Perfumed Letters and the gift of January 17th

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My letters from home weren’t telling the whole story of what was going on. CNN was broadcasting live footage, 24 hours a day, and predicted casualties/wounded. The predictions, as everyone knew, were not good. Ground troops first deployed to the region in early August, 1990. By the end of December 1990, the media was getting antsy. The White House, for obvious reasons, wasn’t releasing any strategy or new logistics. The main focus of any reporting was about Saddam Hussein threatening to attack Israel and Israel’s promise to retaliate with nuclear weapons. I would find out later that this was having a horrible effect on my mama.

Back in the ghetto, we were getting even less information than folks back home. Occasionally, a family member would write a letter to someone in the hospital asking questions based on CNN reports. Those questions would go unanswered and the rumors would spread like wild fire throughout our compound. The majority of us, from experience, knew we were powerless over the communication of the chain of command. The less field experienced troops eventually fell in to ranks with the rest of us. We just focused, moment to moment, on the completing the tasks in front of us.

Christmas day was the first hot meal most of us had since leaving the Air Base in Weisbaden. President Bush, according to the chain of command, sent steak, baked potatoes and corn to every American Unit in the theatre of operations. This seemed to lighten the mood of the officers and professional medical staff. However, for those of us residing in the ghetto, we knew this would make “shit burning detail” a tad bit more interesting. Corn, as we all know, does not digest in the human body.

It was around this time we created the “guess a poo” gambling game. Guess a poo, was trying to match fecal deposits to the depositing soldier. This brought a whole new level of research and night observation. Night time was the preferred time for most soldiers to deposit fecal matter. This game proved to be too difficult to accurately monitor and record. As a result, we created the non gambling game of “poop wars”. Poop wars is self explanatory. Shit burning duty was performed in full M.O.P.P. gear with the option to wear our gas masks. Poop wars required masks with the gear, there was no option.

On December 30, 1990, the 12th Evacuation Hospital became fully operational.  As a result of the speed and necessity for American Troops to “dig in” once arriving in country, there were a lot of motor vehicle accidents. Our first day of business brought 129 wounded/casualties through the doors of the hospital.

Somewhere in the first week of January, I received two letters that smelled of perfume. Perfume letters always brought a trail of soldiers like honey bees following honey. Everyone just gathered around my bunk waiting to see who was sending me perfumed letters. I was just as curious as everyone else.

The first letter was from Stacy, the girl I met in college. Her letter completely caught me by surprise. I hadn’t spoke to her in two full years. Her letter was positive, encouraging and almost loving. She was just that kind of person. I read it three times while the rest of the ghetto was smelling the paper envelope. She had sent a picture. Her fair skin and light brown hair, mixed with the perfume in the air, affected the whole tent. There were men who I didn’t talk to regularly, some I had never even met, who were now asking me questions about Stacy. I told them every last detail from my memory that I could remember. It was comparable to reading a bedtime story to a tent full of three year old children. They asked question after question after question. I felt guilty, at first, talking about sex with Stacy. However, that passed immediately knowing there would never be any introductions. This was a welcomed distraction from the uncertainty of our lives. My intimate descriptions of Stacy was returned with dozens and dozens of stories of the “Stacy’s” in their lives. Story time lasted the rest of the night. I wrote Stacy back the next day asking for more perfume letters and pictures.

A few days later I received a letter from Elle. I wasn’t sharing any details with the ghetto honey bees about Elle. As they gathered around me, foaming at the mouth, I excused myself from their presence. I read the letter in the privacy of the latrine. My departure was met with loud boos, name calling and a near miss with a well thrown combat boot.

For the life of me I can not remember any words that Elle wrote to me. However, I can remember the affect it had on me.

I wanted to go home.

In the early morning darkness on January 17, 1991 I was pulling guard duty with a partner. My partner was handling the radio while I was scanning the desert through the sights of my rifle. We first saw the lights of B 52’s flying in formation thousands of feet above us. Soon after that we heard the Air Force fighter jets scream over head. Not long after the aerial demonstration, we heard the command, “We are live down range”, over our radio. That command was the signal to flip my rifle switch from safe to automatic and prepare for visitors. We were now at war.

As I stared into the darkness of the desert I heard a commotion coming from our side of the berm. It was my First Sergeant. He was running around the entire perimeter of the Hospital screaming, “We are going to war! We are going to war!” He was breaking noise discipline, alerting anyone in our general area to our location. This was really pissing me off.

My partner told me to take the shot.

I think of that fucker every January 17th. It is my personal belief, because I didn’t take that shot, that God gave me a gift.

January 17, 2004, in the early morning darkness, my daughter was born.

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