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Sleep Monster

As a traditional guardsman, I have to live a dual life and with the consequences of doing so. Going from a normal work week to drill weekend is not so bad, but coming back to civilian life is a bit more difficult, especially while maintaining the same standards as active-duty, full-time military. The expectation is one weekend a month and two weeks a year, but I lost track of the lunch hours I had given up on my civilian job to prepare for weekends, or the hours driving to and from training meetings, or the extra hours at work to squeeze in a workout. On active duty, traditional guardsmen see more dualism. Some days we find ourselves fighting the "kinetic war," where we have been sent to guard equipment in the open desert for extended periods of time, prepare to defend the camp against local tensions, travel on convoys around our sector, and participate in combat patrols, raids, and door-to-door searches. Other days, we are fighting the "popular war," talking to people downtown, handing out goodies to the kids, or assessing the conditions of the roads and schools where we are trying to rebuild and stabilize the infrastructure of the area. Although both missions are important, it is hard to make that switch on our posture and aggression level. Considering we could get hurt in either situation, it takes attentive soldiers and leaders to know the difference. If we are too aggressive on our "peacekeeping" missions, we could upset the local sentiment, and our support will backslide. If we are too complacent on our tactical missions, an attack would be devastating. The heat factor does not help; taking off our helmets or body armor for a minute to get fresh air or fight the sleep monster would be detrimental not only to individuals but to the whole group. The temperature is 120 to 140 during the day, and we find we get chills during the 80- to 90-degree nights.

The area we are in made the news. There was a bombing directed at a mosque in one of the closest towns to our camp. There was speculation that it was an al Qaeda-related attack, but the insurgents were trying to blame us to discourage relations between the local communities and us. There are many political things going on here. The struggle between Sunni and Shia, local politics, and all the corruption make me think of the mob. Here we have the opportunity to see the full spectrum of modern war. In one area, teams are out rebuilding schools while others teams are meeting with mayors and governors. Meanwhile, down the road, American and Iraqi soldiers are chasing and catching bomb makers. Some of these insurgents get to live and see the detainee center and some do not.

Outside camp there are always things going on and changing. We have had more opportunities to touch the lives of the children as we bring food and toys. It is always bittersweet to see the joy in the children's eyes when we give them something, and moments later they are begging for more while they hide and horde their other gifts.

We also face an adaptive enemy. They stick with the same techniques until they stop working, and then they try something new. It is amazing how many ways there are to make bombs out of common things, never mind the continually surfacing "forgotten munitions" that the insurgents find, build, or the local farmer "finds" in his backyard while preparing his crops. It is impressive to see the changes in the neighborhoods. Some areas had electricity for only two hours a day; there were no streetlights, and there was rotting trash and carcasses everywhere. Now they are paving the roads, there are functioning dumpsters, and streetlights illuminate the neighborhoods all night.

It is interesting to overhear meetings and discussions about where to spend money to improve the towns. How do you choose what is more important: sanitation, emergency services, or public education? Another complication is we do not want to make the decision; we want the Iraqi government to decide while we prepare to facilitate.

Unfortunately, as happy as they are for our help and money, there are still people here that do not want us around and want to harm us. There are those who say the insurgents are here because the military is here. Others say Arabs from other Islamic countries are causing the trouble because they are afraid the Muslim community will be weakened by American influence. I feel there is a delicate balance rebuilding this country. If we do not do it right, we could end up with a welfare state or the infrastructure could crumble like a house of cards. Either way, we will be blamed. Still, I must remain optimistic and focus on the little good that I can do and not be overwhelmed by the global politics.


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