Home > War Journalism > The Longest year Of Your Life

The Longest year Of Your Life

 

By Joseph Kassabian

All soldiers names, places, times, and dates have been changed to protect operational security and to protect those involved from any liability. Everything in this story is true.

One year. Three hundred and sixty five days. That is the length of a deployment for your average US Army soldier. Stripped of comfortable amenities that those at home take for granted like cable television, smart phones, and reliable high speed internet. Your world’s population shrinks down to a population of about thirty people, imagine, seeing the same twenty to thirty people for an entire year, whether at work or trying to relax, day in and day out twenty-four hours a day, three hundred and sixty-five days out of the year.

A deployment isn’t all missions, fighting, and patrolling. On average a soldier will have more down time while deployed, than they will ever see at home, the irony is the time off soldiers always wanted is their biggest curse. A bored soldier generally causes trouble or bodily harm to those around them; I don’t mean to insult any of the soldiers I work with, it’s just the nature of the beast. What do you think a group of teenaged to mid-twenties young men would do for fun, for an entire year, while being separated from any of their loved ones? Things that would make prisoners with a life sentence stare in awe. You’d be surprised how fast the façade of manners, decency, and shame vanish in the face of sheer unrelenting boredom.

First a black market of sorts opens up for the vast wealth of pirated movies, music, and porn that any self respecting US Army soldier has on their computer (One soldier brags that he has thirty-five gigabytes of porn alone on his computer, another laughs and says he has one hundred and thirty-six). Hard drives get passed around, Ipods get uploaded, and before long everyone has each other’s files. Next comes books, those like myself who have a habit of carrying a small library with them on every deployment start passing books around to others, even those who haven’t read a book since middle school suddenly have a change of heart. No one ever gets their books back, but no one really cares. One soldier brags he read ninety-five books already, and at the time of writing this we still have five months left.

Sports are always a social way of having fun, and getting decent exercise. Sports in the army on the other hand are a sure fire way to get tackled even when the sport does not require tackling, getting assaulted with the football, basketball, baseball, etc., cheating or being cheated on the rules or the score, and of course drawing blood or being bloodied yourself. I should mention that where we currently live, the only place to play sports is a large motor pool that we park our vehicles in, which is covered in giant ankle breaking rocks as a way to keep the dust down. So while playing a game of football, you’re sliding around on rocks, twisting your ankle, and trying not to get tackled into the armored trucks that are covered in razor wire. If the super stars in the NFL played under those conditions they would switch to a safer sport like mixed martial arts or chainsaw juggling.

When confronted by the lack of people to play football in the rock field of death, we simply invent our own games. This brings us to ‘Footsketball’. A combination of football, baseball, and sheer stupidity it is also, surprisingly, played indoors for some reason. One player lines up with a softball bat. He is obviously the batter, while another lines up down the hallway with a football. He is for some reason considered a pitcher. The catcher and umpire is the same person, and will randomly scream out ‘strike’ or ‘ball’ regardless where the pitch really goes. The pitcher will alternately throw a real pitch, or simply chuck the football at the batter’s head. There are no penalties or fouls in this sport. If the batter somehow hits the ball, what ‘base’ he makes it to depends on a few things: what damage he causes with the football, more damage more bases, and what the combined insults of the pitcher, the catcher, and the audience get the batter to agree that what he hit only constituted a ‘single’. This game has only been played once for good reason.

Conversations about everything and anything rule the day, on mission or back at the outpost. Nothing is off limits. Insults that would make our mothers cry become a part of everyday conversation. Most times the conversations end with questioning the sexual orientation of another soldier, or someone waving their genitals around in the air, at that point another conversation starts about how big or small said soldier’s genitals are, which for some reason always reminds someone of a story from their past. Gallows humor is second only to gay jokes. Hours long talks about the pros and cons of losing certain limbs over others. Why losing your penis to a roadside bomb constitutes a reason to kill yourself or why it does not. The threat of ‘I’m going to kill you’ loses its heft when it’s repeated a hundred times a day. Randomly our squad will speak broken Spanish, with the normal soldier only knowing a few words, we settle for a bad Mexican accent, the one person of our squad who speaks Spanish resorts to teaching us all swear words, we repeat them like mentally handicapped parrots, this has been going on for months.

We even manage to go hunting. While the area we live in would hardly even be considered livable to those in the comfortable embrace of the U.S. we scratch by. One of the ways we do this is by getting rid of the wild animals who infest our small outpost. Of course by ‘getting rid of’ I mean chasing them down and shooting them. For some reason we were suffering a serious cat problem our first few weeks of living in the cramped outpost. Now normally soldiers adopt local animals and take care of them as their own, but the sheer volume of cats in such a small place was not going to work. They found their way into our living areas, cooking areas, and eating areas. Since they had normally lived out in Kandahar proper they were rife with diseases they could very possibly spread to us. With the ‘hunt’ being sanctioned at the highest levels we set out searching our areas looking for them. For weeks after, randomly throughout the day gunshots would ring through the air, followed by either curses if the soldier missed or cheers if the soldier bagged their prey. The confused glances of the Afghan National Policemen we live with as we ran around hunting seemingly harmless cats only added to the hilarity. Eventually the hunt ended when either the cats learned their lesson or they were all gunned down in cold blood.

While the things we do for fun would probably be considered irresponsible, stupid, and childish we don’t do them out of pure joy. Time doesn’t just go by slow here, it scrapes and drags its way across the calendar, and the combination of painful boredom and separation from our loved ones brings out the most creative and shameless part in all of us. We are not special, you’ve heard stories of prisoners making their own dice for something to do, we just happen to make our own sports and pornography viewing film festivals. While it will shock many that the ‘professional defenders of freedom’ sink to such depths for entertainment, underneath the uniforms and combat gear lies a bunch of lonely, angry people just wanting to go home to their families.

 

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  1. Jon Frazier
    December 6, 2011 at 5:51 am

    This is an epic representation. I love it

  2. Brenden Neary
    December 6, 2011 at 6:20 am

    MY Favorite so far!

  3. Steven Salazar
    December 6, 2011 at 9:51 pm

    This is amazing, Very well written. I am proud of you Joe. Let me know when you finish that book your writing.

  4. Sandra, Brenden's mom
    December 11, 2011 at 12:13 am

    I love your writing Joe! This gives me a little insight into your daily lives. It’s good to know the child I sent off to war is still a child at heart and is not too badly broken by

    You are a fantastic writer! Keep up the great work! I think I speak for all parents when I say “a huge thank you” for letting is into your world ny your blog.

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