Before I left for Iraq I had a grueling training schedule. Every morning I would get to the gym early, before my first client, and sprint 2 miles on the treadmill as fast as I could.
Every weekday, I would leave the gym by 9:30am for an hour of Aikido.
By 2 or 3 pm, ideally the hottest part of the day, I would strap on my 40lbs weight vest and run 6 miles.
And finally, at around 5 or 6pm I would have one of the other trainers smoke me in the weight room until I was about to puke.
I kept a calendar during that time and everyday I put a 4 down meant that I had done all four trainings that day.
My routine was brutal and even though I could barely move each night I got home, I felt a real sense of accomplishment.
You can imagine my surprise and my shame when after arriving in Iraq and going on my first missions in sector, I was terrified.
In the pictures below, you can see how covered I was in body armor. You can see both my weapons, but what you can't see is the way my mind found objects to focus on.
I found potential threats everywhere that made me afraid and that made me hate the Iraqis and their culture.
Now I guess you could argue that this hatred for the Iraqis kept me safe. I'd even add that it helped me be closer to the other men and women that I served alongside.
I remember the moment however when this hatred started to become more of a burden than a way to protect myself.
On a mission to one of the furthest regions south of our AO, we went into a neighborhood that skirted the Tigris river.
I went out with our interpreter and was immediately surrounded by a group of young Iraq males. They started telling me a story about a young man who was killed by coalition forces the day before.
Part of my job as PSYOP was to deftly handle situations like this, but I found that the mindset, he was probably a terrorist and got what he deserved, didn't mesh with what I reasoned could turn into a bigger problem.
What if this guy wasn't a terrorist and what if his death results in these three men becoming one.
I remember coming to the limitations of my fearful hate filled thoughts very clearly and deciding right there that I had to do something to at least temper their rage and hopefully say something to these guys before they were the next "civilian" planting an IED.
I have no idea if what I said helped. But after listening to those guys sob over the loss of their friend and their frustration about why it happened, my heart went out to them
It wasn't that I became void of my distrust of Iraqis, especially fighting aged ones, I simply realized that my capacity for compassion and sincerity held more sway in the long run.
This post was guided by the 47th stanza of the Art of Peace, a book written by Morihei Ueshiba
Armor Down has a website. Check it out.
If you like the AD Facebook page and I'll email you the PDF of a book called "Mindfulness in Practical English".
Lisa Wimberger's meditations:
Grounding Your Armor
Riding the Sun
Thrive as a civilian.