The Hanging of Saddam Hussein

My deployment to Iraq (2008-09) was pretty boring for the most part. I was at a little base called Camp Bucca and my job was not very exciting, it kept me at a desk in the chapel most days. A few times a week, I would escort the chaplain to the TIF (theater internment facility) to visit our troops, medics, and command staff. Sometimes when the chaplain was counseling with a soldier, I would get to pull tower duty over one of the compounds while the chaplain and soldier walked around and chatted. A couple of times when visiting the SHU (special housing unit, where the worst of the worst were kept in solitary confinement), I was overwatch during a detainee being moved from his cell to the small fenced patio for his outside time. That was almost exciting. I held the taser for that job, just in case the detainee had the guts to do something stupid while being moved. They never did, they knew better. That was one cool thing about deploying with a Military Police battalion. I was trained on their non-lethal weapons, trained in combatives, self-defense, and other exciting things. I could have done without the required OC spray (pepper spray) followed by an obstacle course, but that was part of it.

Overall, it was a boring deployment. Nothing like my time in Afghanistan (2013-14) where I traveled all over the country escorting my chaplain. Camp Bucca, Iraq, at least while I was there, was not exciting. And in some ways, that’s a good thing. Very few times was our base threatened, and even if it was, it wasn’t anything like I saw in Afghanistan. I probably saw and heard more attacks in any particular week of travel in Afghanistan as I did my entire deployment in Iraq. Boring can be good in that case. But boring can also be tough on morale. My fellow chaplain assistants and I did what we could to make Bucca a little better for those of us stuck there.

Sometime in 2008, a bootleg video of Saddam Hussein’s hanging was circulated via email. It was a very different view from the official video footage released by the Iraqi government after Hussein’s hanging on December 30, 2006. That video stopped just short of his actual hanging. The unofficial video being circulated that I saw was of poor quality, obviously taken on a cell phone. Lights seemed to be flashing, but that was probably the cell phone camera not having enough light to take good video. And the picture was unstable, lots of movement. Obviously, whoever was filming the execution was moving with the action as it happened, while Saddam was being escorted to the gallows. I watched that cell phone footage of him being led to the noose. I couldn’t understand the Arabic being spoken. I watched that video as the rope was put snuggly around Saddam’s neck. He spoke defiantly, or perhaps he was praying, I don’t know, but it was no help to him. The floor dropped out from under him, and after a few seconds, he hung lifeless and still.

That was a morale boost for me. Does that make me a bad person? Nope. That’s why we were there. Do you have any idea how hard it was to be present during the times a soldier was notified of a death of a loved-one from far away, or to organize a memorial service for a fallen soldier, or to inform a spouse that her husband’s plane went down in Afghanistan and there were no survivors? Do you know how hard it was to read casualty reports on the secret-side email and see how those events unfolded? Do you know how hard it was to see those burned children? Honestly, I think it would have been easier to see corpses instead of those children in pain and suffering, crying, scared, with no chance of ever being bodily normal again. Sometimes I still see those three children when I lay down to sleep at night.

I’ve seen some horrible things and I’ve seen some wonderful things. And I can say that the only time I’ve ever witnessed a death (on video or in person) and smiled about it, was watching the hanging of Saddam Hussein. The unofficial video was a couple of years old when I saw it, but at the time, that bootleg video was new to us. To me, it put to rest any doubts. There had been talk for a while that Saddam wasn’t really dead, because the official video didn’t show his neck snapping like the bootleg video did. The official video stopped just before the floor fell out from under him. But the scratchy, unprofessional, dimly lit video from a cell phone that I, and others saw, was enough to make it a good day for me. Saddam’s neck snapped and all life left his body. I smiled. And I didn’t feel bad at all when watching Saddam die in that video. It made me happy, really happy. Once in a while, though, I do think about it and wonder if my feelings about watching that video were normal. That doesn’t usually last long. Maybe I’m demented, but I don’t feel bad about it. He got what he deserved.

I write about a lot of things here, some uplifting, some dark. When you visit Story of My Life, you agree to take the good with the bad. Thank you for stopping by this week. Good day, God bless.



You Don’t See Me

I had a conversation with the new Command Sergeant Major at my army reserve battalion. It was a little one-sided. Those of you who have served in the military know what I’m talking about. I’m coming up on the end of my military career in the reserves, an ending that is not as much my choice as it is the army’s. With that said, I’m a little less likely to hold my tongue than I might have before. I’m still respectful, I just don’t pull my punches anymore, I leave no doubt as to what I’m thinking. I don’t remember exactly what I said that started, “With all due respect Sergeant Major.” But I know it was the truth. Then the Sergeant Major spoke. And what he said was also the truth. I had hoped to talk with him more that weekend, but with a busy training schedule it wasn’t to happen. So, I thought I’d write out what I would have liked to say to him.

The Sergeant Major doesn’t see me, the soldier. He only sees what’s left of me, the soldier. He sees the old guy whose best days are behind him. He doesn’t see that I came back into service at 36 years old after a 14-year break, because the army needed people to do a job. They needed people really bad at the time, and I answered the call. And I would do it again. (click here for more).

The Sergeant Major sees a soldier that can’t pass the army physical fitness test. But he doesn’t see that until my deployment to Afghanistan (2013-14), I was passing the PT test at the standards of an 18-year old (the standards get easier as the soldier gets older). Yeah, I was in my early 40’s passing it with the numbers an 18-year old would have to do to pass. He sees an older, slower soldier. But he doesn’t see that the last two months of my deployment to Afghanistan I was injured. I sucked it up and completed my mission. He doesn’t know the doctor at my little base over there suggested I go to Germany for treatment, then home. He doesn’t know I decided to stay, despite the pain I was in. (click here for more).

The Sergeant Major sees a soldier that moves slowly. He doesn’t see that on my two deployments, I brought my chaplains back safe and sound. And that on my last deployment, we traveled Afghanistan extensively. He doesn’t see that in the narrative of my Bronze Star award it tells how I performed my duties under hostile enemy attacks. He doesn’t see that while I was serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, there were soldiers that had been hiding in the instructor unit (my current unit) for a decade or longer.

Left:  Kabul, Afghanistan 2103.  Right:  Umm Qasr, Iraq 2008.

The Sergeant Major sees a soldier that lacks motivation. He doesn’t see my ribbon rack on my dress uniform. He doesn’t see that if I were to update my rack, I’d have 15 different awards on my chest. He doesn’t see all the times I volunteered for different things. He doesn’t see that at a previous unit, I had used up all my allowed time for the fiscal year but still drove 50 miles to give a brief for free (retirement points only). He doesn’t see that I coordinated the suicide intervention training for a CACOM I was in, and that my CACOM was the only command in USACAPOC that met standards by the deadline. Yeah, I got an award from the USACAPOC Command Chaplain for that.

The Sergeant Major sees a somewhat disgruntled soldier. He doesn’t see that I’ve been stuck in a broken system that hasn’t fully addressed my physical and mental injuries. He doesn’t see that I never chose to be a substandard soldier, that in fact, at one time, I was a damn good soldier. He doesn’t see that the circumstances and stresses of all that I’ve gone through have made me what I am now. He doesn’t see that the weight I bear from the physical and mental issues of not being able to perform like I used to was a contributing factor in my suicide attempt in 2015. That, among other things. He doesn’t see how much this kills me inside, only how it currently affects my attitude, something I know I need to work on. (click here for more).

The Sergeant Major doesn’t see me. He only sees what’s left of me. That’s not fair to either one of us. He probably doesn’t see that I’m my own worst critic and that I absolutely hate that I’m not able to do the things I used to do or handle situations and stress like I have in the past. He has no idea how valuable an asset I can be in the right environment. I could see it in his eyes that he plans on creating the right environment. I could hear it in his voice when he spoke to me. It’s a big job he’s taking on, and I don’t think the odds are in his favor, only because the problems he wants to fix have been there for so long. But I truly hope he pulls it off. It’s probably too late for me to experience the right environment again, but perhaps it will be there for future soldiers in that unit. When my time in the army reserves is over, I will leave satisfied that I made my area a better place overall. I might limp across the finish line, or even fall short of it altogether, but I did my job and did it well. And no one can ever take that from me, no matter what’s left of me at this point.

Thanks for stopping by Story of My Life this week. Good day, God bless.


My GPS Needs Therapy

My GPS needs therapy. Or some kind of addiction intervention, or something. I think it’s high, or maybe bi-polar. And it definitely needs help. As I’ve mentioned before, I drive 500+ miles once a month to Ft Jackson, South Carolina for my army reserve training. And then, 500+ miles back home. It’s a grueling drive some months, depending on what time I get on the road, traffic, weather. It takes at least 8 ½ hours one way. It’s taken as many as 10 hours.

When I started going to this reserve unit in 2015, I drove from where I live in the Florida Panhandle up through Atlanta, then took I-20 across to Columbia, where Ft Jackson is located. If you’ve ever driven through Atlanta, you know why I desired to find a different route. Now I take the Georgia backroads from Mariana, FL (after a short drive on I-10 from where I live) up to just west of Augusta, GA. I call it backroads, but it’s not as bad or stereotypical as it sounds. However, the first few times I didn’t go through Atlanta, it was almost all backroads. Some of which seemed barely wide enough for two lanes of traffic. And one road that might forever be imprinted in my mind is Old Balls Ferry Road. You can insert your own jokes here.

I don’t need my GPS for directions anymore, after almost three years of taking the same route, but I do use it for traffic updates and to see my travel time. Traffic updates have come in handy more than once. And we all know that when plugging in the destination, the initial GPS estimated time of arrival is really just a challenge to see if we can beat it. I usually do.

Here’s the deal with my GPS. I plug in my destination. It usually gives me two routes to choose from, with one of the routes having a variation somewhere in it. Basically, my options are the shortest time or the shortest distance. The shortest travel time would be to go through Atlanta, which I hate. The shortest distance (at least when I first started doing this) was literally through some of the weirdest backroads I’ve ever been on. It was the shortest distance, but without using any common sense. Of course, it’s just a GPS, it probably doesn’t have common sense, although I talk to it like it’s a real person. But eventually, I refined that route with one that is both shorter in distance and makes sense. But most importantly, keeps me out of Atlanta traffic.

My GPS also gets confused. I’ll glance at the screen while driving (the onscreen display is wonderful for seeing how the road ahead is laid out). There, on the screen, is a suggestion of a different route with a little arrow pointing to a display that reads “32 minutes slower.” Or “54 minutes slower.” I’ve seen it up to an hour and 10 minutes slower. Why? Why would I want to go that far out of my way? The other thing it does is gets stuck in rerouting mode because I go the way I want to, a way that makes more sense. That’s actually amusing to watch it tell me for 10 miles to make a U-turn until it finally gives in and changes to my new route. I imagine the GPS getting frustrated with me as I drive down the highway passing on its suggested turn. And there’s one small stretch of road on my way back home that my GPS won’t even recognize. And what’s funny is, that’s the way it takes me on the way up! Did it completely forget that road? And why only on the way back? I seriously think my GPS is stoned sometimes.

Either I have some cool life-lesson to offer with this story, or I’m just a sad, bored soul that enjoys pissing off his GPS and then writing about it. Well, today’s your lucky day. It’s both. It is probably a little sad the enjoyment I get from knowing that if my GPS could cuss at me, it would. Is there an app I can download for that? “I said turn left you M#@&$er!”  (In the voice of Samuel L. Jackson).

But seriously, find your route that you’re comfortable with in life. There are a million ways to get where you are going. Some of them will take less distance but more time, some might be quicker but a longer distance. Only you can decide which is more important, which route is better for you. For me, not dealing with the stress of driving through Atlanta was important to me on my monthly trip to South Carolina. As with driving, you can change your route in life anytime you want. Whatever your GPS is (family, friends, coworkers), it might not understand where you’re going, or tell you to turn around, but as long as you know your destination, it’s all good. Go, explore, and enjoy your journey. Take some new roads, get lost, and do a U-turn if you have to. Just make sure you know where you’re going.

Thanks for stopping by this week. Good day, God bless.