Well folks, here we go again. This time it seems that everything is in order, no more SNAFUs to keep things from happening. I am going overseas for a year to assist the U.S. Military in my never-ending mission to help people understand each other in a relevant and functional way.
I have just spent a week at the deployment center in Indiana, which has blessed us with snow and mud. Thankfully the wind has been calm - that’s the worst part of winter for me. I passed all medical requirements (I would like to think that means I am healthy but really all that means is that I meet the minimum standards to not be a complete waste of space), all training requirements (75 hours of online trainings, woot!), and all contractual requirements (which had nothing to do with me, but was one of the root causes for why I didn’t go to Iraq in ’09).
I realized when I was at White Sands how unusual the base there was. I almost never saw enlisted personnel, and the base was very top heavy with majors and Lt Colonels. Here there are a lot of sergeants. I mean A LOT. I saw a specialist the other day; it was like seeing a rare pokemon. The food is good, falling somewhere on the quality scale between Jr High school lunches and Denny’s. The biggest adjustment is that I have had to walk several miles a day just getting from place to place. It was possible to rent a car, but I decided against it. That’s a good thing, as the people running the deployment center have made it clear that vehicles are a pain in their ass and I wouldn’t have access to my car anyway.
Other than that, it’s a pretty well-oiled machine here. Something like a 98% success rate, which is amazing when you consider the medical, dental, vision, audiology, gear, training, and other admin requirements (like getting a new ID). That is doubly impressive when you consider that there are about 300+ contractors a week coming through here with final destination at military bases and each with their own issues.
I spoiled myself and paid for a single room. I still share showers with the hall, but it’s nice to have a little space and internet for me to use. I would not have died if I had to stay in barracks, but why add to my stress?
The only major issue I have had is with my doctor’s office back in Las Cruces. Let me lay it out front: the doctors there are amazing. It is the staff that leaves much to be desired. They are always very friendly, courteous, and engaging… until you leave the office. My paperwork was so screwed up I ended up having to have half of my medical re-done here. Forms were missing, labs were missing, and in general I should have spent a little of the dwindling time I had left just staring at the office staff in person until I had what I needed.
The last thing I will say about this week is: OW! Having lost my shot records, I have had 9 immunizations and three blood draws this week to fill out my deployment requirements. They took about half a quart of blood and replaced it with live and dead diseases of all sorts. Thankfully I have had no reactions, in fact, I feel a little better than I did when I arrived. Weird, that.
Over the course of my work I have had many business trips (TDY in military parlance) that have lasted anywhere from 24 hours to a week. This first week away from my family wouldn’t hit me so hard, except I imagine the 51 weeks ahead and it makes me really sad. Eve has been adjusting, Char is doing great, and Van smiled for the first time today... and I am here. I had better get used to that, as I won’t be back until my six month mark and I will miss a lot.
I tell myself over and over like a mantra that this is the best time for me to be gone in relation to the kids, but I am a very tactile person and not being able to hug them is driving me nuts. I plan to be very busy at my final destination, and hopefully that will mitigate the loneliness, but it still sucks.
I count myself lucky that I live in a time of skype, e-mail and priority shipping. My father tells me stories about letter-writing back in Vietnam and I can’t imagine how hard that was. My wife and I plan to do a few writing projects together while I am away, and I plan to speak to Eve as often as possible.
I have a complex plan to stay resilient this year:
Stay in Contact.
Martial Arts (Wushu teacher there!).
E-mail writing projects with friends and family.
Maybe find some gaming there.
I’ll let you know how it goes.
I struggle constantly with the ethical and moral implications of what I do. I have many colleagues who question my motives (Am I in this for the money?), my understanding (You must be an idiot to think you can help anyone this way) and my sanity (You must be in pretty deep denial to think what you do is “okay”). To be honest, I think about these things constantly but I will be the first to admit that if I am selfish, ignorant, or crazy, I will probably be the last to know.
I have done this before, in a blog long since taken down, regarding my experiences going through training with the Human Terrain System (HTS). That program and I have long since parted ways, and I have since worked as a course developer and instructor for the Air Force Community College as well as a wargaming/modeling/simulation cultural consultant for the Army. The company for which I am now deploying recruited me from a posted resume, and the vetting process has been about three months.
That being said, I thought I would lay out a few concepts and beliefs I have at this moment that may help frame my decision to spend a year away from my family to help the U.S. mission. These may change as I go through this, in fact you may be able to track these changes here. But this from whence I begin my journey, and I can only tell you what I know consciously.
1- I believe war to be bad. Bad things happen during war. War itself is premised on bad things happening. In a perfect world, war would not exist.
2- I believe war to be necessary. For a variety of reasons, humans have developed an ever-expanding concept of resource competition and it behooves us to understand it as best we can.
3- The same goes for violence. Violence is bad. Sometimes it is necessary, and it is an essential part of human existence. Violence is not just physical, but emotional, economic, and social. It is even more important that we understand violence than war, as violence is the quintessential nature of war.
4- Geopolitical, economic, and cultural understandings of war are important, but do not reflect what war is like on the ground. Argue all you want about the former, but understanding the latter is critical to our concepts of the human condition and any discussion about war, this war, or future wars must include a comprehensive grasp of the reality of war.
5- Warriors are worthy of respect, no matter why they are at war. This does not mean worship, and again, this is about understanding the reality of their situation and behaviors. Helping them understand the consequences of their actions, the relevance of cultural awareness, and the proper use of cultural knowledge from a pragmatic perspective will help save lives on all sides.
6- The government, the military, the warriors, and the families involved all deserve the same respect, voice, protections, and support as any other groups with which we, as anthropologists, choose to work.
7- Critique is best served out of respect, not disdain. Pointing out the flaws in the system, the moral and ethical pitfalls, the lack of information or context, and the maladaptive behaviors of individual or groups is a duty of social scientists, but this does not mean we can be judgmental jerks about it. If we really want to effect change, we don’t want the people we are trying to change shutting down. This brings me to my last point for this post:
8- The core precept in anthropology (as opposed to other disciplines) is the ground-up, hands-on, emic perspective of the cultures with which we engage. It is about getting involved. It is about getting out of the armchair and working with people different from us. The military is a huge part of American culture - the same rules apply.
This has gone on long enough; my next post should be about my thoughts on applied anthropology. Future posts will share the same basic format. I intend to write a bit about the philosophy of anthropology as it applies to my work, then a bit about my personal experiences or what is going on with me, and then a little bit about how I feel through the whole thing. I intend to update weekly, though intermittent thoughts may be uploaded as appropriate.