Chronicles from the Cradle of Civilization
Kaustubh G. Joshi
Green Clovers and Purple Horseshoes
After completing 2 months of Army pre-deployment training at Ft. Sill, OK, I headed to the other side of the world to work as a psychiatrist (and also work on my tan). As I never deployed previously, I had no idea what to expect about traveling to a warzone. The first lesson I learned was that there were no direct flights to Iraq (shocking, isn’t it?). The second lesson was that a round trip ticket was not booked for me, i.e., there was no guarantee that I was going to return home. Awesome.
I was full of glee when I saw that my flight to Qatar was on a civilian DC-10 complete with flight attendants, tray tables, reclining seat backs, and lavatories. However, that spark of euphoria was quickly extinguished. The plane’s air conditioner blew a balmy breeze throughout the cabin for the entire flight. I think this was the Air Force’s crude attempt to get us acclimated to the desert heat before we even arrived.
As the cherry to this ice cream suck, the flight attendant got on the intercom as the plane was landing and said “Welcome to Qatar ... the local time is 3:30 A.M. and the temperature is 104 °F. We would like to thank you for your business. Enjoy your stay in Qatar or wherever your final destination may be. We hope to see you in the future if you make it for a return trip. Flight attendants, please prepare for arrival and cross-check.”
After a brief stay in Qatar (highlighted by my consumption of three beers in a 24-h period since it would be the last time that I could drink for a while), we left for Kuwait. I was in Kuwait until I could fly to Iraq. Due to the diversion to Qatar, we didn’t have to complete further Army deployment training in the blazing tandoori oven that is the Kuwaiti desert. We were supposed to have left for Iraq 3 days ago, but we kept getting bumped. In the warzone, your ability to get on a flight was determined by how essential
K.G. Joshi, M.D. (*)
© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2017 E.C. Ritchie et al. (eds.), Psychiatrists in Combat, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-44118-4_14
your mission was. I guess mental health was not important, especially when one of the missions that bumped us was rumored to have delivered toilet paper downrange. Of course, toilet paper is essential as a wiped ass is appreciated by everyone around you.
While we awaited a flight out of Kuwait, I wondered why I was doing this. I joined the Air Force for pragmatic reasons because the military would pay for my medical school education. 9/11 occurred in the second year of my psychiatry residency. Thus, I knew it was not a matter of if I would be deployed, but rather when I would be deployed.
I had no problems with deploying. Unfortunately the gods must have been playing a game of “Can you top this?” My father unexpectedly died 4 months prior to my lottery number being selected for an all-expenses paid trip to the battlefield. My mother was still grieving (they had been married for 38 years). Knowing the risks of deploying (e.g., being killed) and given that I was leaving my mother alone during her time of need, I asked those in leadership positions to push back my deployment tasking to the next cycle given the circumstances.
Sadly, no one gave a damn and I deployed at the appointed time. That was my first realization that the military’s emphasis on “family first” was a nothing more than lip service. Despite this bitterness, I deployed ... mostly because a Uniformed Code of Criminal Justice (UCMJ) proceeding was not on my bucket list.
Once I completed that trip down memory lane, I returned to the task at hand. The Kuwaiti base was not as good as the Qatari base in many aspects (e.g., no local vendors selling cheap rugs or giving camelback rides were found on the Kuwaiti base). Even worse, you did not get a beer ration card in Kuwait. Although real beer was not available, you could purchase “near beer” at $1.50 a bottle if you felt desperate. “Near beer” looked like real beer but had no alcohol in it. Not wanting to make a rash conclusion, I shelled out $1.50 and tried this “near beer.” After I carefully examined my taste buds, I reached the conclusion that “near beer” was actually closer to crap than it was to real beer. It tasted horrible, but it did wonders for my jet-lagged digestive system.
Having been in Kuwait for a few days, I got bored and found humor in the most mundane things. Take urination, for example. Over each urinal, the military posted a urine color grid by which to monitor hydration status. Clear meant “excellent.” Darkening shades of yellow meant you were one, two, or three quarts low. Brown, red, or black . seek medical attention. As I used the latrine one day, I met an Army sergeant who had his own interpretation of the urine color grid. He told me “If you see all the colors of the Lucky Charms rainbow when the sunlight hits your stream, you are doing good.” That’s probably the best piece of advice that I got since being there. Using his method, I was behind the power curve since my arrival because all I got were yellow moons. I started to drink more water after that encounter.