26 July 2010

More Ball-Peen Hammer Moments

I've been collecting "ball-peen hammer moments"--times when I've suddenly felt like I've been emotionally smacked between the eyes with a ball-peen hammer--in the months leading up to our unit's deployment to Afghanistan. I first wrote about such pre-deployment surprises here and here. Here are a couple more, for the record:

I am at my dentist's office, getting a routine check-up and cleaning. I am in uniform, as I have been the last couple of appointments. When Julie asks when she should schedule our next meeting, I tell her that I'm likely not going to be able to make it. I'll probably be out of the country, I say. I try hard not to make it sound like a certainty.

She packs me an extra-full goodie bag of dental hygiene supplies: brushes and rinses and floss. After Dr. Deb comes in, I remind them that I got my best check-up ever following my first deployment. "There was nothing else to do over there but floss," I tell them. They laugh.

Later, as I am leaving the appointment, I suddenly find myself being hugged. I stand there, holding my toothbrush.


The two computer technicians are doing their best to break the news to me gently. My trusty workhorse of a laptop computer has been displaying the symptoms of digital Alzheimer's disease. Things are looking good here in the shop, when a pink-and-gray veil suddenly falls across the start-up screen. The logic board is beginning to go. The replacement equipment would cost nearly as much as a new computer.

My old writing partner might start up correctly every so often, they tell me--at which time, I should grab my personal data and photos and music and run like a bad boyfriend. Other than that, I can only make it comfortable.

We move on to happier topics. "We've seen a lot of you guys in uniform in here recently, getting ready to go overseas," says James. "You should be careful over there."

I proceed to list off all my techno-preparations: power supplies and converters and eternal hard-drives.

James laughs. "Your life is more important to us than your computer," he says.

"Yes," I reply, "but my computer is my life."

I walk out of the shop, into the bright sun. I have already purchased my next "go-to-war" laptop.


I am sitting in the same barber's chair I have frequented for more than 20 years. Instead of our usual Cubs games and reality TV shows, I am talking with Dave about the Army. Specifically, how the Army has pushed a lot of training prior to Mobilization Day ("M-day"), so that soldiers don't technically have deploy for more than 12 months at a given time.

That's not exactly how it plays out, of course, particularly for guys and gals who live hours away from their units. All the pre-Mobilization classes and trips and duties add up. Families discover their soldiers are still living at home, but variously become less present and available. M-Day isn't even here yet physically, but--mentally and emotionally--the deployment began long ago.

"You know, I never thought about it that way," says Dave. "You explain things differently than what you see on the news."

My eyes sting a little, and I tell myself it's the hair tonic. I start cataloging these little surprising moments. You can see someone every couple of months for years, and not really see them at all. Until they say or do something that really connects.

You can make someone's day with just a few little words. You can also re-make the world.

It's too bad it takes the prospect of leaving everything behind to figure that out.


  1. Dude, you need to floss you lap-top. I had a good one I took to Bosnia and later Iraq. It held up very well in the hard Pelican case I placed it in.
    But, after so much sand and dust, and so many convoy and air rides to hellish places, it finally had a malfunction in the DVD/CD drive. Laster, it was just too much and it had to be replaced.
    I still have it as a memorial in my office.

    Oh, and be careful (no kidding, I loved it when people told me that.)

    Remember survive and help your buddies survive!

    let me know if you need anything.

  2. Will be sending virtual hugs, happy thoughts and prayers your way. Won't need to now send floss... however if I can track down these...(Bwhahaha!) http://www.retrothing.com/2010/07/sandwiches-in-a-can.html#comments


  3. @ CI-Roller Dude: Roger that on Pelican cases! I once had "The One Pelican Case to Rule (and Store) Them All," but I've been trying to go lighter and slimmer on this deployment. Lucky for me, it seems Pelican has a size for about every doodad and geegaw I can come up with. Camp Ripley's PX even had a Pelican section!

    @ Pax: I've seen it argued that Napoleon won wars because of tinned meats, but I'm not sure what he would have thought about sandwiches in a can!


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