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From September 1990 to May 1991, I was a combat medical specialist with the U.S. Army in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. I was 20 years old, leapfrogging through the Iraqi desert, and all I could think was that I was too young to be there. One day I found myself staring into the face of a wounded Iraqi soldier who was just a boy. His sunken eyes and dry mouth made me think he had been lying there for days. I paused; as I did, he spoke, fearfully and using what must have been the only English words he knew: "Gloria Estefan number one." We were both too young to be there.
As my unit left Iraq for Saudi Arabia, I promised myself I'd never return. I'm now working as an RN and have bills to pay, a home to maintain, and a young son to help raise. I'm also a member of the Louisiana Air National Guard. Despite my promise, I'm preparing to return to Iraq.
I'm now creating a will and assigning power of attorney-decisions I didn't have to make before my first tour of duty in Iraq. I've been working as a travel nurse in Rochester, New Hampshire, and flying home to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, every other week to spend time with my four-year-old son. He lives with his mother; he and I talk on the phone often, and he doesn't realize I'm so far away. Of all the worries I have about leaving, I'm most upset at the thought of missing his fifth birthday in September.
Yet I want to go to Iraq. When two fellow guard members and I heard of the shortage of medical personnel there, we decided a few months back to volunteer and take the chance that we'd be selected. We expect to leave for Balad, Iraq, this summer, for a tour of 60 days. Despite the financial burden (my income will drop considerably), I know there are members of the guard and reserves who would be in dire circumstances if they had to go to Iraq now. We-Joy, an ICU nurse in the New Orleans area, Trina, an emergency medical technician from Mississippi, and I-all feel a strong call to duty and know we will grow from the experience. We also know that by going to Iraq we are allowing three other people to stay home with their families. Thanks to my father, who will maintain my household, and my ex-wife (I could ask for no better person to take care of my son), I have the resources and capability to return to Iraq.
Our unit as a whole is not projected to go to Iraq this year, but the three of us have had to make preparations because we're volunteering. For example, I went to a local police range to requalify to use an M16 rifle and made sure that my vaccinations were both adequate and up to date. We've also had to refresh our knowledge of the workings of an expeditionary medical support system facility, which is used in Iraq to treat casualties of war and other patients.
My preparations continue as I await orders. In the next few months, I'll send AJN periodic reports from the field as I transition from the life of a travel nurse to that of a military nurse in Iraq and back again-back home, back to work, and, most important, back to my son. The last is a promise I intend to keep.
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