If you ever wonder why high school teachers suffer gladly the indignities doled out too often by adolescents, it is partly because we love our subjects and are evangelizing for learning, and partly because we know the adolescents will eventually grow up.
Here, from a former Lincoln Academy student, Donielle Wilson, now serving her second tour in Iraq, is an example of the latter. She responded in a facebook message after I asked her for an example of her day. Donielle, who most recently made her home in Thomaston and worked as a guard at the prison in Warren, is scheduled to be back in Maine in April.
Hmm… I presume you mean something a bit more descriptive so that you might be able to close your own eyes and envision yourself where I am. I’ll do my best to provide you with a sort of play by play of what my day looks like.
It’s 4:00 a.m. My alarm is going off but I am already awake. I am awake because for the last several months I have found it everything but easy to sleep. You might call me an insomniac. It might be the explosions that sound throughout the night, the helicopters that fly so low they shake the very bed I sleep in, I’ll leave that to your speculation. I’m tired but I’ve grown accustomed to this.
I wipe the sleep from eyes and inhale deeply. I smell dust from the storm yesterday, and through its thickness I smell coffee and it lifts me from my under my blankets. I pour myself a cup and drink it in silence as my two roommates lie sleeping. Before long and I am staring at the bottom of my mug. I relate to its emptiness.
I grab my hygiene bag and walk wearily to the bathroom. While brushing my teeth I look at my own face in the mirror. I am is hard to recognize. I see a change and wonder when exactly it occurred. The eyes looking back at me are not the same.
I walk back to my room. I put on the same uniform that I have worn every day for the past year. It is faded now and dirty. Every stain tells a story of its own, some I’d like to forget. I pull on my vest and all its contraptions. I clear my weapon and place it in the holster. My mission bag is heavy as I place it on my back, it weighs nearly as much as I do. My back is screaming for relief but I ignore it, there’s nothing I can do about it today. I take one last look in the mirror, a stranger’s face looks back as I fix my patrol cap.
I pass other soldiers on the way to my truck. It’s far too earlier for conversation and so we just nod at one another. Silent words are often understood better than those spoken. I load up my truck and head to the DFAC for chow and to grab a few things to snack on throughout the day. I return and attend my mission brief. I find out exactly what my task and purpose is for this particular day.
Then it’s time for the S-2 brief, all the current significant acts that have take place in the last 12 hours. The IED’s, suicide bombers, snipers, EFP’s, the soldiers that are no longer with us. It’s time to go now. I close my eyes and bow my head. Silently I pray. I ask God and my father to look after myself and my fellow soldiers today. That we may all come back safely.
We spend the next eight, ten, sometimes 14 hours out in sector. Anything can happen at any given moment. Some days it’s quiet and other days it’s almost too much to take. We fight demons other than the insurgents and terrorists themselves. We fight fatigue, stress, homesickness, frustration, anger, sadness and despair. We fight because no matter what happens we are soldiers. We have come this far. We have refused to quit. We have pushed our bodies further than we ever imagined possible, tested the power of our minds to the limit. We have experienced loss. That loss made us weak, but we are stronger now because of it. We have become a family and shall forever remain as such.
Lee, it is difficult for me to put into words the atrocities of this place. The weather as well as the enemy are temperamental. Each day is different and yet they seem to coagulate into a never ending story. I try not to focus on the amount of days that remain as it only makes it harder. Days here are long and yet the nights seems even longer. Those moments of supposed relaxation are almost as difficult. The times when your mind slows down and becomes idle. That is when you begin to process little by little everything you have seen, everything you have experienced and the people you have lost.
If there is anything I have learned, anything positive that I can take from this.. My message is: Life has been given to us. And as quickly as we attain it, it can be taken away, snuffed out like a candle, and the only thing that remains is the smoke. That smoke is what we leave behind. Do not focus on what you do not have in life, cherish the things you do have. Cherish the people in your life as they will not always be there. When you have a bad day and you feel like the ground is crumbling beneath your feet, remember that someone, somewhere has it far worse.
If you want to do something and you are able, do it. If it doesn’t work out the way you envisioned, at least you know. Do not spend your life wondering. Set aside the what ifs. Live for today because it is the only day that you know you have for sure. Forgive the wrong doings of others. We all make mistakes, but if we learn from them nothing is lost. Life is what we make it. We have been given life, let us not waste it for there are people no longer with us today that would give anything for a second chance.
I look forward to talking to you more when I get home. Tonight, much like every night, I am tired. I did not check for grammatical errors but I’m sure you will note them J Please keep in touch. You are as much of an influence in my life now as you were in high school and I value our friendship. Love,