The following is a short story written by SFC FRANK SCHWARTZ. SFC Schwartz was the G2 NCOIC serving in a MSG position. I didn’t know him before our mobilization. SFC Schwartz sent this to me years ago and I just ran across it and realize it needs to be read. I really liked SFC Schwartz and have often wondered where he is and what he is doing. If anyone out there knows him, please have him contact me.
(Francis R. Schwartz, Dr.phil. (SFC, USAR)
Memories of a Mobilized Reservist
There is no point here in discussing the politics of war; furthermore, I have no intention of addressing the issue of whether or not there is such a thing as a bellum iustum, a ‘just’ war. My purpose is twofold: first, to recount my own experiences both during deployment and after redeployment to Germany; and second, to present a brief “pass in review,” if you will, of the various characterizations of the ‘returning soldier’ as he and she have been depicted in the past through literature and film. Of course, I shall begin with the obligatory account of events during the war—some frivolous and some heartbreakingly tragic—that I still remember vividly. The war to which I am referring has been dubbed “Operation Iraqi Freedom.” My story is admittedly insignificant when compared to those of the hundreds of combat arms soldiers still coming home, but it’s the only one I have; so cut me some patience! I apologize in advance to you, the reader, if I seem to race from one impression or image to the next, for I write this in haste; I hope you can forgive my self-indulgence.
As I packed my filthy duffle bags and rucksack outside our tent at Camp Victory (southwest Baghdad), I thought of some of the humorous incidents in the course of the deployment. More hilarious than martial was the full-bird colonel—armed with a baseball bat—who had chased a small brown gerbil from the sanctity of the general’s quarters into the Battle Update Briefing tent. “Get him, Sir!” I yelled, fighting incontinence as I tried to suppress my laughter. Meanwhile, rumor had it that British and American junior enlisted airmen at Ali Al Salem Air Base were catching sluggish Dhub-Dhub lizards, unnervingly large Middle Eastern variants of the iguana, and placing them in latrines to frighten the unsuspecting. “Cretins! Only men could be so immature.” Then there was the morning Battle Update at V Corps Rear (Camp Virginia, Kuwait): “Come on, you guys are killing me; you’re supposed to know this stuff…you’re MI for God’s sake; I could get better information from CNN or Fox. Where’s that Battle Captain? I’m going to strangle him.” My favorite quote, however, was the following: “All right, listen up. You’re all going to have to ask the folks at home to send toilet paper; we don’t have any yet. Oh, and by way, the Colonel is getting tired of your candy-ass complaints. Grow up!”
After receiving permission to travel to Camp Doha, Kuwait, in order to fill a prescription, I hitched a ride with guardsmen from Oregon. Arriving at the base, we parked our tactical vehicles in the international parking lot near a group of Bundeswehr soldiers who were waiting for their commander. We dismounted and started up the usual litany about how bad we had it in the military; suddenly a beat-up British 5-ton came trundling along and parked next to our group. “Jesus, what’s that?” I asked, pointing to their unusual hood ornament, the freshly dried skull of some animal. “Oh, tha’s a goat, mate. We butchered and ate her along the way.”
The next incident validated again the old adage, “there’s no fool like an old fool”—even in wartime. I often jogged around the man-made lake surrounding Saddam’s palace (Camp Victory, Baghdad). Running past a group of up-armored HUMVEEs, I stopped dead in my tracks as I spotted the most beautiful human being I have ever seen; it was difficult to believe that at my age and in these surroundings I could still succumb to a school-boy’s infatuation. She was leaning against the last HUMVEE in the column. Giving in to the pitiless Babylonian heat, she removed her Kevlar helmet to reveal perfect jet-black cornrows with faint streaks of brown entwined; they flowed down just below her delicate ears. The ebony skin of her brow and cheeks glistened in the sun. Strapped tightly to her thigh was a 9 mm pistol. Here was a tall, slender woman whose battle dress couldn’t hide her ineffable beauty, a beauty unrivalled by pretentious, emaciated fashion models who prance down the runways of Paris, Nice and Cannes. Amazed that such grace could coexist with martial surroundings, I thought of Virgil’s description of the warrior queen Camilla:
Resistless thro’ the war Camilla rode,
In danger unappall’d, and pleas’d with blood.
One side was bare for her exerted breast;
One shoulder with her painted quiver press’d.
Now from afar her fatal jav’lins play;
Now with her ax’s edge she hews her way:
Diana’s arms upon her shoulder sound;
And when, too closely press’d, she quits the ground,
From her bent bow she sends a backward wound.1
“All right, saddle up!” shouted a stout, half-shaven NCOIC as he emerged from one of Saddam’s guesthouses. His hoarse, deep voice brought me out of my inane trance. The female staff-sergeant at whom I had been staring rather impolitely quickly replaced her Kevlar; her long, slender fingers then pulled out a cigarette from under her flack vest; she lit it. As she blew out the match, her big brown eyes suddenly met mine: “Hey, Jerk, what the hell are you staring at?” Caught like a crook in the commission of a crime, I muttered, “Uh…Nuh…nothing.” She glared back at me. “Well, maybe you better move on, you old fart.” I moved on…but quickly.
The frivolity ceased one morning at the conclusion of the Battle Update Brief. “Any comments? How about you, G1?” “No, Sir.” “G2?” “No, Sir.” “G3?” “No, Sir.” “Any alibis? Okay, you can turn the TV back on.” Suddenly everyone’s attention turned to a CNN report. One of our not so ‘smart’ bombs had ploughed its way through an apartment where a ten-year-old boy and his parents had been watching TV in the living room. Several hours later, the boy awoke in a Baghdad hospital to find his arms gone…and his parents. “I’d rather be dead,” he told the doctor and the reporters. Standing, the commander shook his head as he gazed at the screen; now visibly dejected, he picked up his papers and made his way to his quarters. Head down, the aide followed silently. How could something like that happen? I wanted to kick the cynical bastard who coined the term “collateral damage.” The four horsemen of the Apocalypse were riding high—assisted now by technological advances.
Early on, while we were still at Camp Virginia, Kuwait, I contracted a mysterious respiratory illness resulting from a type of bronchitis that I had suffered before mobilization. Having noticed me clinging to a tent rope and gasping for breath as I stood outside our quarters one night, Sergeant Major Mikel Dawson helped me into his vehicle and delivered me to the 21st CSH. Removing his stethoscope from my chest, a physician’s assistant snarled at me in a slow Louisiana drawl, “Schwartz, you’re about dumber than a mud fence; I oughta put you in for a field grade Article Fifteen for not coming in here sooner. You’re a senior NCO–you should know better… I hope you realize that sergeant major saved your life!” I recovered well enough early in May for the flight up to Balad Airfield in Iraq; however, three months later, the symptoms returned and this time I was flown to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, Germany, where I responded well to treatment. After one week, I was medically cleared and returned to Iraq. We convoyed from Balad, Iraq, to Camp Victory in southwest Baghdad; three months later, like clockwork, the symptoms returned while I was jogging around the palace grounds. I was taken to Baghdad (BIAP), where I lay in an airport field hospital and impatiently awaited air transportation (again!) to Landstuhl, Germany. Expecting to return, I left my weapon locked up in the arms room on Saddam’s palace grounds; it’s still there.
As long as I live, I shall never forget a sobering moment at that airport field hospital near BIAP—I think it was the 28th CSH. (I remain unsure whether the details of the story are accurate, e.g., the city in which the incident occurred, for that is hearsay; but I witnessed the aftermath of the event in the hospital.) “Christ, why don’t they turn up the air conditioning in these tents?” I had been feeling pretty damned sorry for myself until the medics wheeled in a very young Military Policeman lying on a sand-stained gurney; he had just lost his right hand during a fierce fire fight on Highway 8 near Al Mahmudia. A barely noticeable amount of blood was still seeping through the thick gauze bandage placed over what was left of his sun-tanned, muscular arm. Unable to speak and barely conscious after surgery, he stared quizzically through his dark brown eyes at our nurse, a burly, worldly major, who was obviously struggling to hold back her tears. Beneath her graying brown hair, I could see her eyes beginning to redden and well up as she looked down at the wounded soldier, a man young enough to be her son. Admirably maintaining her military bearing, the major barked orders at her lieutenants in an attempt to conceal the natural, physical expression of her feelings as a mother. Then she turned to him. “Where are you from, Specialist?” He muttered something I couldn’t understand from where I was lying. “Really? Well, I’m from Puerto Rico. Do you have kids at home?” He nodded. She took a picture of her granddaughter out of her sweat-soaked leather wallet and showed it to him. He gazed at the picture of the little girl and tried to mutter something. “Don’t…I know…just relax. You’ll be okay; now just try to get some sleep.” He now seemed to realize where he was and what had happened to him. I observed him staring in horror at his bandaged arm; he was too proud to say anything. In order to avoid the sight of his mutilated limb, he fixed his eyes instead on the swaying florescent lamp above him. I was in the sacred presence of a courageous man. The major, who seemed to know what to say and what to do at the right moment, turned to her colleague and whispered: “He’ll need more (morphine) later, and I want you to call me around 1300; make sure they watch the IV. I’ll be going over the med-evacs with the doctor.” “Yes, Ma’am,” responded a shockingly young strawberry blonde. A lanky, freckle-faced second lieutenant, she looked as if she had just graduated from nursing school, but the way she carried herself demonstrated that she possessed a timeless wisdom beyond her years…and mine as well. Leaning down over his cot, she put her hand on the wounded soldier’s forehead and then ran her fingers slowly through his brown hair. At once he became calm; the fear in his dark, sunken eyes had disappeared. The young woman smiled at him and he smiled back. They communicated only with their eyes for several minutes. She sat down on a battered, squeaky steel chair beside his cot and stayed with him until he fell asleep. Wiping her eyes with the back of her hand, the young officer rose from the chair and approached my cot. “Do you need anything, Sergeant?” she asked me. “No, Ma’am…except perhaps a kick in the ass.” She winked at me, smiled knowingly, and went on to the next patient. None of us in that tent spoke a word for what seemed like an hour; one could hear only the wind outside pounding against the fluttering canvas walls and feel the presence of God. I was at once touched and filled with self-loathing. This young lieutenant and the patient in her charge had seen and endured more in their short lives than I had in my fifty-one years.
‘Hurrying up and waiting’ at Camp Victory, Baghdad, a group of us returnees sat through the goofy, mandatory out-processing ‘training film’ which deals with the unpleasant realization that a soldier’s dreams of homecoming would most likely prove to be quite different from her (or his) actual experience of ‘coming home.’ How often each of us had lain on cots in stifling, dusty tents and imagined what his homecoming would be like—a ticker tape parade perhaps? Would students from U Mass Amherst yell “Baby Killer!” at war-weary veterans as they stepped into the Logan international terminal from a jet way? Or, better yet, my mind would often construct a repugnantly maudlin scene with my teary-eyed former girlfriend embracing me after seeing what a big hero I had become. Of course, there would be no need to mention to her that I had actually served in the rear and that, since Saddam’s Third Corps artillery boys north of Basrah couldn’t hit the broad side of a mountain, his SCUDS and ‘Ababil-100’ missiles rarely came close to us; naturally, I would omit, too, the fact that our ‘combat’ experience consisted of donning protective gear during actual surface-to-surface missile attacks and diving into concrete bunkers that secret lovers would later use for their nightly rendezvous (a phenomenon known as “bunker love”). I would also neglect to mention that if it hadn’t been for the Marine Corps and Her Majesty’s Dragoons, our bones would probably be bleaching in the Kuwaiti sun.
What awaits us after deployment? Let’s first examine how the returning dogface has been portrayed in literature and film: the story line has not changed much in centuries. Approximately three thousand years ago, pre-literate Greek bards sang of a certain Odysseus, a noble from Ithaca, and of other rulers of the ancient Greek city-states, whom the king Menelaos mobilized for war against Troy. The trivial cause of the war is irrelevant, for you students of mythology have heard how Odysseus and his comrades, far from their children, their wives, and their kingdoms, fought before the walls of Troy under the command of the self-serving Spartan king. Homer is said to have been among the first to transform this oral tradition into a written epic (ca 700-600 BC), in which Odysseus returns home to find drunken and otherwise dissolute young Ithacan nobles abusing his wife and child while living well from his hard-earned wealth (Homer, Odyssey). (The Greeks called the return of a soldier nostos; Pindar referred to the actual homecoming day as nostimon emar, which also means “day of freedom,” a day for which we have been waiting for months.) Centuries later, Aeschylus would write of Agamemnon, who came home from the war to find that his wife, Clytemnestra, had been sleeping with Aigisthos, a rival noble who had declined to join the others when Menelaos called them to arms (Aeschylus, Agamemnon). Desiring to take a bath after the long journey home, the unsuspecting king of Argos momentarily took leave of his attendants. Aeschylus had constructed the scene so that spectators in the amphitheater heard only the screams of the dying Agamemnon as his wife was busy hacking him to death: once the arrogant Mycenaean king, who had survived years of brutal combat and had taken as his mistress the captured Cassandra, now he was being reduced to a lump of meat floating in the royal bathtub.2 Titus Livius was one of the first to describe the problems of returning draftees. Thousands of young Roman citizens and Italian allies alike suddenly found themselves mobilized to fight the invader Hannibal. Those who survived the ‘Second Punic War’ returned home to find that creditors had foreclosed on their farms; as a result, the reluctant warriors, their wives, and their children joined the homeless, unemployed masses flocking to Rome from the countryside (Livy, ab urbe condita, Books 21 and 22). Twenty centuries later, the great German pacifist Erich Maria Remarque would produce the most poignant vignette of the returning soldier ever written (Im Westen Nichts Neues or All Quiet on the Western Front). Naïve high school students,3 eager to take to the field in what they imagined would be the heat of honorable battle, later experienced first-hand just how horrific war is. They came home as grown men. Jumping ahead two decades, we find James Cagney cast as an auto mechanic who had been drafted at the outset of World War One. When Cagney’s character returns from the watch on the Rhein, he asks his former boss to give him back his job; the boss replies: “Gee, Eddie, it’s swell to see ya’; why, we thought you was dead. But I had to hire those guys while you was gone. I can’t let ‘em go now that you’re back. It just ain’t right.” Depressed and hopeless, Cagney’s character leaves the garage as the two men who had been hired in his place mock him: “Your left, your left, you-had-a-good-job-and-you-left…(The Roaring Twenties 1939).” In 1946 Dana Andrews played a former B-17 pilot who returned home to find that the only job for which he was ‘qualified’ was that of a perfume concessionaire in a department store. His relationship with his wife had deteriorated, and his parents had no time for him. A sailor whom he had met on the military flight home, a young man who had lost both arms during the war in the Pacific, also found it difficult to readjust (The Best Years of our Lives).
Leaning against the chilly aluminum fuselage wall of a C-141, I peered through a porthole-shaped plexiglass window at what appeared to be the Mediterranean Sea and the southern Spanish coast below. Suddenly our ship banked sharply starboard as she headed north toward Germany. “Hey, Sergeant, we’re on our final approach to Ramstein; here, take another box lunch but please go back and strap yourself in!”
Redeployment can be as difficult as it is joyous for soldiers, airmen, and sailors, regardless of whether they come from the ranks of the regular forces, the reserves, or the national guard. I repeatedly asked myself the following questions during those long nights in Balad, Iraq (in an abandoned house where a wild cat had given birth to her kittens less than fifteen yards from my cot): How will I be treated when I return? Will my employer take me back?
Nine months earlier, I had been mobilized for Macedonia (Able Sentry). According to an agreement I made with my commander and my DoD contract employer, I would report late so that I could finish my project. Reporting late as planned, I had my heels summarily locked for being AWOL, for someone in my command had neglected to inform higher headquarters of our arrangement. This deployment, however, was cancelled, and I returned to my job only to be mobilized again six weeks later…for war in Iraq. I had three days’ notice; my employer two. He looked up from his computer long enough to say, “I’m busy trying to arrange your replacement now.” I started to explain. He interrupted, “Don’t explain it to me; if the government says you have to go, then you have to go. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to find someone to replace you.” In all the time I was mobilized, I never received as much as an e-mail from anyone of my colleagues. Here, however, I must assume the role of devil’s advocate: we cannot expect our employers to lose us for an entire year or more without taking appropriate action to compensate for the loss in their workforce. As I wrote above, I had three days’ notice of mobilization, my employer two. The effect of mass-mobilization on the civilian workforce has been an issue that Congress and the Department of Defense have yet to address adequately.
My homecoming in Germany was as bittersweet, just as my arrival had been years ago as an active duty Czech linguist. Now, on 22 July 2003, I pulled into my landlord’s driveway and stepped out of a rented car. Tired, sick, and without civilian clothes, I pulled out my duffle bags and rucksack and tossed them onto the driveway; a cloud of light-brown dust wafted upwards from this strange luggage that by now was more brown than olive drab. An elderly, bluish white-haired woman stopped and stared; even civilian clothes I had gotten this look from some of the people in this small town south of Frankfurt. I had experienced this contemptuous stare before, years ago when I arrived in Augsburg. “Oh, that. Well, that’s the ‘fascist fisheye,’ Frank. It’s mainly some older folks, you know, because of the war; you need to drop that Polyanna attitude of yours. The Second World War—remember? I mean, you oughta know you can’t debrief ideology!” explained a friend of mine at the now defunct 712st MI Battalion in Augsburg. He continued, “It’s kinda like with vampires. Just hold a crucifix too close and they’ll freak. I suggest you get a set of white lace curtains and hang ‘em in the window; then they’ll leave you alone.” Hardly in Augsburg two weeks (back in 1986), I was accosted by an elderly woman in the Maximilianstrasse: “Ihr Amerikaner mißbraucht unsere Gastfreundschaft; und ich kriege keine Rente.” (“You Americans abuse our hospitality; and I don’t get my retirement.”) It was a strange non sequitur, and I had no idea what she meant by it; nevertheless, this had been my introduction to Germany. In the small towns tief in der Provinz, things had not changed–even now, nearly fourteen years after the Berlin wall had been torn down. I had forgotten the contemptuous ‘fish-eye’ while I was down range.
Climbing up the stairs, I met my landlord, whom I consider to be my second father. He embraced me: “Ach, du lieber Gott! Du bist wieder da!” A doctor with a reputation for being a brilliant diagnostician, he and my father had opened up their medical practices in the San Francisco Bay area after the war (ca 1949 to 1964). I sat down to my first leisurely meal in six months. “And now, Frank, you need to take a nap; you are not well. You might have been discharged from the hospital, but these things take time.” I was home at last. I slept for nearly forty-eight hours.
A graduate of the Universität Heidelberg, I received a surprisingly warm welcome from former professors, some of whom I had barely known when I was an impoverished student. My dissertation supervisors, however, had been in constant electronic contact with me during the war. Word had somehow spread through the institute that a graduate had been called to active duty. On my return, I was invited to attend the seventieth birthday celebration of a faculty member. Everyone seemed to know me when I arrived at the function held in the Aula of the Old University. My dissertation supervisor took both of my hands in his and simply said, “We must talk together, my good, dear friend. Come tomorrow to my home for lunch.” I was basking in undeserved notoriety and didn’t have the heart to tell them that I had merely served in the rear; I didn’t know the German for “rear echelon weenie.”
The reception was quite different, however, at a department meeting with my employer, and there was a good reason for her attitude towards me. On a hunch, I had called a department administrative assistant to inquire about my civilian status. “Well, Frank, there are issues with your logistical support.” I ended up contacting the Employer Support to the Guard and Reserve. Within four hours, I was assured that my status had not changed. Let the mobbing begin…
What we should remember is that our actual “homecoming” will probably be different from what we had dreamt while down range; life goes on. Those of us who returned unscathed should thank God; I doubt if I’ll be doing much complaining for the rest of my life.
- R. Schwartz, V Corps Rear (EAC)
1 John Dryden’s famous translation (Virgil, Aeneid 11.646f)
2 In Aeschylus’ play The Libation Bearers (c. 460 BC), Clytemnestra mentioned Agamemnon’s order to sacrifice Iphigenia, their daughter, as part of her justification for killing him upon his return from the war. Having slighted one of the gods, he was to sacrifice his daughter in order to gain favorable winds for the trip to Troy at the outset of the war.
3 Actually Gymnasiasten
To the part I played: That evening I was retuning a Hummer to the motor park. As I came to the ally way leading to my troop’s tents, for some reason I turned down it. I had just been down to their area that day checking on things, so there was no reason for me to go there. Instead of walking like I was suppose to as it was a no drive area, for some reason I drove down. Stopping in front of their big tent I went in to find SFC Schwartz in the position he described. He couldn’t talk to me, gasping for air. I looked into his eyes and knew he was in trouble. Got him to the vehicle and to the TMC we went. If only for this one event, I am glad I spent a 14 month deployment. One life was worth that much! Mikel W. Dawson, SGM (Ret)