Archive for August, 2014

iraq3

I support the Wounded Warrior Project for the same reason my book has the characters and themes that it does: my own time in Iraq. In 2009, I spent three months in country (Baghdad, with stops in Tallil and Taji) as a civilian contractor. That entire experience changed my perspectives on just about everything. However, I can trace when wounded veterans became especially prominent in my mind to one single instance there.

iraq2

In Iraq, every day was the same. Unless I traveled (which was a nightmare all its own), it was impossible to distinguish one day from the next. I worked the same shift every day, so days of the week meant nothing. I marched through an identical routine every day.

Every morning, I wrenched myself from catatonic, depressive sleep and crunched my way across the deep gravel of the contained housing unit (CHU) pad. I hit the treadmill and the weights then walked back to my CHU, back across the pad to the lone female bathroom, and back to my CHU again. I was like a zombie just going through the motions and counting down the days until I could board that plane back home.

When I struck out on the sea of gravel once more to walk to the work trailer, I saw him. He was moving across the rocks towards the trailers. In the wavering distance of the desert air, he looked like any other soldier. Perhaps his silhouette was slightly slumped and his walk a little punctuated. It was impossible to tell on those shifting rocks. I just continued toward the water palette and then the road and did not think twice about it

As we approached each other, I could make out more. Squinting in the harsh sun glaring off tall concrete T-walls and the dust covered roads, I could tell that his skin color was not consistent. From behind my sunglasses, it caught my attention more, perked my curiousity. As our opposing trajectories brought us closer along the gravel pad and he came into focus, I could see why.

His skin was a patchwork of scars. The minimal flesh exposed by his pixelated BDUs–his entire head and neck, both his hands–was stretched, shiny, warbled. He looked as if he had been melted. His skull was no longer round, and deep scars snaked through the buzzed hair that had grown back on his now misshapen scalp.

Our paths crossed under the bright light on dirty rocks, and I, shamefully, was in shock.

My entire time in theater, it was customary to make eye contact and say good morning or whatever salutation as you passed someone. Perhaps this was not universal, but it was my experience, and that small gesture always made things feel more normal and civilized than where we were.

When confronted with this survivor, I did make eye contact, thankfully with my mouth closed (at least that made me less of an asshole), yet my voice failed me. I was lost with my mind reeling to wrap around the extent of the injuries I was seeing on a walking, functional man. I was taken aback; I was inappropriately fascinated. Then that brief instance of our passing was gone, and I had failed to treat him like any other person.

Before the sound of his footsteps even crunched off into the distance, I was awash with regret. It welled up in my throat that had been so sadly dormant. I wanted to chase him down and rectify my failure, replace it with a normal interaction, but that time had passed. That moment was gone, only filled with wide eyes and closed mouth. Instead, I walked on to work, wringing my mind and mentally berating myself.

More than the clearly catastrophic injuries he survived, it was his presence that weighed on my mind, like a thorn buried in the back of the gray matter. I got over his appearance once the shock sank in; instead, it was the fact that he had endured such trauma, assumably during some phase of this same war, recovered, and redeployed. Him putting the uniform back on and returning is what haunted me and turned my mind.

The mere seconds of seeing this soldier stayed vividly in my mind. My overabundant empathy fixated on his motivations. Maybe he felt he needed to return to finish the job. Perhaps it was the only place that felt normal after such an experience. How could I possibly fathom? What did I know about any of it? All I knew was that I admired him, whatever the reasons and story behind it.

That experience, and specifically my lapse in normalcy, changed my mind. He was a physical manifestation of the sacrifices made by the military that I was only beginning to learn about. My three month civilian tour was the smallest glimpse into the years they spent deployed away from their families and lives. The stories and reports I heard were only echoes of experiences they went through. It was all just a taste that still managed to change everything. And this one man, with less than a word from either of us, solidified the depth of what was involved and the respect it deserved.

After that morning, it became very important to me to properly support those who had sacrificed. I still think of this nameless soldier from time to time. He still walks through my mind and reminds me of what I left over there when I returned to my comfortable stateside life.

iraq1

Once I started running, it was a definite goal of mine to run a race benefiting the Wounded Warrior Project. However, things never quite aligned. When I lived in Chattanooga, there were none close by. When I moved back to Colorado, one got flooded out. Then, finally this summer, the Wounded Warrior Project 8K came to town, inconveniently when I was over 9 months pregnant.

However, I would not be dissuaded from participating. My doctor cut me off from running at 7 months pregnant, and even if she had not, I did not anticipate pulling off 8K that far along. Instead, I resolved to volunteer my time. I waddled my very round belly around and helped with set up and then course direction and cheering.

wwp8k

While I didn’t do much, it still felt better to do more than donate money, to actually physically do something. I suffered for standing so many hours so pregnant for the rest of the day, but it was worth it. It was barely a tax paid on the debt that I owe.

Advertisements

Consider the my to-do list. Consider this my plan to start preparing.

prepared

Let’s say the zombies started shambling tomorrow, staggering stiff-limbed and rotting through the streets, clawing and wheezing and chomping their teeth. Would you be prepared, or would you be lost in the panic?

Would I be ready? Today, absolutely not. I think about preparing; I muse about preparing; I even talk about preparing. Yet I lack in follow through. Like so many, I fall victim to complacency. Sure, the zombie apocalypse looks terrifying (and entertaining) on my lovely flatscreen TV, but surely that won’t happen tomorrow! Or even the next day. I tell myself that I have time.

However, when the apocalypse comes (zombie or no), there will be no announcement; there will be no gradual transition. It will crash down, and you will either be prepared or not.

So I am taking the first step in zombie apocalypse preparedness; I am making my ideal plan.

When the undead begin clawing at my door, or even when I see them teeming nearby on the news, my first priority will be to gather supplies and GET OUT. I love to live in a city, to be near activities and around people and community. However, in the apocalypse, for all their resources, cities are suicide. The more resources, the more people. The more people, the more zombies.

Most importantly, once civilization falls away, you need to survive the other survivors just as much, if not more than, the threat. People turn savage when their resources are threatened, when they legitimately fear for their lives or even their way of life. It is best to band with a group of well-known family or friends and strike out, getting as far away from the dangerous masses as possible.

Plus, if the zombies are infectious, a city is the easiest place to get infected. Priority #1 is to BUG OUT.

To enable me to bug out with ease, I have to be prepared. I will need bug out bags properly packed and stocked at the ready. Most importantly including water purification and food rations and enough for the whole family. We need to be able to snatch up those packs and move at the earliest possible moment to avoid being caught in the surge of refugees.

Beyond the elemental basics of food and water, these bug out bags need to contain provisions for shelter during travel, basic tools, and (perhaps next most importantly) weapons. Guns are extremely effective but require ammunition and attract attention by sound. Silent, reusable alternatives like blades or blunt objects should definitely be included, multiples based on size and weight.

Packed down and bugged out, the next priority would be travel. I would want to move as camouflaged and subtly as possible, making my way apart from the other survivors and zombies. I would want to cover as much ground as possible to put distance between myself and the majority. Being economical with resources and rest would help to maximize the progress made. The goal would be to put down miles without attracting attention.

Ultimately, I would need a bug out location. I would want this property to be remote, secluded, not easily discovered. A cabin in the mountains would be ideal (and would have plenty of non-apocalypse uses beforehand). There would always be the risk that other refugees would find it before I arrived, so I would have to be prepared to either share or reclaim my cabin.

My bug out location would need to be properly stocked. I would want more rations, tools, and weapons, but they would need to be hidden or disguised enough to not be fully exploited by the time I got there. And I would need to be able to protect them once I was on site. I would want either enough rations or enough means to procure rations (hunting, growing, what have you) for me (and my group) to survive at the cabin long term.

The goal would be to resettle in a new and safe location. However, depending on the apocalypse and the duration and severity of the aftermath, that might not be an option. In many scenarios, nomadism might be the most effective survival strategy. Stationary and too comfortable invites threats and most often other desperate survivors, especially the longer after the event. I would need to be prepared to replenish the bug out bags and keep moving.

If settling at the bug out location, I would need to be prepared and staged for self-sustaining existence. I would need a water source. I would need a steady procurement of food, either by growing, gathering, or hunting. I would need to be well fortified and protected.

However, if I was unable to stay and had to continue moving, I would need to be staged to exploit my bug out location and carry the provisions with me. I would need to adapt to a nomadic way of life and find ways to continually find resources on the road. I would need water purification means that would be lightweight and small and could be continually applied to varying water sources. I would need weapons that were reusable and easy to carry; I would want back ups in case one was lost or taken from me. I would need portable shelter and clothing for the different climates I would move through.

Hopefully, all these preparations would keep me (and my group) alive long enough to learn how to live in the new world. Surviving the apocalypse would be about longevity and adaptation. Things would never go back to how they were, so the greatest long term preparation I could have would be the aptitude to survive in whatever was on the other side.

So, tell me, what is my plan missing?