29th Birthday

It’s 2:20 AM and I’m on watch. Radio watch, that is. The squawk box barks at me as the American perimeter observations posts religiously call in radio checks on the top and bottom of each hour. It’s a checks and balances system, really. Information dissemination. It’s the “we heard gunshots, did you too?” kind of radio watch. A lifeline to the great big Army machine with all the cool guns. To my right this radio beeps and squeals and talks at me. But to my left, two office spaces down and separated only by a couple sheets of half inch plywood, is the Iraqi radio with their perimeter observations posts. All is silent to my left, once the Arabic music dies down and after those who are supposed to care are tucked comfortably in their racks. There are no radio checks or situation reports or casual, curt conversations. Only silence below a steady, pulsating hum of electric current coursing through wires I can’t trace.

It is because of that predictable silence I’m here, now, in the first hours of my twenty-ninth birthday, and hating every mind numbing second. In essence, it’s why we’re all here. We’ll never truly let go of the back of the bicycle seat even though the training wheels have long since been collecting dust in the garage. I say push them down the steepest frickin hill in town and let gravity continue the lessons we’ve struggled so long to teach. They understand power and pain. They respect the effects of intimidation and absolute control. Positive reinforcement, democracy, and military order and discipline are as foreign as pork chops and applesauce. They’re inconceivable concepts. Flights of imagination. Intrusive to a way of life where nothing else has ever been known.

Let the psychologists and sociologists and liberals point fingers at culture and politics and religious differences of centuries past. It’s the easy out for Americans who don’t want to discuss such things from thousands of miles away. After all, there are HBO specials to watch and social gatherings to attend to. But what the general public doesn’t understand is this: A grown man of any culture in military service should be able to follow simple orders. A grown man with a fully functional brain should have no problem grasping the idea behind the importance of hydration in desert heat, personal health and hygiene, and simply taking a crap in designated areas instead of next to or inside any building he sees. But that is not the case, ladies and gentlemen. That is just not the frickin case.

So maybe what I’m really trying to say between all the lines is that things change. I never expected to convince an entire Iraqi battalion to drink water rather than sprinkle their asses with it, but I did expect to be able to instill in them some part of what the Marine Corps has taught me in the past eight years. Had I been a gambling man, I would have lost the farm.

Yes, I volunteered for this mission. Yes, I wanted to extend on another tour here. And yes, I’ve changed my mind. I will continue to march, boot tops high with my eyes on the horizon and my pack on tight, until the plane touches down in San Diego Airport and I’m cruising north on Interstate 5 back to Camp Pendleton. The horizon I’ve focused so intently on these past five months has shifted from the crescent moon and sand dunes as far as the eye can see, to better career opportunities, an address that doesn’t change every two weeks, and life lead more domestically.

I’ve been running for quite some time now. Running from the ordinary and the predictable, the so called confines of life with possessions, and most importantly, from someone. It’s funny how my resentment for Iraqis grow more each day, and yet the most eye opening advice I’ve received was from one of the very same. But he’s not the run of the mill Iraqi soldier with shit for brains and a penchant for quitting when the going gets tough. He’s educated, insightful, observant, and wise beyond his years. He explained that going home is always nice. Nice, is how he put it. But having someone there to greet you is what makes the journey really worth it. It makes the coming home that much better.

As a man who has come back to cold, empty barracks from months overseas and driven countless times across the country with only a radio keeping me company, I can relate. I shifted my focus. I reevaluated my goals and took a long, hard look at where I saw myself in ten years on my current track, and where I could be if I changed my recluse ways. I filtered out the logic and the reason made some choices based on heart and desire. Based on want, really, and I decided on a few things.

My decisions as of late have led me down an entirely unexpected avenue of compromise and selflessness. They’ve changed me, and it’s obvious enough to have been noticed by those around me. Maybe this is what religious zealots feel after confessing their sins and being granted absolution. Maybe this is what it feels like to win the big game or save the farm. Regardless, I’m unsinkable in this ocean of ignorance and futility. There’s no scoreboard, but I’m the big winner. Me.

So for this year, the year of the big two-nine, my revelations are gift enough. I’m happier, healthier, and stronger than ever. I’ve got a fix on life, where I’ve been and where I want to be, and things have never looked so good. Happy 29th Birthday, Jayme. Your lap dance gift certificates are good all year.

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One Response to “29th Birthday”

  1. Sean.Melton says:

    Happy Birthday, old man. Yeah, I’ll be joining you for the big 2-9 in a couple of weeks, but for now I’m a still the spry youngster in this equation.

    I’ll hoist a few for you tonight. Cheers.

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The author.Born in the year of the Dragon, the author grudgingly accepts the fact he has too many interests and not enough time. A cyclist as long as he can remember, an avid yet inconsistent writer since age eleven, and a U.S. Marine since age twenty-one, the author also adds peak bagging, diving, snowboarding, and computers to his list of interests. Incidentally, he is aware of his inability to make a living from any but the Corps. The author accepts this as fact and remains optimistic. Feel free to drop him a line.

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