An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Deployments change people

  • Published
  • By Maj. Apryl Cymbal
  • 379th Air Expeditionary Wing Force Protection Office
Imagine if you had never left home -- settled into a local job and never left your hometown except to go to Vegas or Disneyland once a year. The gypsy military lifestyle broadens the horizon - everyone knows this. Most of the force is deploying constantly, performing hard, heroic, and sometimes, heartbreaking work. Everyone has incredible war stories to share - sad ones that make you cry, ones that inspire, and those causing you to laugh till you fall off your chair. It is impossible to remain unchanged after exposure to such a staggering range of life experiences and cultures alien to our own. Above all, deploying has forced me to reconsider so many things that I thought I knew for certain.

I served as a military liaison a few years ago for the Iraqi Police in the International Zone. Establishing a modern police force, loyal to the national government, was considered pivotal to Iraq's future stability. A police academy was stood up; new police gear, weapons, vehicles and facilities were acquired. It was an exciting time and I had no prior experience with this mission, so it took me a long time to notice the complexity. I realized, finally, that the people of the IZ simply had no expectation of fair and equitable police services. There was no steady flood of citizenry needing help or just wanting to complain. Many citizens had good reasons to be genuinely fearful of the government and carefully avoided contact. Ok, so in the U.S. government there are probably those who abuse their power, perhaps a little corruption, nepotism or cronyism every now and then. Still, no one hesitates to dial 9-1-1. Imagine living in a place where you can't call upon the police or fire department if you need help. How would you ever feel safe?

I once tagged along behind a U.S. Army platoon as they searched an apartment building in Baghdad; they needed additional females to search the local women and children. The International Zone's only market and café had just been simultaneously bombed and tactical units were 'shaking down' the zone. In the middle of the night, cordons were thrown up around a huge apartment complex and Soldiers went to work, searching buildings. I watched the troops search both the families and their homes. To me it seemed horribly invasive, but every single person was incredibly docile. Not one person said "Hey, you broke my door, what the heck are you looking for?" No one said "I don't deserve this." They seemed utterly resigned.

A couple of years later I deployed again to Iraq. By then the focus had shifted to establishing the Rule of Law in Iraq. The concept seemed cozily familiar to me because the Rule of Law encompasses the basic, inherent rights of every American. But I couldn't help wondering if the people of Iraq even had these expectations formed up yet?

In Baghdad, I worked on a child prostitution case -- a 13-year old with a thick stack of cash in her little backpack. The International Zone was locked down tight. We were mystified as to how a child was getting past the formidable IZ checkpoints. As it turned out her mother was walking her to the checkpoint and 'negotiating' her entry to the IZ so she could work. The family was one of many displaced because of the civil war. I stood next to the U.S. State Department interpreter, stubbornly judgmental and thinking the mother must be a bad person. The interpreter listened to the mother patiently. Finally he said to me, you know the problem is there really are not enough jobs yet. This girl is the only member of her extended family with any reliable income at all.

I suppose if I had never left my hometown, I could have read books about hatred, poverty, scary places and the mindset of oppressed people. Servicemembers in the wartime military have the opportunity to learn these lessons firsthand.

Deploying has taught me the same simple lesson over and over -- Americans are inexplicably blessed. Right now, all the news is covering the shift from Iraq to Afghanistan. So many arguments! Luckily low-level employees don't need to worry too much about policy. No one I know sits around and debates strategy. I think most people are just hoping that by the time the job at hand is done, America will be safer and life will be a little better for the people of Iraq and Afghanistan.