Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The best thing about Iraq

So I'm driving along Route 33W near Charlottesville on my way to Shenandoah National Forest. As soon as I start gaining altitude, the sky becomes curiously overcast and I can see the wind is picking up by the minute.
Skyline Drive exit. I roll up to the ranger toll booth in the new Mustang I rented for the next 20 days. A quick stop in the mountains as I head out to visit friends and family all points beyond. A blast of winter air hits my face as I drop the window to pay the entrance fee.

"Yeah, reading 42 degrees right now. She's dropping fast. Shoot, it was so warm yesterday, too."

Crap. It was 89 degrees in Norfolk when I left. "Great! Hey, I'm meeting a lot of people up here tonight. There's supposed to be this huge concert at Big Meadows Campground, and everyone I've talked to is coming out. Have you seen them yet?"

Ranger looking at me with her mouth open and brow furrowed: "Um, what?"

"Yeah, huge rock concert at the campground. Supposed to be a couple' hundred showing up. You didn't hear about it?"


"I have an extra ticket if you want to go. Is this going to be a problem?" I ask ever so innocently.

"Well, yes! We can't have that up here. Who issued the permit for this? This is a National Forest!!!"

I can't stand it any more, and give up the joke lest I be accused of having fun at someone else's expense. I get a complimentary glare along with my Skyline pass. She needs more humor in her life. . . not aware of this fact yet.

Register, find the camp spot, and set up the tent. Find long sleeve t-shirt, jacket, and the hat I just so happen to bring along. I haven't mentioned this yet, but 42 degrees is quite the change from where I came from. I'll get to that in a minute.

George pulls up in his custom conversion van. Complete with bed. Obviously when he mentioned camping in the mountains to me as I was traveling back from Iraq, we each had our separate ideas of what constitutes "camping". His version is looking so much more appealing than mine right now.
Procure the firewood, make some coffee, and fire up the grill. As I start jumping up and down to maintain body temperature, George and I are tag-teaming both the grill and the fire simultaneously as dusk fades quickly to night.
After some top sirloin and hamburgers, the campfire is roaring along quite nicely. Which is a good thing when your current perspective of cool mountain air goes something along the lines of "Oh God, I'm going to lose an appendage to frostbite before morning". I forgot my flask of Irish whiskey, but at least I brought plenty of beer.
So here's the plan: if I drink enough beer and sit close enough to the fire to singe my pants, I should be able to 1) raise my body temperature high enough to fall asleep, and 2) once asleep, the alcohol should keep me there until morning. It's not a very good plan. I already know this. . .but it's all I got.
9:30 and I bid George a good night as he's talking about how many thermal blankets he has in the van. "That's great, George". I'm walking to the bathrooms with toothbrush and toothpaste, and swear I see a few flakes of snow float just beyond my night vision.
I'm in boxers, thermal shirt, and a winter cap. Leave the hiking socks on for good measure. I can do this. Heck, I just came from Iraq and a little cold front isn't going to ruin my superhero image. The sleeping bag zipper was checked and re-checked four times to ensure I couldn't zip up a few more centimeters. Maybe I can get a tight enough seal to re-breathe CO2 all night; a double effect of drowsiness and re-claiming lost body heat.
I'm wide awake. Worse than that: I'm already freezing. Don't worry, I tell myself, the beer is going to kick in any minute now. Settle yourself in, and let nature's medicinal barley and hop fermentation take care of the rest. Yeah, right.
An hour later, and I find myself at the bottom of the sleeping bag. In the fetal position. I can't stop shivering. Where did that beer go! I haven't drank in months, and there's no way my freakin' liver processed all that alcohol so fast! Doesn't this work for blizzard casualties?
The bottom of the sleeping bag. This is where I spent the next nine hours; a quivering mass of protoplasm. No sleep. All night. . .I think.
Morning finally comes. Character-building experiences like these only bring me closer to my final interpretation of what eternity looks like.

"Sleep OK, George?"

"Well, it was a little chilly when I first got in the van, but that didn't last long. I slept so good last night, I didn't even notice I was sleeping on my arm wrong. Bugger kinda' hurts this morning. The thermal blankets get so hot after a while. Oh, hey how did you make out in that tent."

George can be a funny guy. "Well, lets see. First of all, I didn't sleep. Second of all, I was crammed at the bottom of that sleeping bag in the fetal position all night. George, it's. . .oh, 80 degrees colder than where I just came from."

George chuckles "Yeah, I can see how that can be a difference."
Thank you George.

I've been on American soil 19 days now. I'm not counting. In fact I had no idea until an hour ago when I decided I thought I should know since I keep telling everyone "about two weeks". All the "wow" factor has just about run it's course. Culture shock at every turn is slowly fading as I integrate back to life again.
I'm still enjoying. Savoring every second. Culture shock and all. The only adjustment I'm really worried about at this point is temperature shock.

In all honesty, when I really have to pin it down, the hardest thing about coming back are the questions. Not a lot of questions. A lot of the same questions.
"So, how was Iraq?" Can I answer this one in two sentences or less?
"Well, should we be there?" Dunno, ask Rumsfeld.
"When are you due to go back?" I just left, people. Do I really have to ponder when I have to go back? Dunno, ask Cheney.
Every time, without fail, I know I'm giving this pained look as I attempt to answer yet another thoroughly complex question that I know will take hours to actually answer. How do I streamline the responses into a politician's soundbite? Dunno. . .
So I've resorted to this: "I can tell you the best thing about Iraq." This is getting them every time. I'm not trying to bait anyone. Just looking for a way to avoid the questions I'm not ready to answer.
"The best thing about Iraq is that I'm not there."


karin in tx said...

"The best thing about Iraq is that I'm not there"...well amen to that!!!
Enjoy your continuing adventure and breathe in and savor each and every moment....even the cold ones!!!
And as always thanks for all you did in service to our country!

mel said...

Okay, your camping story had me laughing. Sounds like a great time! :)

Glad you made it back safely.

Alison said...

I love the "concert" prank! You make me laugh! Glad to see you using every opportunity to further advance the science of "leg pulling". You rock sir!

Bag Blog said...

Our whole church goes on a camping trip every fall (next week actually) to the Wichita Mountains near Ft. Sill, OK. It is amazing what some people think "camping" is. My husband believes it is a tent. Most years the weather is great - still warm, but fall-ish here in OK. One year a storm blew in while we were sleeping. The wind blew so hard that branches were falling. Our neighbors had a dome tent that seemed to be bouncing like a basketball. Our tent seemed to be going from side to side as we spent a sleepless night huddled under our Eddie Bauer blanket. Then next morning when I looked over at my husband, he said, "I dreamed I was a flag."

Next time someone asks questions about Iraq, just say "read the blog." I'm glad you are home and blogging some. It is good to know you are well and enjoying life.

membrain said...

Good to see you blogging again. The camping story made me laugh out loud. Cheers.

mamaworecombatboots said...

Is there ANYTHING more miserable than a night in the mountains when you are cold and/or wet?

Ok, I suppose you could could come up with a thing or two, but boy, it is miserable anyway. It has been XX years since I spent the night in the mountains, in the rain, with only a plastic garbage bag over my sleeping bag for protection. I ain't got over it yet. Tent? Phooey. Gimme the van. (And an RV with TV is even better!) Enjoy Enjoy Enjoy!

Cindy from Macy,IN said...

So glad your home!!! Sorry you had a miserable night camping, We've had a few of those, but it always seems worth it the next day when the sun shines and puts some warmth back into your bones.
Take Care and keep writing!
Enjoy life to the fullest.

Ozarkglittergirl said...

I'm still LO! Not only at you, but at bag blogs' comment as well.
Wait until you hit the Ozarks and we put you up...this bed is hard as a rock :) I can even shut the heat vents off, raise the window and turn the heat way down if you like? Or, perhaps you'd prefer the 'sleep with 3 cats and one dog hillbilly version?' Better yet, how about all of the above :) Just let me know, it can be arranged. Looking so forward to seeing you :)

Anonymous said...

LOL, no grunt would come home and "go camping". You need more alcohol and sex before you're ready for that sort of thing.


Jeannie said...

As usual, Carl, your stories are wonderful! I'm so happy to see you blogging again. All I can say is:

I'm so glad you are on terra firma USA among family and friends, and safely home again. We are so looking forward to seeing you!!

joyce said...

Instead of questions, let me say, Thank you ! Thank you for serving and purchasing our freedom with your time, energy, and sweat. I'd love to pick your brain about what is going on over there because I don't trush our biased press. But, when someone asks, are they truly showing concern about you as a person, or are they wanting to use you to find out the truth? And our country needs you to analyze what is happening and come home and vote and run for office and help this country get our heads straight. Again, thanks for serving. And thanks for putting up with idiots like me who desire to help and desire to learn, but often make it harder on men like you.

My husband pointed out that the men who came back from Iwo Jima probably did not want to talk about it right away, either, but looking back, it was a necessary battle to give us the freedom we enjoy today.

Military history and your experiences need to be taught in our schools and colleges today lest we forget and repeat the same mistakes. Thanks again, Joyce

And as a nagging mom---your body is not ready for cold temps yet. You are in great conditon for hot temps right now. Dress warmer so you can enjoy the quiet forrest. Beer/alchohol may warm you up for a while, but it dehydrates--and hence, cools you after. consider yourself nagged by a mom.

ET USN 71-78 said...

Glad to see you are having such a memorable return to western civilization! Should help you make the mental break from Iraq in record time. Enjoy!

Jim said...

Thank you sir for your service. No questions... just gratitude!

Jim C

MaryAnn said...


When they ask dumb questions just give them the URL to the blog. Sheesh! What did you do all that writing for, anyway??

BrianFH said...

Heh. Just to let you know, all your hopes for alcoholic heating were 180° out of line. Alcohol flushes the skin, producing a sensation of warmth, but actually accelerating the dumping of core body heat. So you get cold as fast as possible. The caloric value of the "fuel" is insignificant compared to that effect.

Of course, if all you were looking for was a momentary ILLUSION of warmth ...

City Girl said...

Almost a month later....

How you holdin' up?

LT GO said...

Hey everyone....it's been months and life is so good. Busy, but great beyond my wildest expectations. A barn-burner of a wild life! January 2008 has rolled into my life and I had no idea it would hit me so fast! Wanted to send a shout out to let everyone know I was doing well and living life to the fullest.
Regards, DF

Paul Hirsch said...


Glad to hear you are doing well. Thank you for everything, especially the look your posts gave into the realities of the war. I consider fellows like you the best sources of information.

Best wishes for the future.


Army Sergeant said...

Glad you're back-do you still think of getting this blog back going again?

There's sand in my... said...

Carl, I still read the blog every now and then to remember what we went through. It's nice to revisit the memories, but I think that the deployment bug is finally out of me after this current one. Hopefully yours is also! haha. Take care and do great in school.