Iraq: The Truth

Safety, safety, safety.  Drink water!  Inspect your fire extinguishers!  Ground your outlets!  Wear your reflector belts!  Where’s your eye pro!?!

The emphasis on safety is sensible to a point.  In the prototypical conflict scenario an army needs every soldier to fight the enemy and cannot afford to lose one to an accident.  In this scenario, the army doesn’t really need every soldier and isn’t really fighting the enemy but it still cannot afford to lose soldiers to accidents.  Accidents mean paperwork, investigations, punitive measures, loss of rank, risk assessments, scrutiny, bad publicity.

Same with suicides.  One of the mandatory stations when we were deploying, a box we had to check before we could get on the plane, was a sit-down with the psychologist.

How were we?  Were we generally happy?  How were things going for us?

We were good.  We were generally happy.  Things were going well for us, we just wanted to get to Iraq and do our job.

Did we think about suicide?

This question is loaded and deceptive.  Did we think about suicide?  I don’t think it is possible to never entertain a thought about the concept itself.  After all, we receive mandatory suicide prevention briefs twice a year, watch constant PSAs on Armed Forces Network, see fliers in the chow hall, latrines, showers, gym reminding us that, according to Sergeant Major of the Army Kennth O. Preston “One suicide is one too many.”

Unless you are able to ignore all of that in a completely mindless manner, you think about suicide.  Not necessarily in the “should I kill myself?” vein of thought, but certainly ruminations about the concept in general are impossible to shut out.

No sir, we do not think about suicide.

Far from setting you free, the truth here will only lead to a longer discussion, maybe – God forbid! – an order to speak with the chaplain.  A simple lie beats the complex, nuanced truth.

Like the time the mandatory Army Reserve Health Assessment phone interview lady asked me how many alcoholic drinks I consumed during the course of a week.  Bright eyed and eager to be honest, I thought through my pattern of life.  (Keep in mind this was during an internship at a lad magazine.)

Let’s see, usually pop open a lager in the office around 5pm, a drink shared with colleagues and followed by an adjective-heavy review for the beer issue.  Then maybe another drink at dinner with friends during weekdays.  On weekends, Friday and Saturday are times to go out, and over the course of each night I’ll probably have three or four drinks.

I’d say I have maybe 15 drinks a week.

There was a pause on the other end.  “Sir, I am supposed to inform you that you have a drinking problem.”

Hmm, that’s news to me.

Sorry, did I say twelve drinks?  I was talking about soda!  What a funny misunderstanding- I never touch alcohol.  Never have, never will.

There is an ostensible element of caring in this routine, like brushing teeth.  You’re watching out for the well-being of your molars and canines, sure, but not because you really care.  Preventative maintenance is the name of the game, spotting problems early on before a cavity develops.

I accept this fact- I never want (nor wish) my employer to probe my personal life.  I’m just fine on my own, thank you.

But do we have to play this game?  I’m sick of these questionnaires that beg my opinion only to register my response using ten true or falses.  What of answers that can’t be reduced into binary oblivion?

Never mind that stuff- it’s problematic and requires sincerity.  We’re just here to check the box.


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