Approximately twenty miles north of Baghdad lays the town of Taji. Formerly an outpost for the Iraqi Republican Guard, it was taken over by US forces following the invasion. In late summer 2006, my brigade was reassigned to Baghdad, and my battalion moved into the “village” on the backside of Camp Taji.
There were many factors that contributed to the overall anguish of that period. Whereas in northern Iraq I shared a CHU (containerized housing unit) with only one soldier, I now had a hundred plus roommates in a cavernous warehouse. With our arrival in the Sunni Triangle, came the extra weight of added armor (side plates), raising the total to thirty-three pounds. The temperature consistently topped out around 120 degrees. I was attending memorial services at awfully close intervals. And nobody could tell us when we would be going home.
I remember my chest physically hurting as I cursed God for relegating me to such a torturous existence. The truth was I found it impossible to abandon my belief in God, and this infuriated me. I was so far removed from my last shred of hope that I welcomed death. I was stuck in hell with nowhere to turn.
As my insanity worsened, I sought reprieve. At sunset, as often as my schedule allowed, I would stroll beyond the borders of our “village” and claim a spot among the piles of rusty debris and tall grass that lined the road. With overwhelming numbness and a clear view of the horizon, I would stare into the oncoming sunlight until I became blinded to everything around me. My eyelids preserved the image burned into my corneas, and for a few seconds I could be anywhere I wanted to be, free of the war and its suffocating constraints.
To this day, when I see the sun setting at the far end of an open field, that old ache returns. I have been blessed with much healing in the years since then, but some reminders never go away and some wounds always hurt. Such is life, I suppose.