On January 6 , 1991 I took one last long look at my family and then turned and walked away. I left my daughter at a sensitive time in her youth. Before I returned she had discovered sex and failed her freshman year in high school. No amount of regret will change that for us, or get that time back.
I took at calculated risk when I joined the Army. In 1989 when I began the process the Berlin Wall had just come down. A breakup of the Soviet Union was immenent. Being an eternal optimist I was sure that peace was breaking out all over. There was no one left to fight. Nine months later I was boarding a plane bound for the Landstuhl Army Regional Medical Center where I would spend the next five months taking care of nonexistant patients in a sound bite war.
There is no point in trying to obscure the truth. I wanted to go to anesthesia school and it was an expensive undertaking, but I joined knowing full well I was joining the military and that I could be called to war. I just never anticipated it would happen so soon.
Desert Storm was my trial by fire into trauma care. As our country was lulled into believing that we were treating patients with knee injuries from playing volleyball in the desert I knelt on the floor next to a young man whose burned features were distorted by blackened peeling flesh.
A voice, the unfailingly kind and gently Dr. Drury, urged me on,
“Come on Lieutenant, you can do this, you have to do this.” then, “It’s now or never Lieutenent.”
I picked up the unbelievably large needle and with firm strength guided it through the little notch between his cricoid and thyroid membrane. I heard the little pop as it passed through the tissue and felt the whoosh of air released from his lungs. He survived with the help of an excellant German burn center near by, and was one of many patients who came back and thanked me for saving their lives. It never felt like anything extraordinary at the time.
From January to March I triaged, cared for, consoled and comforted patients coming out of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iraq. I regreted leaving my family but I never regreted my service. I joined freely. I’d do it again
We won the war, but consider, did we lose a whole lot more? In the years following our withdrawal from Vietnam the U.S. tried to put on a kinder gentler face toward the world. The American public was sick of war. They wanted to see even handed diplomacy over the iron fist of military might.
Desert Storm lowered a threshhold which allowed for a nationalistic sentiment to be reestablished. A whole generation was raised to see patriotism, and love of country, framed by war.
Just like violent video games have been linked to a lower threshold for violent interactions in children and young adults, Desert Storm created an environment for war to seem like the most logical next step after the attacks on 9/11.
The point of looking back isn’t to point blame, or beat our breasts, but to find a some place along the line of history to reengage. Can the lens of Desert Storm be a tool to look at the big picture, to look forward and to help those without military connections to understand, this is all our war.
Our World: Our Wars
Next Up: Iraq and Afghanistan: Where do we go now?
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