Archive for July, 2008

Summer Welfare

July 20, 2008

I’m not usually one to complain, but please, indulge me a bit. It will sound like it for a paragraph, but this is not complaining.

Do you know how hot is gets here? Let me explain something to you. I have to shave every day. Since I have a roommate who works nights, I take my shaving stuff to the bathroom which is about 40 yards away in a separate little building. I brush my teeth, floss when I remember, shower, shave, and then walk back to the CHU, or my Call-that-a-Housing-Unit? On the way there, I feel a sensation akin to being baked. My pores on my face are open after having to shave, and the chin strap of my helmet, the collar of my ACUs, or anything else just seems to irritate it that much more. The sweat drips and stings quickly because the average temperature is in the 80s at night, and over 120 during the day. In the south of Iraq, it is even hotter. This is about as much as I can complain about this place.

Now, as far as I’m concerned, I have it easy. Kirk, my brother, is in Afghanistan and has it a lot worse than I do. He bivouacs. The guys who were here in the invasion of 2003: they had tents if they were lucky, used holes in the ground as toilets, and used their canteens and water to shave. I’ve only ever had to do that for a week at the longest, and there were still porta-johns since it was training. I am extremely lucky. Even the war in 2003 was leagues better than what troops went through in Vietnam, either World War, or anything before. We’ve gotten to a point in modern warfare where accidents almost kill more soldiers than combat, which is a huge improvement over the Civil War era where hygiene and disease killed almost as many soldiers than the insane point blank rifle exchanges and charges.

So why do I even bother to mention this? Because I think some soldiers who are here are ungrateful. Soldiers of other current or earlier wars would love to only have the weather to complain about. And their attitudes towards other people’s gratitude is a little sickening.

Example: for some reason, despite not having it that bad, and having instructed my family members to just send me books or a computer game every once in a while, some very nice and well meaning people send us huge boxes of girl scout cookies. So, being an NCO, one my two principle duties is to take care of soldiers. A lot of soldiers come off of convoys, having come in from little rinky-dink bases, just to get help with their divorce, a power of attorney, find out information about how to become a citizen, and a lot of other things they don’t have internet or legal support for. I give them a couple boxes of cookies, make sure they have cold water, and pass out Gatorade packets to mix with the water if they need it.

Repeatedly, I have other people come into my office where I have computers and air conditioning, and a gym attached to the building. (I might as well be living in one of Saddam’s palaces.) These people who are on post come from similar facilities, where they have a hard structure with AC, plumbing, amenities, etc. But they ask for these cookies, as if the PX doesn’t sell 15 kinds of potato chips and 20 different kinds of cookies. Some of them come by multiple times just to get more cookies, and don’t even need legal assistance! I have no problem giving them water, because its hot and people never drink enough water, but do they really need these girl scout cookies? One or two cookies? Sure, and have a nice day. One or two boxes? Please. The dining facility here has a dessert bar. Do not ask for these cookies I have reserved for the troops who actually live in harsh conditions.

This kind of attitude, where individuals think “I must take everything offered to me, and try to take anything that looks available” completely boggles my mind. Some people would call this a “Welfare Mentality” but I think its more selfishness. If I lived in Sweden, or Germany, or Canada even, and was charged taxes to benefit from the universal health care, pension programs, or handouts, then that would just be the benefits of living in that kind of society. But I don’t. Even though the Army has 50 different programs to help me out, I’d rather help myself the majority of the time. I get things I need, and if I can’t get it, I’ll ask if it’s readily available.

People are under the misconception that things are so bad here in Iraq, and for a lot of soldiers, it is pretty nice. Just like with any charity, when you give, you need to take the time to make sure that your giving is received responsibly and actually used in the method you intended. So, if I get sent anything, I might have the odd Rice Krispy Treat, or a couple cookies, but I will give out the rest to these soldiers who are out and about in Iraq, and have it rough. Rewards should be for the deserving, not for the asking.

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