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Iraq veteran: Was it worth it?

Published: Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Updated: Sunday, June 17, 2012 14:06

kate

Courtesy of Kate Hoit

UAlbany student Kate Hoit served time in Iraq with the Army. In a two-part series, Hoit looks back at her time in the military and wonders if it was worth it.


Editor's note: This is the first in a two-part series written by Kate Hoit, a UAlbany student who served time in Iraq while in the U.S. Army.

 

On Dec. 26, I will officially be out of the Army. It has been eight years since I enlisted and I'm torn: Was it worth it?

 

The simple answer is yes. The more I dissect the question, the more I have no idea how to answer it. The Army has taught me more about myself than any job, schooling, or relationship that I've ever had.

So, what's my problem then?   

  

I knew nothing at the age of seventeen besides I wanted to join the Army Reserves. I thought of the Army as a starting point for the rest of my life. I wanted an adventure and the Army promised that. I wanted a career in the FBI.

 

My father and both my grandfathers had served and I wanted to be the first woman in the family to follow in their footsteps.

I was a virgin. I'd been drunk twice in my life. I grew up in Bethlehem, a suburb outside of Albany. I was a cheerleader and a shitty math student. I was supposed to go to a four-year college like my friends, work some bullshit job the rest of my life, have a few kids, grow old and die.

Sometimes I wish I chose the suburban version of The American Dream.

  • • •

  

In the summer of 2004, I got a phone call while waiting tables at the Fountain Restaurant on New Scotland Ave. It was a sergeant from my unit in Schenectady telling me I was being deployed.

I hung up the phone and stood there for a minute. I should've known this was coming.

 

I picked up the phone and called my parents.

"Hi Mom," I said.

 

"Katie, your sergeant just called here," my mom said.

 "I know, I just talked to him," I said "I'm being deployed to Iraq."

There was an awkward moment of silence. There was nothing she could've said that would've made me feel better. I was a soldier. This shouldn't have fazed me — but it did.

"You've got to be kidding me," she said through her tears.

 

"I wish mom. I gotta get back to work."

 "Okay, I love you."

 

I hung up the phone and walked outside. My eyes started to fill with tears as I wondered if I was going to be killed over there.

I remembered the couple that had just come into the restaurant. I walked back in and took their order.

• • •

 

The Army Reserve life up to this point was easy for me.

 I was used to the one-weekend-a-month drills. I was used to taking a physical fitness test twice a year. I was used to qualifying on my M-16 every six months. I was used to going away two weeks in the summer for training. I was used to the over-educated officers who thought they knew everything. I learned to appreciate the variety of individuals the Army attracts.

I had the whole Army thing figured out. Then I shook hands with war.

It was night when I flew into Camp Anaconda in Balad, Iraq. I was rushed off the C-130. I was too scared to actually be scared. War was supposed to be bombs going off, people screaming, shots being fired. After a few seconds I realized it was just dark and silent.

• • •

A few days later, I walked into the Public Affairs building and was told by the commanding officer, "Specialist Hoit, you are going to be writing for the base newspaper, The Anaconda Times."

I had lied about taking a writing class in high school because I really couldn't picture myself doing paperwork for a year. I blurted out "OK" when she told me the news. The editor of the newspaper, a staff sergeant, just stared at me. I smiled thinking, "Oh shit, I have to pull this off one way or another."

The Army had me; a warm body to do with what they pleased and they handed me a camera. For a second, Iraq didn't seem so bad. My Nikon acted as my eyes -- a piece of plastic that separated my reality with the reality of those I was photographing.

 

A month into my deployment I was in my first Iraq village. Children were running around. Some were naked. Some wanted water. Some gave me the middle finger. Some gave me the thumbs up. Some wanted my approval. Some women were standoffish. Some men didn't want to acknowledge me.

I wanted to remember everything I saw. I snapped hundreds of pictures. When I lowered the camera from my face, there was no divider. My world had clashed with their world and we could barely communicate with one another. I must have had a confused, what-the-hell-is-going-on look on my face the entire trip.

But I realized there was no hate in my heart. There was no sense of fear. Whatever this was, we were all in it together whether we liked it or not.

• • •

Over time, Iraq became tolerable while home grew distant. I never imagined getting used to carrying around an M-16 or that I'd ever consider going to the bathroom in a porta-potty a luxury.

My friends back home wrote the same emails; everyone had the same questions: Is Iraq really hot? Yes. Does it get cold? Yes, and in some parts it snows.

 

My Army friends didn't seem to ever ask a ridiculous question. Instead, they'd wake me up in the middle of the night when we were being mortared. They'd go room to room and collect ammunition for me when I needed it.

 

There was an unspoken understanding: We knew we were all each other had. We didn't think about the worst that could happen to us. We knew the answer.

 • • •

I found myself at the Camp Anaconda base hospital on an assignment. I covered some big-shot General handing out awards and Purple Hearts to injured soldiers. A heavyset, middle-aged burned Iraqi was lying in a bed, wrapped in a blanket and screaming for his family. I couldn't take my eyes off of him.

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19 comments Log in to Comment

Pinball
Sat Nov 21 2009 11:20
Nicely done Kate.
Kate H
Fri Nov 20 2009 13:51
I just wanted to thank everyone for reading my piece and for your kind words. I really appreciate it!
KH
Fri Nov 20 2009 11:17
1LT,

How did I not put my job first? And where do you come off telling me I haven't grasped the Army Values? Self-centered? This piece was about MY WAR; my experiences. Did you miss something? Or are you one of those officers without common sense? I don't even want to acknowledge your comments but you’re completely obnoxious. So thanks for enjoying my blog and reading my college journalism piece. I’m glad I’ve taken up some of your precious time and have gotten under your skin. Good luck with the rest of your enlistment…I think you’ll need it.

1LT
Fri Nov 20 2009 09:05
its ma'am actually. and i enjoy your blog. i just had better hopes. but i guess thats college journalism for you. from what i've read in part 2 you sounded very selfish. you were a Soldier and should have known how to put your job first.
my heart goes out to you for your dad.
HK
Thu Nov 19 2009 14:08
Not a vet, not military, not even an American, yet very appreciative of your article. I admire the way you managed to translate your experiences and feelings into words. I don't even presume I will ever be able to fully comprehend what all of you went through, and what all of those still over there are going through on a daily basis. My heart bleeds though, for everybody suffering the consequences of this war, no matter my thoughts on the why or how of it. Your courage, strength and sacrifice are much respected. Kate, I wish you all the best. Be safe, be well.
ShoestringSocial
Wed Nov 18 2009 22:59
Thank you.
benderunit9000
Wed Nov 18 2009 11:31
hey LT, back off.

US Army Infantryman, Served 9 years, Deployed twice, spent over 3 years in the sandbox. She wrote from her point of view. I think it made perfect sense and was a good piece of writing. My experiences as a veteran may play into my ability to understand it but thats besides the point.

neal d from chicago
Wed Nov 18 2009 11:29
hey LT, back off.

US Army Infantryman, Served 9 years, Deployed twice, spent 3 years in the sandbox.

Rick F. Chartwells
Tue Nov 17 2009 21:40
Greetings Kate, thank you for your story and I salute you for giving you time to our country. I am a veteran of the US Army of 1979 to 1982. When I read part one I could not wait for part two, which I read today. Life take us in many directions and I must say my tour of duty in the Army was a great experience I will never forget. Stand up tall and let everyone know you are a survivor of one of the ugliest wars on this earth. Stand up tall and be proud of you commitment to God, Country, and the USA. Like those two children you spoke about in part two. They may never have a real life of freedom like you and I have. Stand up and cherish all of your memories, good or bad because they can never be replaced or taken away from you. If you haven't been there you do not know the real truth.
My dad was a survivor of WW II. He told me stories I will never forget. I am sure you stories will be told like his.
I joined the army to be somebody and give back what was given to me. FREEDOM. Thank you.
Kate
Mon Nov 16 2009 14:57
Thank you all for your kind words! I'm glad you enjoyed the first half. The second half comes out Wednesday.
Jessica
Mon Nov 16 2009 14:30
Nice job Kate. I enjoyed watching W.J. Parolini's documentary and look forward to your next installment. Keep up the great writing.
Joseph Chaparro
Mon Nov 16 2009 11:49
I couldn't look away while reading this article...I loved it. I think this is a very interesting story that could be potentially up for the Pulitzer...maybe. Good job writting this piece and I want to thank you so much for serving this country.
Kate
Fri Nov 13 2009 15:31
1LT: I wasn't speaking about all officers. I've met great officers and enlisted soldiers. Relax, that's the ongoing joke about officers...fresh out of college and ready to led with no "real" experience. Apparently someone doesn’t know how to laugh at themselves. So, write away sir…show me how an rude over educated officer does it.
1LT
Fri Nov 13 2009 13:17
"I was used to the over-educated officers who thought they knew everything. I learned to appreciate the variety of individuals the Army attracts."
The only negative thing you say about the Army is to bash officers? Really now.
Well at least these over-educated Soldiers could write a better article than you.
I follow your blog.
I was severely disappointed with this.
Hopefully part 2 is more well written.
Your name
Fri Nov 13 2009 08:13
Very nicely done. Sometimes it is hard for vets to put their experiences in words, you did a very good job
Boyer
Wed Nov 11 2009 15:34
Oh snap! What a a way to leave me hangin! Can't wait for the next installment.
Your name
Wed Nov 11 2009 14:37
Write a book!
Alex B.
Wed Nov 11 2009 13:24
Well done.. Can't wait for the next part.
SGT Newport
Wed Nov 11 2009 13:19
You said it better than I could. Thank you sister.

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