One of our first meetings as a company during train up for Iraq was held in a large auditorium with several hundred other soldiers.
We were being given a brief by some higher up about IEDs.
You know, the basics: what IEDs looked like, where they were usually hidden, etc.
The problem with the brief was that there was no end to what an IED could be or where one could be set.
First, they showed us video of what IEDs could do to our best armor.
Then, we saw videos of soldiers being blown out of Brady Fighting vehicles.
Explosions turning up-Armored Humvees into nothing.
We were then shown pictures of what an IED could look like.
A traffic cone.
The curb at an intersection.
A dark mass in a tree.
A mannequin packed with explosives dressed up as a women at a bus stop.
The street beneath you.
A sand mound.
Any Iraqi wearing a coat.
They then proceeded to tell us what we were doing to counter this threat.
"Uh, well, see, what we are doing is.....uh....A, uh....B, uh,....and C. But well, the tactics keep changing and well ummmm....the key is your situational awareness and your vigilance....."
By this point in the meeting everyone was really starting to freak out. So much so that a Staff Sergeant on one of the other teams stood up and asked a very simple question...
"Sir, I am getting the impression that IEDs could be anything and anywhere, can you be a bit more specific on what we can actually do about it?"
"Good question, Sergeant......well, um ABC"........you get the picture
You see they didn't really have any answers. Whenever we changed our tactics, the bad guys changed theirs.
I'll never forget the day I left the green zone.
While everyone else was taking a helicopter, I was tasked to go with a civilian affairs element in a humvee convoy to FOB Loyalty.
I was terrified.
After we went through the first gate, I immediately started looking at everything as an IED.
My mind would fixate on a piece of trash, the curb, a traffic cone. My mind was full of assumptions. I was really getting worked up when the team leader turned around and said....."relax Corporal, we haven't even left the green zone yet".
I hadn't realized that the gate we had gone through wasn't the main gate. I was losing my mind and we weren't even out side the wire.
Driving into midday traffic in Baghdad after being briefed about IEDs is maddening. My mind was so full of worry and fear that I was paralyzed.
How in the world was I supposed to be on the lookout for IEDs when everything could be an IED?
That first 20 minutes of the mission were a blur. I missed everything because my mind was so full of fear.
My mind was racing from one threat to the next. I was so consumed with my own thoughts that I barely saw the vibrant display of life happening all around me.
Instead of seeing people, I saw terrorists. Instead of seeing a completely new place I saw bombs.
If I hadn't caught my thoughts I think I would have had a break down on that first mission.
Later I learned that some guys did and had to stay on the FOB for the whole deployment.
To save myself, I let go of everything. I let go of my assumptions, my judgments and fears. I put my faith in my training and took everything in without pigeonholing myself on any one thing in particular.
I became empty. And from that emptiness a whole world flooded in.
Sights, sounds, and smells.
My senses were heightened, my situational awareness primed.
The less I looked for, the more I saw.
So, what does empty feel like?
The fifth Stanza of the Art of Peace is: