One of my battles told me the other month that he much preferred the war in Afghanistan to the war in Iraq.
"King, Afghanistan was some good shit compared to Iraq. In Iraq, all I felt was that we were being hunted. In Afghanistan, we were doing the hunting."
Hunted we were. Our team went on over 300 missions and it can easily be argued that much of what we did was drive around waiting to get hit.
This played with my mind. I experienced fear even when the enemy wasn't there.
To make this feeling more accessible to the civilian mindset let me tell you two quick stories.
The first takes place on a farm when I was 12. We were at a friends farm in western Virginia. Our plan was to go swimming in the pond on the farm that afternoon. Before we went, my friends mom told us to be careful of water moccasins and snapping turtles.
All I remember is swimming along when I hear the dad, this guy named Dennis, start screaming at me to SWIM SWIM there is a water moccasin behind you!
I didn't see the snake, but I felt it biting at my heels as my mind and body experienced terror. I got to shore before I got bit only to hear Dennis laughing. It had all been a joke, but I couldn't go back into the water after that.
During a patrol in Iraq we caught a bunch of militia guys driving around after curfew. As we were searching them one of their cell phones rang. Our interpreter answered. It was other militia on the phone saying that we were surrounded and that if we didn't let their guys go they would wipe us out.
I remember covering my sector and even though I was in full body armor and behind an up armor Humvee, I felt exposed.
Just like in the pond, there was no threat. The insurgents on the phone, like Dennis, attempted to manipulate my internal environment.
The mind is an dynamic tool. I've found that my own mind will create threats even when there aren't any. This may result in me getting angry for no reason or feeling stress unnecessarily.
Thinking back on Iraq and dealing with the feelings of being hunted I relied on my weapons and my body armor to placate my fears. My fear wasn't eliminated, mind you, but when my fear showed up I did have something to counter it.
In the civilian world I obviously don't wear body armor, nor carry around a weapon, but I do have techniques that I employ when that fear arises.
As a reminder to everyone who reads this blog, mindfulness is my tool of choice for managing my internal environment. I know my mind has the ability to run off and think up some powerful stuff. Usually it's something associated with a past experience or a potential future. Now I catch it. If need be I ground my mind in my body with exercise or just pay attention to my posture. Mindfulness cuts through the drama and puts me front and center with what's actually going on.
Big deal, huh? Nope, just situational awareness.
This post was guided by the 56th 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 Plain English".
Lisa Wimberger's meditations:
Grounding Your Armor
Riding the Sun
Thrive as a civilian.