Iraq War Blues

[Dwayne Betts]

Right now my moms is at an airport in Maryland waiting on a plane to send her to Germany, then to Kuwait, then to Iraq. She turns fifty years old on Thursday. At first, I thought she was an anomaly. I believed that there were no other 40+ year old women headed to Iraq.

I was wrong. With my mother there are at least two other women in their forties.

It is a distressing thing to get emails describing training drills that involve jumping out of Humvees and handling assault rifles. You grow up watching "G.I. Joe" and all of the war movies and war is a glamorous thing. Even people who die seem to die heroically, or at least as a part of someone else's hero tale. The wars are always fought by the young. You never see the weary eyes of a man who knows too much blood and is much too honest after three shots of bourbon. And yet, the failure to see what I'm beginning to recognize as the reality of war is not the disturbing thing. What's disturbing is how the president and vice president continue to talk about the 90,000 troops to be returning home from Iraq between now and summer. Just two days ago the AP quotes Biden as saying the Iraq war hasn't been worth its "horrible price." It also mentions the 90,000 combat troops. My mother and her friends, the people in her unit, platoon or whatever slang they use laugh at those numbers -- because they have inherited the stories of the men and women they are replacing.

The most moving war piece I ever read was O'Brien's The Things They Carried and maybe that was only half a truth. I don't remember women in his book. Were there women in 'Nam? Is the woman in war a different kind of victim of invisibility?

To be fair, my mother isn't a combat troop - but there is no such distinction made when the Post reports the deaths of American troops has risen to 4,376.

But the tragedy isn't as much the half truths I hear listening to Biden or the president, it's that I can name so many women who joined the military reserves as a way out of poverty. That's not to say that there is a lack of patriotism - just that maybe the cost rent, or a car note, or a student loan, or of diapers was likely more heavy on the mind than patriotism. I think my mom, and any other woman who ends up in Iraq didn't plan on going to war - nor really thought about ducking the war once it was upon them; but, it seems right to fail to understand a system that leaves a 50-year-old woman fighting in a war. I wonder where are the medals for them. To refuse deployment is to invite the horror of a jail cell into your life. Alexis Hutchinson knows that. She refused deployment because she had no one to care for her 10-month old -- but maybe she was just afraid of dying. I wouldn't blame her. In the end Hutchinson received a less than honorable discharge. Here's a quote from an article in the Times:

Some legal experts speculated that Specialist Hutchinson's commanders threatened court-martial to send a message to other single-parent soldiers in the brigade. Last year, more than 10,000 single parents on active military duty deployed overseas.

In a way, I feel like a draft, at least, would send me to Iraq and not my mother. Would send my cousins instead of women with new born babies. Instead of what seems like a lot of single mothers. And it's a problem when that becomes the logic. Especially in a war that the Vice President says hasn't been worth "it's horrible price."