Color of My Landscape

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by Virginia Wright Peterson • Iraq, 1/7/08 – I think all of the camouflage is starting to get to me. I had a dream the other night I found a bright, canary yellow blouse in my closet here and had an overwhelming desire to wear it. Definitely not a possibility in the midst of the sea of tan and beige camouflage on COB Speicher!

World Views publishes stories, reflection and analysis with an international perspective and a Minnesota connection. This story comes to us from Virginia Wright-Peterson, a Minnesotan currently working for the Red Cross in Iraq. Her blog, On Deployment Now “describes my experience being deployed to Iraq with the Red Cross Services to Armed Forces (SAF). The inspiration for the name of this blog is the old WWII song “We’re In the Army Now.” I remember my Dad, who served in the Army in the 1950s, singing the first lines of this song when I was a child. He’d sing it when one of us got into something we were having second thoughts about but couldn’t back out of.”

And when I wake up, sometimes it is strange to realize I am in Iraq, a place constantly portrayed in the news with photos of war torn streets after a bomb has exploded or veiled women and children walking along a path guarded by soldiers. It is hard to believe I am in that place, in Iraq, because all I see of it is within the boundaries of COB Speicher. Most of my impressions still consist of what I see and read in the news appended by a few conversations with soldiers who go outside the wire to train Iraqi soldiers and police, patrol the highways, or help with provincial reconstruction in one manner or another.

The war or conflict remains almost as fragmented in my mind as it was when I was at home, a series of events, successes, and setbacks. Even a letter sent out to the troops and civilians here from Commanding General Petraeus reflects this reality. Although there have some large suicide bombings in the last few weeks, the General’s letter does point to a recent trend of fewer attacks and reduced military and civilian casualties, which I can verify on Icasualities.org. In addition to trying to gain a broader since of geography here, the messages I pass increase my awareness of places at home. The towns represented by the families and Red Cross chapters at home sending emergency messages are sprinkled across the US in places I had no idea existed.

Neither Julie nor I had heard of Celebration, Florida when she passed a message originating there. Turns out, Celebration is at the end of a road that originates in the Magic Kingdom at Disney World. Another town I had never heard of, Euless, Texas, population 51,000, exists between Dallas and Fort Worth. A message about a serviceman’s wife going into preterm labor came from there. Another message came from the small town of Tylertown, Mississippi, pop. 1,900. News of the death of a serviceman’s father came from central Mexico, the town of Zacatecas, which was a silver boomtown established in 1548.

While plenty of messages come in from places I know well like Detroit and San Diego, my curiosity is piqued when messages come from towns I’ve never heard of like Newtown, CT. I wonder about the families and Red Cross volunteers and staff who take the originating calls and verify the deaths, illnesses, and births with the doctors, funeral directors, and law enforcement officers in these places scattered across the country.

And while my world is getting bigger due to the messages I pass and my experience in Iraq, I wonder, in the middle of this camouflage laden landscape, if maybe, just maybe, General Petaerus has a rainbow colored beach shirt somewhere that he is dying to wear when he goes home, too.

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