Back from Iraq
My wife and I have three sons -- sort of. There are the two who were born to us and then there is our nephew Adam.
Adam began spending summers at our dairy farm when he was but knee-high. One of my most endearing and enduring memories is of Adam and Paul marching purposefully off toward the trees to work on their "fort" while Chris, the youngest, followed in their wake, his stubby little legs churning furiously as he wailed "Wait! Waaiit!"
The boys are all grown and gone now. Chris is a college student and Paul works at a bustling electronics firm, while Adam followed in his mother's footsteps and became a Registered Nurse. He is also a 1st Lieutenant in the Army and is currently stationed at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
The whole family is proud of Adam, of course. We were all correspondingly worried about him when he shipped out for a volunteer 6-month stint in Iraq. It's amazing how much time slows under such circumstances, how waiting and wondering can make 6 months seem like 6 years.
Adam made it safely back to D.C. and recently spent a weekend here at home. It's one thing to get word that a loved one is safe; it's another to actually see that person with your own eyes, touch his hand, hear his voice.
We pestered him with innumerable questions about what it had been like "over there." Slowly, over the course of the weekend, Adam's narrative trickled out.
During his first week in Iraq, Adam hardly slept at all. There was much to become accustomed to: the searing heat and inescapable dust, the constant staccato of small arms fire, the nighttime flocks of helicopters that flew low over his base, the random "WHUP!" of mortars.
Adam says that he is by no means a hero; it wasn't like he went out each night and kicked in doors. All he did was nurse wounded soldiers, he said. He was simply doing his job. For many soldiers, war means long periods of boredom punctuated by brief moments of extreme anxiety. So it was for Adam.
Last Fourth of July we had our usual family picnic. It wasn't quite usual since Adam wasn't there, although he was certainly with us in our thoughts. On that same Fourth of July, on the other side of the planet, Adam and a physician's assistant were traveling to attend a barbecue at one of Saddam's former palaces. They were driving alongside a high cement barricade when a powerful explosion resounded from the other side of the wall.
Insurgents had pulled off a "shoot and scoot" with a 120 mm mortar. The mortar round had arced just over the vehicle Adam was in and landed only a few yards away. Adam and the PA were saved by sheer luck and the impermeability of concrete.
They immediately went to the other side of the wall to see if there were any casualties. There were. A 20-year-old soldier had taken the brunt of the blast.
Adam and the PA and other nearby personnel jumped into action -- "running at full pucker" is how he described it. One of the soldier's legs had been turned into hamburger and there were shrapnel holes and broken bones in all of his extremities. Shrapnel had also sliced though his neck, severing the carotid artery.