I've been hinting around something for a while and decided to use today's post to address it. It was the fact that I thought I was going to lose my mind at some point in the war. Ryder, the Warrant Officer who was in charge of three of the six radar teams that I've been driving around for the past couple of weeks, was responsible for driving me to the point of insanity. Here I thought that my worst fear was Hussein, when in fact it was the fear of going insane. There were a lot of little things he would do that just drove me crazy. And I was starting to feel a large amount of stress, and unable to deal with it. I could see insanity right in front on me. It was staring me in the face, waiting on me to invite it in like a demon. It kept me up at nights when I had only a few hours to sleep to begin with. It gave me nightmares. It made me irritable, impatient and quick tempered. Some time much later in this blog I will share a post about losing my temper over the dumbest and smallest thing. I would realize that I had a problem, but I never spoke to anyone about it, until much later and even then I was not very specific.
When I was first introduced to Ryder, he seemed like a nice guy. He had a case of sodas and a bunch of junk food in the back of the Humvee. He said I was welcomed to help myself to it anytime I wanted. Between that and the care packages I was getting, I thought I was in hog heaven. But that was just the bait to the slaughter house. And I was the hog meant to be slaughtered.
It didn't take long to realize that I was going to go through an ordeal that would be my toughest challenge. I would be on the move almost constantly and under a great amount of stress. I really don't know why to this day, but Ryder had problems. I don't think he was mentally stable. The man was just crazy. He had already been in country since August. For seven long months he had been here and something was happening to him during that time to make him edgy and paranoid. Murphy's Law of Combat states, "Never share a foxhole with anyone braver than you." I would add to that, "Never share a foxhole with anyone who is insane."
I can't honestly say that Ryder was insane, but I feared, I mean truly feared, that I may lose it over there. That's no joke and it's no stretch of the imagination. You have no idea. I will share just a few things he did that drove me crazy. And then, in a couple of weeks, you will see one more thing that he made me do that haunts me still today.
The Most Insane Ideas
#1 He constantly felt the need to keep both of us busy every moment. I averaged anywhere between two to four hours sleep at night. I was run down, and when I'm run down like that, I'm more irritable. We drove to several places every single day, not just the necessary trips, but unnecessary ones too. But this was the least of the problems.
#2 He would make me clean out the Humvee when sand got inside. Hello? We're in the middle of the freaking desert! We had sand storms at least once a week. What does he think I am, a car wash attendant. That made no sense at all. But you know what? I did it because I follow orders even when I don't agree with them; even when they make no sense.
#3 He came up with this bright idea that we should remove the doors from the Humvee. Think I'm lying? Just look at the picture of my Humvee. We were the only ones out there without doors. I saw no one else from any other units without doors. His reasoning? It would enable us to return fire from approaching enemy. This was before we had a M-60 mounted on top. I had to laugh at this one. Here we are in the middle of the desert. It was cold and it was the rainy season. We were getting wet when it rained, the heater did no good because we have no doors, and the cold air would blow in and freeze us to death. There were days when I was miserably cold and wet. I'll be talking about one particular day in a few days from now in another post.
#4 This one was perhaps the worst. Of all of the dumbest ideas that he came up with, and he had plenty, this one took the cake. All the drivers were issued a pair of NVGs (Night Vision Goggles). Since we could not use lights, we had to drive with the NVGs. Naturally you would think that I, being the driver, would be wearing these, right? Wrong! Ryder thought it best that he wear them while I drive at night. Ok, go ahead and laugh. I can joke about it now, but it was not the least bit funny at the time. This might have been the single most idea up to this point that just about pushed me over the edge.
So what was his reason for wearing the NVGs and not me? I told you earlier that he was as paranoid as they come. He was so paranoid, he couldn't stand not being able to see whether there were any Iraqis in front of us or not. He didn't like the idea of being blind at night. So he makes me drive blindly. And I have to stay on the previously driven tracks or I might stray off and get us lost, or worse, hit a mine or unexploded ordinance. So as we are driving, he is constantly telling me how to steer, "Left, left, right, left, right, right, left, LEFT!" Those weren't just turns we were making. That was an example of him trying to get me to stay on the tracks in a straight line. It was like driving one of those antique cars at Six Flags blindfolded with the track that runs down the middle of the car and trying not to hit the track. If you go too far left, it bumps you back to the right, and vice-versa. I would drive for hours at a time and have to listen to him repeat "left" and "right" over and over and over and over. I could only drive about 5 miles an hour. And it was the most intense moments I had to experience so far.
I don't remember which night, but I remember one night getting so frustrated that I stopped the vehicle and pleaded with him to hand over the NVGs. He gave me all kinds of excuses why it was better this way, including his belief that I didn't know how to get where we were going and he did. This continued for at least another week when I just about snapped again. By the 3rd week, I knew exactly where we were going. During the day, I showed him I knew by telling him that I didn't need him giving me directions anymore. And I proved it by going right where he told me to go without any help. So one night I stopped the vehicle again, and this time I literally refused to keep driving unless I had the NVGs. He must have heard something in the tone of my voice that made him believe I was serious because he handed them over. I think also he was finally out of excuses.
The Deep, Dark Thoughts
I had to put up with these annoying situations for at least 20 hours of every day. How long would it take before I would just snap? I really didn't know how much more of this I could take. Have you ever seen a war movie or maybe heard of real life stories about soldiers killing other soldiers? I can imagine they were driven to the point of insanity. Some people say they get along with certain family members or friends, but if they had to live with each other, they'd probably be at each other's throats. There may be some truth in that, but I'm not a psychologist so I don't know.
But what I do know, and I'm not proud to say this, is that I had thoughts of taking Ryder out. At some point during the war, I had not one, but two AK-47s in my possession, as well as captured Iraqi grenades. It would not be too hard to carry out a murderous plot and get away with it. We were often alone while driving from one place to another, or going to scout out a new position for one of the radar teams to move to.
I had thoughts about stopping the vehicle, getting out, grabbing one of the Iraqi AK-47s, and just opening up on him. I could say we got attacked by an Iraqi patrol while we were near the border. Or I could just toss a grenade in the Humvee and blow him up and say I barely escaped by jumping out before it went off.
I had the means, I had the plan, and I had the motive. All I needed was the will to carry it out. It's sad, and a little unnerving, to know that I actually had homicidal thoughts during the war, and it wasn't about killing Iraqis. And I would never be able to share these thoughts with anyone if there wasn't something good and positive that I could share from this experience. The good and positive is that I had God with me during this time. This was something I prayed about and let God take over where I could not continue. I could not let that demon in. I had reached various points where my personal battles were losing battles and had to once again turn to the God of strength, the God of comfort, the God of peace.
There is a poem I found that is close to what I was feeling:
We have inner peace. It helps to keep us calm;
Makes us feel so safe whenever we feel harm.
It is there inside. There to call upon;
When we need it most, it helps us carry on.
There inside your body in your heart and soul;
There to give you peace always on patrol.
Everybody has it there inside of you;
Inner peace is there watching over you.
by William Worthless
My inner peace was the Holy Spirit of God. And without Him, I quite possibly may have carried out an act that would have changed my life forever. I was fighting battles in the war that were not against the Iraqis. They were not even against flesh and blood. This particular battle I call Operation Sanity, because I was literally fighting to keep it.
So yes, I struggled with these thoughts off and on for a while, but they were just thoughts and I had no intentions of carrying them out. I only bring them up to show the amount of stress I had to endure, and how a perfectly sane person, without God in their life, could be driven to commit insane acts. The stress and the fear of insanity had little to do with the war. The war had its own stresses, so I didn't need Ryder adding to it. But he did, whether he knew it or not, and it certainly took its toll on me. I thank God that He carried me through the toughest times in my life, especially the times that I felt I couldn't make it on my own.