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(Photo courtesy of Kevin Newton)
This week we have: “Still In” from Military Millions!
Reading through this submission for the first time I was cycling back and forth through moments of laughter followed by moments where my jaw literally fell through the floor… We haven’t had a Wins and Losses Series with quite this much intensity (yet still some humor). Sit back. Enjoy. Learn… Take it away, Still In!
“Still In” is the pseudonym of an active duty officer and physician who is “still in” the military. He has a passion for professional development, mentorship, and personal finance. He blogs about professional development for Naval medical professionals at MCCareer.org and personal finance for military members at MilitaryMillions.com.
Worst Moment #1
I completed medical school in 2001 on a military scholarship. The military paid for my entire medical school plus living expenses, which easily cost more than $300,000.
Worst moment #1 occurred two years later in 2003. I was standing in a desert in Kuwait (just south of Iraq) with thousands of my closest personal friends, all of whom seemed to shop in the same clothing store as me.
In other words, I was in the desert with thousands of other military personnel, all wearing the same uniforms as me.
Every day it was over 100 degrees. On many days it was over 120 or 130 degrees. When discussing the heat in Arizona or California, people will say, “It’s a dry heat.” In Kuwait, that’s true too, but ovens are dry and you wouldn’t want to be in one.
At this moment, though, it was after dark and we were in a tent looking at aerial photos of presumed weapons of mass destruction
Nerve gas to be specific, or so we were told.
I remember them saying, “This is where we are going to get gassed.” As we all know now, it turned out they were wrong, but we didn’t know that at the time.
We all had chemical weapons gear, and I had no doubt the gear worked…if we were standing still. But I’m sure if we were in a war and there was a cloud of nerve gas around us, we wouldn’t be standing still. All it would take was one breach in my chemical suit, and I’d be lying on the ground with SLUDGE syndrome from the nerve agents.
What’s SLUDGE syndrome?
It is an acronym for salivation, lacrimation (crying), urination, diaphoresis (sweating), gastrointestinal distress (mostly profuse diarrhea), and emesis (vomiting).
In other words, “this is where we are going to get gassed” meant “this is where you might be salivating, crying, sweating, peeing and pooping on yourself, and vomiting while rapidly dying.”
Before that, I would have told you that the $300,00+ military scholarship was worth it. At that moment, I don’t think I would have given the program a positive review.
Main Takeaway – No amount of money is worth more than your life
Best Moment #1
Best moment #1 occurred 3.5 weeks after worst moment #1. We were in a truck factory outside of Baghdad, and we had been wearing the same chemical weapons suits for all 3.5 weeks. Luckily, they were lined with activated charcoal, which was well suited for both stopping chemical weapons and absorbing the odor of 3.5 weeks without a shower in a desert while wearing the same set of clothes.
At some point on one of those days, we were given the “all clear” and no longer had to wear our chemical weapons suits. One of my colleagues with more foresight than I had, broke out two Coleman camp showers. We filled them up, let them heat up in the Iraqi sunshine for a few hours, and then took the…best…hot…shower…ever.
Main Takeaway – A hot shower can wash away a lot of the world’s problems AND 3.5 weeks of dusty desert funk.
Worst Moment #2
Worst moment #2 occurred in the same truck factory as best moment #1. In this truck factory, we had a large amount of ammunition. Hey, we were in a war, so can you blame us?
Have you ever seen one of those miniature tornado/vortex things? I think they are called eddies, and in a desert you get eddies.
While I was unaware of this at the time, apparently “burning ammunition” is something that is done. It doesn’t make much sense to me, but I’m just a doctor and not an ammunition expert.
Someone was burning ammunition, and along came an eddy. This eddy lifted the burning ammunition into the air and placed in onto ammunition that was not staged for burning.
This caused many people to immediately sprint from the ammunition depot, yelling things like “get down” or “it’s going to blow!”
Shortly thereafter, things started to explode
Medical, of course, was next to the ammunition depot, so I ran too.
I found a concrete bunker that was a few feet below ground level. The guy I was with told me that he had heard there were things in the ammunition depot that could “level a city block.” Our truck factory was about the size of a city block.
This coincidence was not reassuring.
Main Takeaway – Eat dessert first. You never know when your time may come
Best Moment #2
Best moment #2 came after worst moment #2, in the same truck factory.
I’ll never know whether there were things in the ammunition depot that could have blown up a city block (or a truck factory). If there were, they did not blow up and our truck factory remained intact.
After about an hour of cowering in my concrete bunker, and after all the explosions had subsided, I emerged alive.
We now had an ammunition depot that was filled with ammunition that was no longer fit for use and had to be disposed of.
What do you do with this ammunition? You blow it up, of course
A few days later and after a reported two tons of plastic explosive had been staged in the old ammunition depot, someone from EOD (explosive ordinance disposal) pushed a button.
That is when I heard the loudest sound I’ve ever heard, and the ground shook underneath me. Shortly thereafter, I personally witnessed the generation of a mushroom cloud. I’m sure as mushroom clouds go, it was a small one, but a mushroom cloud it seemed to be, nonetheless, and being near a mushroom cloud is never a good thing.
Unfortunately for us, they have gravity in Iraq.
What goes up, must come down, and it began raining shrapnel. It was literally raining metal.
Luckily for me, I had been issued body armor and a helmet, I was wearing it, and I was huddled on the back side of a metal shipping container I was using as protection from the blast. I remained dry during the downpour of metal shrapnel, which was best moment #2.
Others were not as lucky. As a doctor, I had work to do.
Main Takeaway – If you are ever issued body armor and/or a helmet, you should probably wear it
*The views expressed in this blog post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Department of Defense or the United States Government.
As I stated above, these Wins and Losses carried with them some intensity. First off – I have so much appreciation and gratitude for those who put themselves in harms way so that the rest of us can live the lives we choose to pursue. Thank you, Still In.
What are your thoughts about these moments? Can you imagine a similar situation, or have you found yourself in one of these before…? Let us know in the comments below and we’ll keep this discussion going!
Thanks for reading!