Friday, April 30, 2010

A Letter for Family and Friends of the Soldiers Returning from Iraq

Note: This is a real letter written by Sgt Aaron A. Goddard while he was deployed in Balad Airfield, Iraq. He sent it to the friends and family of this raise spirits and share what they go through. It's a brilliant way of portraying hardship without being whiney, and is a testament to their true grit.

This is a letter for the friends and family members of personnel who have recently been deployed to Iraq in Operation Iraqi Freedom. The hardships of this deployment has taken a great toll on these soldiers and we simply want to warn you of some of the things that you may experience with your returning soldier.

Upon return from deployment ensure that there is no ice anywhere to be found within your home. Shut down all refrigerators for about three hours then allow them to run for approximately 20-30 minutes at a time. This will allow the soldier to become acclimatized with his “new” surroundings. If the soldier runs into cold, or heaven forbid ice water, he/she may go into shock. If this happens proceed to the kitchen and boil some water to approximately 100 degrees Fahrenheit, slowly allow your soldier to ingest the warm water to allow them to return to a balanced state. Over a period of three to four weeks slowly start decreasing the temperature of the water to allow their body to adjust to the colder beverages. Within a month your soldier will be able to handle iced beverages with no problems. Also be certain that during the acclimatizing phase of this procedure stock no more than two or three bottles of water at a time. The mere sight of an abundance of water may cause your loved one to hoard every bottle in a hiding spot unknown to you or anyone else. Over time he/she will realize that they no longer need to hide their water. This realization may happen over a period of time, or it may occur to them that people will not trade cigarettes for water and it may dawn on them that it is no longer necessary to hoard water for those “just in case” periods.

When your soldier returns home ensure that there is a small amount of dust over everything that you and your soldier possess. For you this may be the most difficult thing to deal with (outside of your soldiers bathroom habits which we will discuss later in this letter) due to the uncleanliness of your home. This will take less time to overcome on both party’s part. Your loved one will clean and gripe about how much dust there is and how it gets into everything. This is normal, do not be alarmed at your soldiers’ sudden desire to clean, in fact encourage it and slowly they will realize that they no longer need to clean everything two or three times a day. However be aware that if the winds suddenly pick-up wherever you may live, your soldier will immediately proceed to close every door, every window, and might even attempt to seal up any doors or windows that they feel might let dust in. This is caused by the dust storms that they experienced out in Iraq. This is also normal, and it may last a little longer than their cleaning phase. Remember also that if your loved one starts to yell at you for not helping to “secure” your home, humor them and help them to secure your doors and windows.

Prior to your soldier coming home, ensure that you turn up the thermostat to an unbearable 100 degrees plus. This will allow them to be more at home. This will also not last as long as the water phase, but it will be difficult for you to endure the temperature as well as they do. The extreme heat that your soldier has faced has attuned his/her body to a certain temperature and it will take them a little while to get used to colder environments. WARNING: DO NOT ALLOW YOUR SOLDIER TO BE AROUND ANY AIR CONDITIONING. This may cause their body to go into shock, or it may cause them to go on a rampage about officers and how they screw over the little people time and again. Allowing them to vent their frustrations about their chain of command and/or returning them to their inhospitably warm home can only remedy this. If your soldier goes into shock, place as many blankets on their person until their body stabilizes to an above average temperature. By gradually decreasing the temperature of your home, you can overcome this phase over a period of time.

Your soldier’s bathroom habits may shock, scare or more than likely disgust you. Do not be concerned if your soldier flushes the toilet for twenty minutes or more, marveling at the sight of running water. Your soldier has not had the benefit of running water for over nine months and they will not be accustomed to the principles of how a toilet functions. Keep a fire extinguisher handy in the bathroom! For the entire duration of the deployment your soldier has been burning their own and other soldiers’ feces as opposed to flushing toilets. If you see your soldier carrying a can of diesel fuel into the bathroom, immediately remind them that it is no longer necessary for them to burn feces. As I mentioned this is probably the most disgusting part of the entire adjustment phase. It is not for those with weak stomachs and if you require assistance in this phase feel free to ask for help from another family member or neighbor. If without you knowing, your soldier somehow manages to sneak a can of diesel fuel into your bathroom and proceeds to light it on fire, instruct your soldier that you have been placed on BBQ detail, and that you will take care of it. Your soldier will not argue with you and after he/she leaves extinguish the flames and flush the toilet. As a further precaution, ensure that there are no flammable or combustible materials within a two-foot diameter of the toilet.

Your soldier’s personal hygiene may become a problem once they return. This is caused by the lack of showers available to your soldier during his deployment. Your soldier may go three days or more before taking a couple of bottles of water (ensure that it is warm water) and going outside and drenching themselves with their water. If your neighbors have a problem with seeing your loved ones naked in the front or back yard cleaning themselves, inform your neighbors that it should last only a couple of weeks and ask them not to call the local authorities as this is normal for your soldier. You can help your soldier by subtly reminding your loved one that it is no longer necessary to shower outside. Laundry was a big issue for soldiers out in Iraq. They might take it upon themselves to retrieve a bucket and proceed to clean their clothes by hand and placing it on a makeshift clothesline. This can be easily handled by ensuring that all your soldiers’ clothes are clean and kept folded in their proper places.

IMPORTANT: At no time mention the word “lightning” around your soldier. Even if there is a lightning storm approaching make no mention of the word lightning. If by some chance they hear the word lightning your soldier will immediately drop anything that they are holding and attempt to place their chemical protective gear on. Once they change into their protective suits they will run to a bunker or up against a sturdy wall. They will then start asking for accountability of all members of your family and will instruct you to get into your gear and get to safety. If this happens all you simply have to do is say the words “all clear.” Once you say this, your soldier will proceed to take off his protective suit and go back about his/her business as though nothing happened. This may last a lot longer than all of the other phases, as it was the most uncertain time of their deployment due to the helplessness of the situation. Studies are currently underway as to how long your loved one will carry around his/her protective gear until they realize that it is no longer necessary. To help your loved one sleep better at night, use a tape recording of explosions and slightly rock the bed a couple of times, this will help them sleep as they are accustomed to hearing the sounds of mortars exploding as a lullaby. If you are driving in a vehicle and your loved one may wear his/her Kevlar helmet and/or flak vest. He/she may also start to throw food out the window to children on the street. Inform the neighbor kids that he means no harm and that he is only trying to help feed an impoverished nation.

Please ask your mailman to hold all mail for approximately five to six weeks before giving them to you. The mail system was extremely slow and they will probably not be accustomed to receiving mail in a regular time frame. Your solider may also not know how to use the phone. Keep a “phone roster” handy by the phone, allow them to sign in for the phone and instruct them that it will probably be a one to two hour wait and that they may only use the phone for ten minutes. Once they pick up the phone do not be alarmed if they suddenly holler for joy when they get through on their first attempt. Slowly decrease the time increments you inform them of for a wait and allow them to talk on the phone for longer than ten minutes. This will adjust them to their return to civilization.

Ensure that all food tastes bland. Make your loved one stand in a line for approximately one hour outside your home and allow them to enter. Ensure that your cooking has no taste to it and ensure that there are only plastic utensils and plates as your loved one will attempt to throw away their plate when they are finished. Add spices over a period of time to allow your loved one’s palate to adjust to the sensation of flavor. If you feel that your loved one is ready give them a crappy flavored non-alcoholic beer and allow them to enjoy. Your loved one has been in detox for their entire duration of the deployment and any attempt by them to ingest alcohol can have an undesirable effect on your soldier. If you see your loved one sneak a drink from the liquor cabinet and lock themselves in the room, do not be alarmed if they refuse to answer the door, or even acknowledge that they are in the room. They may be attempting to hide the fact that they are drinking and it may take a little getting used to by your loved one to drink in public again.

Once again I remind you that your loved one has gone through many changes and it is difficult to say whether or not that any or all of these symptoms may be apparent in your soldier. Exercise caution and patience when dealing with your returning loved one and please remember that they love you and that they missed you all throughout the entire deployment. Over time your loved one will return to normal and you will be reunited with the loved one who was deployed to an uncivilized land.

Yours sincerely,
Sgt Aaron A. Goddard
Balad Airfield, Iraq

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