In 2005 my presence was requested in Iraq and I went over as a civilian contractor for the Army for a year. Due to my upbringing, I had always been a bit of a survival type (boy scouts, hunting, fishing and camping in the Pacific Northwest). I had also gone through SER training in the military a long time ago. As a result, most all of my knowledge of survival is from a wilderness perspective, so going to a war zone in an urban environment was a new experience for me.
In the time I was there in Iraq, I learned quite a bit about what it takes to get by in a crisis situation in an environment much more structured and restrictive than I was familiar with. We were not allowed to carry firearms as civilians, so we relied exclusively on security personnel, not only to protect us, but as a source of information and direction as to how to act, what to look out for, and so on. It didn’t take long for me to figure out that I wanted these folks to appreciate my presence, so I had the wife regularly ship me whatever goodies I knew the security people craved. Keeping them in beef jerky and candy meant they all knew me by my first name; and that was comforting.
I came to realize how thin the veil of security/safety in our own society really is. These were some of the experiences that opened my eyes:
- Making bunker runs at 2:00 am to the sound of mortars impacting nearby
- Bullets spinning out on the floor of our quarters after penetrating the roof
- Eating one MRE a day all week because we can’t get to the chow hall, and my latest goody shipment is late, and I didn’t save any of the last one
- Not being able to leave the compound for days
- Having to keep a gas mask within arms reach some days
- Bathing in highly chlorinated, near scalding water from tanks sitting in the hot Iraqi summer sun
- Drinking 2 gallons or more of water a day because you are wearing 40 lbs of black Cordura body armor and a Kevlar helmet
- Seeing the look of death on the faces of your Iraqi co-workers because someone blew up at the checkpoint on their way into town, again
- Witnessing people getting shot, blown up, etc
- Friends who suddenly and permanently never show up to work ever again, no idea what happened to them
- Getting shot at, dancing in the street to avoid bullets ricocheting along the sidewalk, or having bullets smack the window next to your head in a car waiting at a checkpoint, with nowhere to go
- Having your most important/vital possessions in a bag by the door of your hooch, ready to grab and run for your life, and actually having to do it once in a while
And we civilians had it easier than the soldiers. The soldiers we interfaced with (mostly kids younger than my own children) had it a lot worse, and faced far greater risks and hardships than I ever did.
When I came home, I had an entirely different attitude about our lifestyle. I also realized there are some things you can prepare for, some things you can control, and some things that you are just along for the ride. More importantly, I am passing on this mindset to my children in the hopes that they don’t have to go through what I did, although it would be worth the experience for them if the risk wasn’t too egregious.
Now I keep my home, my work, and my vehicles well stocked with equipment, material and supplies that I’ve learned I will need in a crisis. I keep in reasonable shape for a 50 year old so I can still run like hell to safety, if it is close enough (I need oxygen bad when I get there, though). I practice self defense and situational awareness regularly, and I surround myself with people I can trust will have my back if things go sour, and endear myself to them. I have plans for staying where I am or leaving, with redundancy.
I am certain that soldiering in the sandbox does much to educate those who serve about the realities of life and the way the world really works. Going over there as a civilian was also enlightening and humbling. I will admit that on more than one occasion I was formulating prayers faster than I could speak. Faith is a powerful survival tool for just about any crisis situation.