Taking the Dog Tags off
This whole reintegration thing is tough. I know it will take months, perhaps years to become whole again or to just act like a normal civilian, but while I love every minute of being on American soil, I can’t help but realize just how strange things are.
In my mind, I’m still in Iraq, looking for the cowards behind the black masks… I feel like I’m in a dream where I tell myself everything is fine and nobody here wants to kill me, but I can’t stop myself as if I am simply programmed to be suspicious and alert. My eyes automatically look at everybody as if they’re touting an AK-47. I scan for cover at every turn and am nervous when I see objects on the roadsides.
Today, I’m walking through the mall, shopping for normal clothes and people either had bags or cell phones. I glanced in a 12-year-old’s bag, inspecting for explosives. The kid didn’t see me, but I was ashamed of the act. I saw the mall Rent-A-Cops wearing those “wannabe” Drill Sergeant hats. These guys, who wear badges and a piece, were just sitting around and talking to people. Somebody could easily plant a bomb right under their noses… they’re so damn unprepared and undisciplined, I thought to myself. Plus, they were fatter than the Pillsbury Doboy after a hot dog eating contest. I wanted to tell them that they were a disgrace, but I can’t… I’m not an NCO in jeans and they’re not my troops. They’re Mall Cops and sadly, they out rank me in the civilian world.
It’s also weird to see people relaxed. And I can’t get over the way folks seem to care more about their personal lives and social calendars than the soldiers standing in a guard tower. People are so apathetic. But I guess, there’s not really anything you can do other than placing a yellow bumper sticker on your car or forwarding on an email from a soldier. I guess that’s where I come in. As much as I hate being asked stupid questions, I feel obligated to continue telling the soldiers story. For those of you in the Milwaukee area, I have an interview with 620 a.m. Friday at 5 p.m. And I plan to tour schools, telling kids what it means to be an American. But I’ve already had some schools tell me that Iraq is “too controversial.” The stories of brave Americans and Iraqis working side by side to dispel evil must be told. The smiles of kids must be shared. The fact there is hope in such a downtrodden country is because of the American soldier and I must tell this story to as many people as possible.
Of course when I tell these stories, I need to leave the military dark humor at home. I’m watching “Assault on Precinct 13” and these two guys start stabbing this “bad” cop and I just burst out laughing while everybody else in the theater is covering their eyes. The reason why it was funny is the cop was wearing Kevlar body armor, which protects his torso and chest from sharp objects. In real life, there’s no way the blade would have penetrated that body armor. Hey, it was funny.
But I am showing signs of being normal again. My hair is growing out. I’m already hooked on a show called “Smallville.” I have dates lined up. And for the first time in a year, I took my Dog Tags off. Those things have been dangling by my heart for so long that I feel naked right now without them.