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Guilt, Shame, Rage:

 
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Emperor Xan



Joined: 18 Mar 2003
Posts: 4075
Location: A boat.

PostPosted: Sun Oct 24, 2010 1:19 pm    Post subject: Guilt, Shame, Rage: Wretched Excess in a Bombed-out Nation Reply with quote

For those of you who don't have access to my notes on Facebook, I present my latest.



26 JAN 1996 - 9 SEP 1996. That is the official record of the length of time I spent in Bosnia as part of Task Force Eagle, the US contingent of NATO's Implementation Force (IFOR). It's been fourteen years and a stroll down memory lane with a good friend made me realize how deeply affected I was by my time as a member of a peacekeeping force whose sole purpose was to ensure that all of the former warring factions stuck to their agreement known as the Dayton Peace Accords (why Dayton, Ohio, I still can't fathom). We weren't fired upon nor were we called to fire upon anyone. In spite of this and my role as both a tank crewman pulling checkpoint duties on and off a tank and as a member of the battalion's Tactical Operations Center (not at the same time, mind you), there were some truly harrowing moments that until my conversation I wasn't aware of how much so.

As I have related portions of this experience to people before, rest assured that none of what I am about to say is in any way problematic in my revelations. For the rest, let me clarify that statement. Part of my job while a member of the Tactical Operations Center (TOC) was to wordsmith reports that were submitted to the brigade officers. Essentially, I was tasked with making the officers' reports of the day's events look good on a linguistic level. I only learned after the fact that I had been given a security clearance in order to do this job. For you, dear reader, this means I don't know what to what level of secrecy any one item in those reports belonged and thus have things I know that to this day I wish I didn't for the plague of uncertainty of what I can and can't say coupled with what I wish I could confide in others to help me sleep better at night.

No, this account is about creature comforts of those with big guns surrounded by those poor souls who didn't.

The largest logistical hub for my unit's sector is where this sad story takes place. Baskin Robins, Burger King, Anthony's Pizza (it's an Army thing) and an Army-Air Force Exchange Services (AAFES) store amongst the quartermasters and other support elements us combat types needed to do our jobs and get paid. As a twenty-year-old, this was a marvel of American achievement brought to you by the Brown & Root civilian contractor company. (This was during the Clinton administration for those of you who didn't catch the dates.) Finally! I was able to resume my caffeine addiction with a steady supply of Coke and coffee.

Let me tell you that under no uncertain terms that there really is nothing more comforting for a deployed soldier than to have your culture within easy reach beyond the camaraderie of your fellow troops. There is a heavy toll for those on the outside, and this is where the horror of my experience resides.

My rear was firmly planted in the seat of a deuce-and-a-half, that's a cargo truck that can carry 2.5 tons of baggage, enjoying my American-style creature comforts instead of an Meal, Ready-to-Eat (MRE). Trust me, despite sounding cool to a civilian, MREs suck. Especially when you eat them every day for months on end. In light of that you can probably guess how tasty a Coke and some beef jerky, Doritos, and the like are when you haven't had a sugar rush and orange fingers in over six months. So, there we are. one of my unit's medics (an NCO no less) and i just enjoying our lunch as we're parked on the outskirts of our logistical supply dump in the middle of a Bosnian city. We're not moving. We're eating while watching the vehicles so others who are visiting this mecca of consumerism with soldiers who've got 6+ months of combat pay itching to be spent.

Now, I've been to this particular base camp before as I nearly died from asthma and was introduced to the wonders of support unit comforts while stuck in a medical ward for a week (no razor, no soap, no clean clothes) stuck smelling my own nasty body while receiving multiple nebulizers a day to keep me from having to be airlifted out of the region altogether (it turns out that my blood-oxygen level had dropped to somewhere in the 80th percentile). Camp Colt had nothing on this place. I was across from the dining facility in the building where they decided to set up the medical clinic. At all hours of the day you could grab a bunch of free Fruit Roll-Ups. Let me tell you, when you haven't seen fresh fruit in a while, it's like raiding a candy store. More annoying was that I found out that these troops were partaking of recreational activities of the gaming variety. I may not be a hardcore miniatures gamer, but there's something deeply unsettling knowing that while my job was to be shot at on the front lines in a war, these yahoos had the time to paint figurines in the middle of a theater of deployment.

Eventually, the glut of excess in which we found ourselves reached the point where soldiers had the luxury of buying television sets. Yes, we were living in tents and watching television by June. Less than six months in to our peacekeeping mission, we had all of the creature comforts one could want short of alcohol, weekends, and the chance to search for a mate (or a weekend fling, if one was so disposed). Perhaps this isn't as troubling to others as it is to me, but the point of the mission was to oversee the peaceful transition and stabilization of the region after the political, religious, and civil strife that tore it apart. When you view it from this perspective, the question becomes one of why there was a need for a warehouse-sized exchange for a mission that then President Clinton claimed would only require Americans to be in the former conflict zone for a year.

We were ordered not to give any food to the locals under the auspice that, given the long convoys, narrow roads, and apparently poor driving skills of local drivers, someone (most likely a kid) might get run over. Who happens to show up outside the vehicle's windows while I'm blissing out over the crap I'm stuffing in my face? Two obviously hungry children. It's difficult to eat in front of some of the saddest pairs of eyes gazing up at you. I don't recommend that anyone actually try it as such an activity smacks of cruelty in the extreme. The sergeant told me to ignore the kids as there was nothing we could do for them due to the order prohibiting our giving out food. Nothing I've done has made me feel so guilty than having looked those two boys in the eye and then act like they weren't there while I continued to eat. I like to think that the sergeant was as torn up as I was about not being able to provide even a moment's worth of comfort.

Needless to say, I lost my appetite. My quandary became what to do with the food I was eating. I couldn't throw it out the window as that would have been crueler still. There was no way to dispose of it inside the truck. I plastered a hundred-mile stare on my face and mechanically ate what was left while washing it down with a Diet Coke. The sergeant knew I wanted to feed those kids, but he chose to pull rank and enforce our orders. I said nothing to him after I made it clear how intolerable the order was. The task we ask of a soldier is to protect those who cannot or will not protect themselves while safeguarding what we perceive as our culture's right to exist. For a combat arms soldier, this means using every weapon at his disposal to hold the line no matter the personal cost. My body is the shield which I offer as the protective covering for all that I hold dear. Hunger is an implacable foe that must be injured at every opportunity to prevent the creation of more hostile forces. As such, I include it as a tool in my arsenal. The job of a medic is to alleviate pain and render aid to the injured on the battlefield, no matter what uniform clothing the wounded.

I was twenty. Call it idealism if you wish, but my sense of self was irreparably harmed. I betrayed my own values. In a moment of cowardice, I chose to follow orders rather than do what was right. Under the aegis of the U.S. Government, I am able to invoke the Nuremberg defense without repercussions. I've felt nothing but a deep and profound sense of guilt and shame for doing the expedient thing. I only hope the sincerity to which I feel responsible for turning a blind eye on those children comes through these words. To this day, more than fourteen years later, I still cry when I think about what I did. Our sole purpose for going to Bosnia was to enforce a peace treaty and help the people return to a semblance of normality, yet we were ordered to do nothing for the civilian population, some of whom tried giving us tokens of appreciation in the guise of refreshments during the height of the heat while others were conducting an assessment on the recovery's progress in terms of economics and psychology. From what I experienced, so little was done with so much available. I've never been able to accept that what I did is forgivable and it makes me angry that I didn't do what I felt was right regardless of consequences.

To quote the Cranberries: "Bosnia was so unkind."
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Vertigo21 wrote:
Make...something?

Shit man, I can barely make a peanut butter and jelly sandwhich. I can't make a watch.
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Rexfelum



Joined: 26 Sep 2003
Posts: 3897

PostPosted: Sun Oct 24, 2010 5:23 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Well, that's messed-up and I can understand what you're feeling. No, not because I have personally had to refuse aid to someone; but because I can see this inevitable result of inevitable orders. Am I correct: the idea of refusing food is that, just like with (ooh, wait for the shocking analogy) animals in a park, they would come to you again and again, risking death via "long convoys, narrow roads, and apparently poor driving skills"? Further, by using such a method to distribute aid, they (and you) would circumvent and undermine other more coordinated (and more official) efforts?

Oh yes, I can see people giving those orders; and I can see the problem of enforcing them. I'm sorry that you went through this.

--Rexfelum
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Emperor Xan



Joined: 18 Mar 2003
Posts: 4075
Location: A boat.

PostPosted: Sun Oct 24, 2010 5:37 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

By official and organized channels of distribution, that would be a contractor, sort of like Brown & Root (AKA KBR, a former subsidiary of Halliburton).
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Greatest quote eva:
Vertigo21 wrote:
Make...something?

Shit man, I can barely make a peanut butter and jelly sandwhich. I can't make a watch.
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Crackerfats



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PostPosted: Sun Oct 24, 2010 10:49 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

IN THE END, you are what we all are, HUMAN! You enact as much as you try, (or are forced by orders or regs.) You do what you can but think what you are aught! I thank you for not being just a cog. But I cannot fault those that are, just revile the system that puts them in such a place. I can not even imagine what it would take to make such choices...
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The Eggplant



Joined: 16 Aug 2002
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PostPosted: Mon Oct 25, 2010 7:10 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thank you.
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