I recently spent a weekend overhauling the storage space under the stairs leading down to the basement and furnace room. Doing so allowed me to get rid of some crap I had been keeping stored that was of no real use. It also allowed me to rework my shelves in a way that gave me free access to the footlocker you see in the main image. I have been dragging this footlocker around with me since OIF III; from Seattle to Iraq and back, to Germany, back to Iraq, and then after I left the active service (and also after I left the National Guard and the Army in general). This footlocker was with me through six moves, a divorce, some extremely hard financial and emotional times, and now it is with me in far better spirits in my first home.
Since I had built new shelving and made room for just my footlocker I did something I hadn’t done in many years – I went through it. I have mostly kept all of the really important and valuable things from my time in Iraq in this footlocker. Now when I say valuable, I don’t mean monetarily. Long-gone are the days of soldiers bringing home silver serving platters, priceless artwork, or plundered Nazi gold and silverware. No, to me these were some of the few souvenirs that I was able to obtain and keep from my time in the sandbox. Some of the items were just personal equipment and things, though. For instance, there were my two notebooks – my “leaders notebook” that I kept in my right pocket, one notebook per tour.
I started to read through some of the pages and some of it surprised me. I guess I thought that I would have written more things in there that would correlate directly to the memories that I have. What I found was a series of notes, scribbles, random numbers and figures, and blunt thoughts / sarcasm. I was surprised that a lot of what I had written I didn’t recognize. It made me start to really think back on what the notes and numbers were about, and start to pull the strings in my mind associated with these previously forgotten memories. And as I read through I found some of them funny, some of them jarring, but all of them interesting. Which is why I have decided to take excerpts from the notebooks and create the “Pages From My Pocket” series; I will feature one page per week, outlining what the notes are, showing them in their true form, and writing about what they meant to me, what went on, and perhaps what they mean to me now.
Spoiler Alert – my chicken-scratch hand writing has been likened to that of a drunken five-year old. Try not to poke too much fun..
So I will begin the series simply with the notebooks themselves.
Desert-Tan, Write-in-the-Rain notebooks: they contain some useful pages with military symbols and terminology, military reporting formats, some basic Arabic phrases, and conversions and measurements. The rest are graph paper-style pages for whatever suits your need. I was always taught as a young soldier that you carried with you a notebook and a pen. As leaders I can’t understate the importance of your leaders book; it is on you at all times, and contains for more or less, your entire world. In combat, the absolute basics that I need to know or record are in that book.
But it is what we put on the book that reminded me of both the seriousness and morbid reality of our business. Taped on the exterior back cover, inside of a Ziploc bag is a casualty feeder card that I filled out for myself. Every soldier was supposed to keep a casualty feeder card on them so when the eventually of death occurred, the paperwork process was much easier. I say that partly in jest, but the reality was that the small yet simple things like that often times got missed, and details of exact locations, exact times, and other specifics of the incident. A lot of that gets drafted by the medics in the combat surgical hospital (CSH) or battalion aid station – but the base information should be done in the field by those recovering the remains (when situation permits them to, that is – you can’t always stop the firefight just to fill out a card).
So as I looked at the back of the notebook, concave in shape from being constantly in my pocket and wrapped around my thigh and leg. And it just made me think about how readily available that form was – how readily available death was to us back in 2004 and 2005. The dust and dirt from various parts of Iraq still embedded in nooks and cracks, under the masking tape, inside the bag having snuck in over time from any little hole or tear. A little reminder of how the war embedded itself in us, sneaking in through the cracks and gaps, getting stuck under our thoughts and beliefs. Still there on the inside of the bag that is our soul.
I hope dear reader that you enjoy the remaining Pages From My Pocket posts in the coming weeks.