The irony of technology has become more apparent to me over the last year while serving overseas. As my closest Twitter Buddies know, I’m a Guardsman, a part-time Soldier, recalled to active duty and spent the last year deployed. This was my second deployment; my first tour to Iraq ended in 2007; 40% of the members in my unit have been on three deployments.
My first deployment was for war; this deployment was for peace and ironically, the latter has left me with a far more cynical, perhaps isolationist, view of Middle East: We give and give and give; they hate and hate and hate. The more we give, the more they hate us for it. War gave me compassion, while “peacekeeping” has chipped away at my empathy and hardened my soul; it’s made me, to my own astonishment, bitter.
I’m home now, with a few weeks off before returning to my day job, my civilian job, as Director of PR for Vocus. Vocus is an employer, I might add, that is understanding, supportive and patriotic. They’ve allowed me the freedom and time, which during the months leading up to this past mobilization was substantial, to devote to preparing my unit for deployment. There’s no doubt the company has sacrificed too — something that businesses all across the country do without recognition. Maybe that’s a story the mainstream media might wake up to one day.
In exchange, I’ve given Vocus everything I’ve got and soon I’ll be ready to give again with a renewed enthusiasm for a company that’s about doubled in size since I left: I smile when I think about how we’re going to kick ass.
* * *
When a Soldier headed to Vietnam, or even Desert Storm, they were deployed, separated, and far away. Save for the occasional letter from the home front, they were gone. In an age of Facebook and Twitter and Skype, that’s no longer true. And while the benefits of watching your kid’s open Christmas presents over streaming video are plentiful, so too is the emotional distractions of the crisis that inevitably come in life.
Consider the following:
- Given the 7 hour time difference, a Soldier gets on Skype at midnight to walk his son through math homework after school. His kid is acting up; has ADD and it’s all a father can do to try to help his son through trying times. It also eased his wife’s drain back home, which counts for a lot, but it distracted this Soldier, who was tired and unfocused the next day.
- A Soldier called his wife over Skype religiously to save his marriage. Again, given the time difference, he’d often spend the hours from midnight to 0300 on VoIP. Again, this man was distracted, tired and emotionally drained from the drama of the previous night’s call the next day.
- A female Soldier, a single mother, received word her child was unwell, long before the Red Cross ever notified the unit. She was awake, indeed her entire chain of command was awake for most of the night working on a plan to get her back home on short notice.
These are just a few examples of events that occurred on a near-daily basis during this past deployment. I don’t recall anything like this ever occurring when I was in Iraq. We didn’t have the bandwidth available to support Skype, MySpace was just getting big, Twitter, for all intents and purposes, didn’t exist.
Indeed the static nature of the peacekeeping mission perhaps made some of this possible; in Iraq, it would have cost lives. Someone would have died because someone else, distracted by events 6,000 miles away, wasn’t on point.
I had my own distractions from the home front – the kind of angst that you are powerless to affect – and keeps you up until the wee hours of the morning: Though I’d have much rather deployed to Afghanistan, because I’m an Infantry Soldier, and we always want suit up for the big game because that’s what we do, I cannot imagine the mental, psychological and emotional toll such circumstances would have taken in a combat environment.
There’s only so much time in the day and technology gives and takes both. I had to travel half way around the world to realize this, yet what is probably also true, is that the average citizen is distracted every day at work.
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