Wednesday, March 18, 2009

What You Hear In A War Zone

Many years ago, while living in Portsmouth, Ohio, I had an apartment located no more than 150 feet from a rail yard. My first few weeks living there were difficult. I had a hard time sleeping through the screeches, bangs, bumps and grumbles in the night as rail workers prepared trains for their departures across the country.

Over time, my mind and ears seemed to filter out the once annoying sounds and I was able to sleep peacefully. It seems that those sounds became so common place that I was able to tune them out. The situation had changed so drastically, that even if a mouse or mosquito moved or buzzed in the night I could hear it and respond accordingly, even over the industrial sounds emanating from the rail yard just outside my front door.

In some circles, this ability to filter out ambient noise is also called Mommy/Daddy deafness. A syndrome experienced by parents whose children are able to tune out the voices of parents and peacefully go on their merry way, as if their parents aren't actually talking - but I digress.

Today, I discovered that I am once again filtering out the noise of unwanted sounds to allow me a peaceful nights sleep, and further, to filter out the everyday sounds of a war zone.

At 0530 today our unit met at the base of signal hill for another installment of unit PT. (see SFC Burke's blog entry for greater detail on that). SSG Burrell put us in a PT formation, got us all stretched out, warmed up and ready for an unexpected 3-mile run around what we call Z lake here on Camp Liberty.

That's when it hit me. As I ran, I noticed a few things. I could hear the breeze rustling the reeds that line the lake shore, I heard a duck and a bird squawk on the shoreline. I could hear my feet strike the pavement (when there is pavement) and the crunch of gravel under foot as I ran. I could hear my breathing and the rhythmic jangling of my dog tags bouncing between my chest and shirt. I could hear the voices of my Soldiers yelling at me across a small span of lake saying, "you go first sergeant!" What I heard were the peaceful sounds of a morning run along a beautiful lake. It was invigorating.

Here is what I did not hear, though I can promise you these sounds fill the air around us 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The whopping rotor blades of helicopters over head. The constant drone of hundreds of diesel generators, from which there truly is no escape. The revving of engines from Humvee's, MRAP's, strykers, buses and cars. The thrust of jet engines from airplanes taking off from Baghdad International Airport, BIAP as we call it. Whining sirens from the lead vehicle in convoys headed outside the wire. Automatic weapons fire from ranges on the camp and distant combat engagements from off post. And a cornucopia of everyday sounds and noises that are the constant audible backdrop to our life here.

Somehow in the past few weeks my mind has made a change. Like the change that occurred years ago in Portsmouth, Ohio. All those noises that, when I arrived, were so obvious to me, that at times raised my adrenaline level, or might have made me duck and cover, have become almost silent to me.

And again, just like those days next to the rail yard when I could hear a mouse or mosquito, it's the noises that aren't normal that raise my attention now. I always wondered about that before coming here. How it was that our groundpounder's (infantrymen), MP's and EOD (ordnance) Soldiers could know when something bad was going to happen or how they knew when not to go around a corner, go into a building or avoid certain areas of the city or road. It's all about filtering; knowing the difference between normal and, - not normal.

It's a strange shift in reality. When the sounds of a war zone actually become peaceful. When what once brought fear brings comfort.


David M said...

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 03/18/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

1SG Martinez said...

LTC (Ret.) Claude Mckinney writes:

Master Martinez,

For the first 8 months in Iraq, the Blackhawlk landing strip was 50 yards from my quarters. By the second night, no trouble sleeping... They came in at least 4 times during the night.

When in Canada lived 100 yards from a major rail which had a whistle (horn) requirement crossing just up the track so they would start by our house. By the third night, never heard it.

When I'm in the office, I have phones (cell and desk), radio, and computer game noise - never hear 'em... Occasionally someone will open the door and shout loud enough to get my attention. Ha!

keith leistekow said...

I am a retired public affairs officer (Air Force Reserve) living here in Ashley Anderson's hometown of Sheboygan Wisconsin. I spotted a brief note about here service and the photo journalism work she is currently doing with you and the others of the 211th.

I'd love to contact her just to send some words of encouragement and hear all about her experiences.

I have been corresponding with a number of members (various branches, different missions) on behalf of my three little boys - Gabe, 7, Ben, 3, and the newest of the bunch, Murphy (4 months).

The work you do is so important - be safe.

Regards -
Keith Leistekow, Capt.

MichelleWilliams said...

You know the scene in "The Music Man" where the children are playing the most out of tune music ever heard by the human ear? And then from out in the crowd a High pitched gravelly female voice yells out "That's my boy!"... I just feel like yelling right now..."That's My Brother!" I'm proud of you Anthony, what a talented writer you are. I love your perspective..