Tuesday, May 17, 2016

When I was in Iraq: Part Four

As I've said, this series will be more about my emotions while I was on my deployment, than about details that I have already published in other blog posts, as well as in my book, Top Secrets: Lessons for Success from the World of Espionage.

I settled into life on the base. I slept every night in a little cabin, packed on the roof and around the area of my bed with sand bags in case a mortar landed in the night.

The CIA agents slept in the main house, where we also took our meals. It was a big house. It was never away from my mind how much safer they were than me.

The Shack in which I slept
They worked in a FEBR (Federally Evaluated Blast Resistant Building).  I worked in a cabin identical to the one I slept in. When our base was targeted in a mortar attack on two occasions when I was there, we ran in terror to the FEBR. They didn't even hear the attack inside.

I worked 90 consecutive 11 hours days in Iraq. 

We started at 6AM, worked an hour and then took a half hour for breakfast. We then worked until 12PM, when we took another half hour for lunch. Then we worked until 6PM, after which we went to dinner at the main house where the CIA agents lived in comfort.

I decided early on that the only way I was going to do any exercise was to do it before my regular day began. And so, I was lights out at 8PM every evening. I slept eight hours every night and woke up at 4AM. So I worked out from 4AM for an hour and then took a shower and prepared for my work day to begin.

I had been given advice before this deployment from a long term agent that the best way to survive any deployment was to plan your life around eight hours of sleep. Here were the reasons. First off, you are simply healthier with eight hours of sleep. When you are in harm's way, such as living in a war zone, you never know when something will require you to skip nights of sleep. And you will pull that off better if you are completely rested--caught up on sleep on your sleep. 

In 90 days of that deployment, my sleep was only disrupted twice. Once we received a shipment of a bunch of technical equipment that arrived at 2ish, and that meant I was up to help with the processing and never slept again. On another occasion, the CIA Station Chief decided to hold a base-wise security drill at 3ish in which we all ended up in the main house and I basically missed only the final hour of my regular night's sleep.

Okay, I've covered a lot of technical details in this post on my life at my posting in Iraq over ten years ago. And I promised that this series would be more about my emotions than about the mission.

There are plenty of emotional tales that will take place in months two and three of this deployment.

But I close with the following anecdote.

As I said above, I worked out from 4 to 5ish before my regular workday began.

Early on, I was working out and there were all these feral cats around. (The Prophet Muhammad loved cats, hence their widespread prevalence in Arab lands.)

As I was working out on a particular weight machine, one of these cats kept rubbing her face against my foot. I was avoiding her, because she was this horribly mangy mess of an animal. 

And then I looked out into the brightening morning sky. I was in Iraq. I was in serious danger. And I realized in that moment that I needed that animal's affection.

I picked her up and I cuddled her to my chest, and I cried. And I felt her purr against me. 

And I thought to myself, "What the fuck [pardon my war jargon] have I gotten myself into?"

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