Friday, March 09, 2018

Sean Doyle: Memoir Essay of an Iraq and Afghanistan War Veteran

Sean Doyle
*** Sean Doyle is a student in my College Writing Seminar at Bunker Hill Community College in Boston.  Doug Holder

It was an unusually warm day in central Texas for December, the sun was shining and there wasn't a cloud in the sky. After a short brief by the post commander on what we should expect from Fort Hood we were told to meet outside for unit assignments. I was assigned to the 2nd Brigade Combat Team of the First Cavalry Division. I was told to report outside for an incoming soldier brief. Little did I know my life was about to take a drastic turn. Up walked this towering man who demanded attention and respect without saying a word. He was about six feet tall and pure muscle, looked like he hadn't skipped a gym day in years. He was the highest ranking enlisted man in the 2nd Brigade Combat Team and a tried and true warrior. He would later single handily chase down and capture the man responsible for blowing up his truck in Iraq. We were asked where we planned on being in six months. Before we could answer he simply said it doesn't matter because you will all be in Iraq.
May 30th 2011, I'll never forget the feeling of walking off the plane into the night with my best friends. The mixture of the heat and intense wind made it feel like someone was holding a blow-dryer in my face. As I stepped off onto the Airfield of Ali-Al-Salem airbase it felt like I was entering a whole different world. I followed my friends and fellow soldiers in a single file line across the tarmac to a dusty wooden shack where we were welcomed to Iraq. We stayed isolated on the base located in the middle of the Iraqi desert as we acclimated to the climate and prepared for our mission. After several days of checking gear, packing bags, unpacking bags, checking weapons and training we were ready to depart. We boarded several C130 planes on the same airfield we landed on, just a week before and set off for the southern Sal-Ad-Din province to the north of Baghdad. It was surreal at first being in a place I had been watching on the news since I was a child. I remember watching the missiles cruise over Baghdad on T.V. back in 2003 and now here I was in 2011 getting ready to do my part. It was a simple task on paper, patrol the area, help the people, search for weapons and stay safe. That was the same mission the unit before us had and they were attacked one time in a whole year. Some of us were excited, some of us were bummed out that we wouldn’t see combat. We had no idea what we were in for just a month later.
The twenty-four window from midday on the fourth of July to Midday July 5 shift started off like any other quick reaction force shift. We sat around with the gun trucks on standby and the whole platoon sitting around playing cards, taking naps or crowded around laptops watching bootleg Iraqi DVD's. I was sitting outside with 3 of my best friends enjoying some backwoods cigars on a green standard issue army cot. It was Tom, Phil and Hager or D-Hags as everyone called him. Tom was the very definition of the corn- fed country boy born and raised in small town Minnesota. He was also the gunner for my truck and my roommate. Tom had a habit of watching all three Lord of the Rings movies back to back when he had a day off patrol. Phil grew up moving around the Pacific Northwest before finally saying fuck it and joining to army. Phil was a few years older than us but was like your weird favorite uncle. D-Hags which is short for Dillion Hager was a tall lanky clown from the middle of nowhere Wisconsin. D-Hags had a giant flag of Johnny Cash flipping off the camera at Folsom prison on his wall for the 5 years we served together, It's probably still on his wall in his house today. Back in Iraq we were sitting around talking about how much fun everyone else back home was having as we drank our non-alcoholic beer when we heard the familiar sound we had all grown accustomed to "INCOMING, INCOMING, INCOMING" over a speaker followed by several explosions. So, we threw the cigars in the sand ran to the gun trucks as the rest of the platoon followed suit and prepared to go find the guys that just tried to kill us. As we flew down tiny canal back roads in our big trucks of war barely staying upright. Bump after bump we approached a tiny man-made dirt crossing most likely made for a truck carrying livestock as opposed to a truck full of heavily armed soldiers. The first vehicle creeped over carefully as we followed closely behind. Then all of the sudden the back end of the truck gave out and we were trapped, hanging halfway off the road above a canal. After trying to dig ourselves out for hours we accepted defeat and called for assistance. The guys that had fired the rockets were captured by another unit and we sat in the middle of an Iraqi backroad throughout the night. Eventually we had a maintenance truck pushes us and we headed back to base. Not even 500 meters down the road and it happens. A loud boom! Like thunderclap 10 feet away. I had just been hit by my first IED or improvised explosive device.
I can still smell the homemade explosive in the air if I think about it.  It was the dirty smell of something made in a dirty hideaway with whatever they can find to harm people. They had attached two South African 155mm artillery shells, as well as two buckets of homemade explosives. By a little bit of luck and some stupidity on the enemies they blew up the wrong side of the canal so we all came out without a scratch. I still remember that moment, a time in my life when I realized I wasn’t a fragile teenager anymore. . It was a weird sense of calm everything, but at the same time was the greatest high I had ever experienced-- one that made me feel truly alive. It put things into perspective in a sense. After the smoke had settled and my gunner and I smoked a whole pack of knockoff Iraqi cigarettes we headed back to base. The platoon sergeant had us call our families and let them know we were OK and what had happened. I don’t even remember what I said to my dad on the phone that day, I just remember how good it felt to hear his voice. After that we went back to the routine as if nothing had changed. But something had changed in us. We were no longer scared boys playing GI Joe, we were soldiers overseas fighting in a foreign country we would watch on the news as kids.
I returned home 6 months later to a somewhat familiar home. After a few weeks things went back to normal and it seemed like nothing had ever changed, but there was an absence. That rush I had felt back in Iraq, that high I got every time something would explode, or we would take enemy contact—wasn’t there. I spent most of my time home drinking and staying distracted because I was empty. Being home was like being on a different planet for a while. Nothing gave me that sense of power and strength I had felt back in Iraq. Nothing gave me that sense of purpose until I went to Afghanistan 2 years later. Even now-- nothing provides that same feeling and probably never will. Eventually I got used to that empty feeling, but I would still hop on a plane and do it all over again in a heartbeat if I had the chance.

******  Sean Doyle was born and raised in the Bay Area of California. A big fan of history and video games, even at a young age he knew he wanted to serve in the US Military. At the age of 19 he left California to become a member of the US Army where he was based in Texas. Over the next six years he served two tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, and also spent time in South Korea. Following this, he left the army to pursue a lifelong dream of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, where he walked over 1,000 miles. He now is tackling his latest challenge, college in Boston, Massachusetts where he resides with his girlfriend and their two rabbits. In his spare time Sean can still be found playing video games, but is also an avid reader, and enjoys attending local concerts and soccer games.

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