Lately it seems people have been asking me about my experience in Operation Desert Storm. I am a combat veteran of the first Gulf War and served in the 13th Evacuation Hospital from Madison, Wisconsin. We were assigned to serve under the authority of the 7th Corp. I joined the Wisconsin National Guard to pay for college and was sent to Operation Desert Storm three months before my 21st birthday.
It was a life changing experience. My heart goes out to our soldiers and the people of Iraq. I was asked if the war made me nutty. Well, I am nutty but the war didn’t do it. I didn’t agree the decision to invade Iraq for the second war. Nonetheless, we are in Iraq amidst a Civil War and are in a precarious situation. Our troops need our support regardless of whether we agree on the invasion of Iraq or not.
One of my dear friends has come back from the Gulf and has run into the same things I did when I came home. You don’t get other people or understand why they worry about what seems to be the most insignificant of things. I for one to this day don’t care to see any movies about war. I get weepy and emotional in movie theaters just looking at previews to Gulf war movies. When I got home to Fort McCoy, I was asleep in my cot. A thunder crack echoed in the skies and I thought it was a scud missile.
I saw young a young man who survived his friend being killed in friendly fire fight cry from the depth of his soul. I can still see one young man cry as he blamed himself for not being able to save his friend. One soldier lost parts of his extremities and couldn’t write, but when I wrote his mother for him he told me to tell her that I was pretty. It tugged at my heart so that when that boy lay in his cot in pain, he wasn’t thinking of himself, he was thinking of how to make me feel good. These things never leave you.
I remember Iraqi soldiers wanting their pictures taken with me because I had blond hair. I can’t forget the generosity of the Bedouin people in the middle of the desert. They strived to connect with us in smiles and food.
The Iraqi’s suffer too. They have suffered greatly. We cannot forget their pain either. The war isn’t something that can be resolved easily. We have a huge wound that now infects our combined humanity. Our foreign policy is a mess. Countries across the world have lost their faith in us. We as a nation have lost our faith in our leaders. It doesn’t matter what side of the political fence you sit on. War affects all of us regardless of partisan politics.
One in four Desert Storm veterans are now seriously ill. I know we ingested expired pyrostigmine bromide tablets, wore faulty gas masks, and were under scud missile attacks. The chemical alarms in Riyadh went off repeatedly when we were in Khobar Towers. We suffer from Gulf War Illness that gets dismissed as psychosomatic illness. The VA and our government, our elected leaders deny all causes of this ‘alleged’ illness.
I am missing skin pigment in my skin. I have a blotch on my neck that drives me bonkers, two spots on my chin, my arms, and wrist. I am lucky I just lost skin pigment and have a fair completion. I don’t suffer, I just feel unattractive at times. That’s really egotistical in comparison to losing a leg, your brain or your life. When you come home from war a different person, your family suffers along side you. My Vietnam Veteran friends can attest to this.
We cannot abandon our next set of veterans. We now have a need for federal funding for head injuries and closed head trauma for returning veterans. Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome and psychological support needs to be offered by veterans for veterans as well. When I returned home from war, nothing was ever said about our ability to cope upon arriving home.
The best part of the war experience had to be the amazing homecomings by the American people. It makes me tearful even now. Please support our soldiers. Please support the Iraqi people. This situation is near and dear to my heart and I hope it becomes a campaign issue for our professional politicians. We have learned the harm we can cause as a people to what we can do to make the suffering worse of a soldier. I hope to God we have learned from Vietnam. Regardless of what happens in Iraq, we need to support our troops. Please help me in getting support for our soldiers and their families, now and in ten and twenty years down the road.