaline flowing like crossing the border into a hostile nation…

So I made a laundry list of LIFE DECISIONS (all capitals because of the momentous nature of the following thoughts):

I will remember my friends who were killed every day – I will appreciate life, and the fact that I never found myself in the wrong place at the wrong time, which was (and still is) the only reason I can find for so many of the deaths here – I will find a way to support the troops still in Iraq – I will try to understand the Arab culture, and make sense of the violence and chaos that I have been a part of – I will try to understand how this mess fits into the violence and chaos of the entire world on a daily basis – I will try to understand, so I can help fix the world. Nothing like setting small, achievable goals, I always say. Tony Robbins would hate me…

To a certain extent, I have kept my promises. I remember my friends every day – that one is pretty easy, with the war ongoing, watching it on TV every day. I try to appreciate life, but still find myself sinking into self-pity at times, or losing days at a time without really knowing what I’ve accomplished. There’s nothing worse than losing a day that a good friend of yours will never have without knowing what happened. I haven’t really looked for ways to help troops that will be deployed after I come home – somehow the busy life of a college soccer coach always got in the way - I am trying to understand the world, on the premise that this understanding of the root causes for all of the horror that keeps CNN in business will enable me to figure out a solution. Any solution. And if not a solution, then at least let me figure out a way to wrap my head around the un-head-wrappable events of daily life. Yes, un-head-wrappable is the new word of the day.

So this time around, being 28 years old and so much more mature…I’m trying to figure out why I make these promises to myself, and then find them so easy to forget 6 months later.

At first I was pretty hard on myself, and I assumed that on some deep, subconscious, I’ll-never-even-come-close-to-understanding level, I really didn’t care about people who were killed, the tragedy of life in a third-world country and the senselessness of killing over religious beliefs. Is that why I worried more about the price of a beer than the cheapness of life in Sudan? Thinking that I was that short-sighted and selfish conflicted with everything I thought I knew about myself. Kind of a tough thing to come to terms with.

But I’m working on it, and I think the truth is somewhere in between Brendan-is-a-self-centered-egoist and Brendan-is-the-altruistic-savior-of-the-world. At least I hope it is, because I’m afraid the price of a beer is something I will always have a certain degree of concern about.

55 days to go until I’m back home…and I can start working on those promises to myself.