I've mentioned before that being on a team in the Army is like being a part of a family, albeit a really dysfunctional family. I was on a team within a team. My team was distributed throughout an infantry battalion. We would be assigned to infantry companies for specific missions. The idea was that we would each be "adopted" by an infantry company on a more permanent basis. My presence as a female screwed that all to hell and back, because some of the leaders just didn't want to work with a female. Well eventually they were forced to, because I proved my worth time and time again, and there weren't enough people on my team to meet every company's needs. Throughout the course of the deployment I was shuffled throughout all the companies, usually due to a failure on the part of the companies to keep discipline amongst their soldiers. (Which is a roundabout way of saying that I was harassed, assaulted, or got in fights with soldiers over their behavior towards me.)
Toward the beginning of the end of the deployment, I was out on a mission with another of MY team mates. I was alone in a room with an English speaking Iraqi man, whom I was assigned to talk to. We were in a secured area and I was allowed to take off my Kevlar vest and helmet. (Also it tended to make discussions with Iraqi's more informal, which usually worked in my favor.) Well right away this guy started invading my personal space, which I ignored, because Iraqi's have an entirely different idea of personal space than your average American. Unfortunately in this case the guy took it to mean I was willing to do more than talk. When he first put his hands on me, I got up walked away and put my vest and helmet back on, hoping the jackass would get the message. He chose to ignore the hint. I tried other subtle ways to tell the guy to back off without insulting him, because my job was to make friends. At any rate my team mate was in another room having a round table discussion with several other Iraqi's and the company commander. So when I finally got upset enough I excused myself politely from the room and tagged in my team mate. The commander told me if I couldn't handle doing my job I could go sit in the truck, which I did, because it wasn't exactly a request.
When we got back to base, my team mate ( actually my boss, or one of them anyway) asked why I had left the meeting. When I explained what happened, he laughed and said "So what?". I told him I refused to be put in that situation with that man again and someone else could deal with him next time. In not very polite terms I was informed that I would do whatever was necessary to do my job. In even less polite terms I told him where to shove it. We ended up in a yelling match over the issue, with many threats made to discipline me for refusing an order.
I couldn't believe it. This guy, my team mate, a supposed part of my family, was ordering me to be sexually harassed and assaulted by an Iraqi. The Iraqi had put his hands on me, had tried to get in my clothes. I couldn't make my "boss" understand why this wasn't acceptable. It made me sick to my stomach. It still makes me sick to my stomach. I hate him. The day he was promoted, I spent a good hour puking my guts out. I'd even reported the incident to his "boss" another guy on my team, and he didn't do anything but rescind the order. Another betrayal. He wasn't punished for trying to subject me to a potentially dangerous situation? How could this be? I still don't understand it. They didn't really care about me or my welfare. When that little epiphany struck, I thought about all the other times I had been subjected to abuse by the infantry, and how I kept my head down and kept working without complaint. You see I had been indoctrinated about the necessity to work well with the infantry. Any problems with the working relationship came down on MY head, not theirs. By that time I had been raped, assaulted, and humiliated by several soldiers, while rumors about my supposed promiscuity and other insults were heaped on my head. My job was to save lives. I knew that. It was my first priority, always, even with all the bullshit going on. It was NOT an attempt at heroism. I suffered it quietly most of the time. It wasn't until my own team, my own family betrayed me, that I stopped caring. The entire rest of the deployment is literally a blur of blind rage. I fought with EVERYONE about ANYTHING. I argued with every order. I also had a humiliating tendency to burst into tears around my team. I lashed out at friends, commanders, anyone who dared to come close.
That was how one of my friends died with harsh words between us. He kept trying to hug me, to comfort me, and I didn't want to be touched. I yelled at him, until he finally walked away. Then he died. He was 19 years old.
I will never forget him, or forgive myself for forgetting how easily people died where we were. For not treasuring my friend, who tried to comfort me, who tried to stick up for me when no one else would. For not getting a chance to say goodbye.