Soldier's Diary: Military Life in Iraq Isn't Full of Hollywood Glamour

Editor's note: U.S. Army Capt. Dan Sukman is serving a one-year deployment to Iraq. For previous entries and his bio, see the Soldier's Diary archives.

18 August

Although the military is often written about in books and portrayed on both TV and in the movies, it is probably one of the least understood professions. Growing up, I guess you could say I had a distorted view of the military. I had glimpses from the movies and read a couple of books. I figured it would be non-stop action, and if I tried hard enough, everything I did would be set to a soundtrack. My life would be viewed in a five-minute Rockyesque montage.

Most books from previous wars somehow focus on the strategic level; how generals moved their forces and how given what they wanted, could have achieved all their goals. Other books focus on the political purposes as to why soldiers are fighting the war.

Books and movies more often than not neglect what day-to-day, hour-to-hour activities are. The realities of our lives are long periods of boredom, followed by brief, albeit intense, periods of excitement. (There are notable exceptions such as "The Forgotten Soldier," "5 Years," "4 Fronts," etc. …)

You can't set to a three-minute montage a checkpoint where soldiers are searching vehicles for hours on end in 115-degree heat. There is little excitement or adrenaline rush reading about how soldiers spent four hours in the hot sun repairing the brakes on a HMMWV [High-Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle].

Air assault missions and riding around in helicopters can look real exciting, and at times they are. But the glamour is lost when you are wearing 60 pounds of body armor, a 45-pound ruck [backpack], and the temperature is soaring well into the 100s. Of course, on every trip, there is always one person who takes out the camera, as it is their first flight.

If you want to live the life of a deployed soldier, there are some things you can do at home to simulate our lives.

• For an entire year, wear flip-flops into the shower.

• When you have to go in the middle of the night, walk a half-mile before you go into the bathroom; include nights of inclement weather.

• Drink gallons of water a day and still be dehydrated at the day's end.

• Have your spouse wake you in the middle of the night, shine a flashlight into your eyes and say to you, "Sorry, wrong cot."

• Check the oil of your car every single day before you drive to work.

These are but a few examples of what our soldiers work through every day, and it does not include the missions they are running 14 to 16 hours a day, sometimes longer. Our soldiers are asked to do so much. They are asked to spend long periods of time away from families, asked to live in small crowded spaces — often less space and privacy than a convicted felon. Soldiers are consistently asked to accomplish more with less, and to no surprise, time and time again the mission gets done.

A number of soldiers within the unit have started to receive follow-on assignments following our return to Fort Campbell, Ky. Those who will be leaving the unit for another assignment expect to depart following the new year.

Seeing these soldiers receive orders displays a couple of things I think are least understood about our profession. First, the sacrifices soldiers make extend far beyond the battlefield. Frequent moves are a part of our career, and the moves are not easy when you have to move in the winter months, right in the middle of your kid's school year.

The next point to make is that while we are in combat, administrative duties and responsibilities don't come to an end. Evaluation reports, travel vouchers and assignment orders are just a few of the responsibilities our leaders continue to cope with.

It may not seem like much, but talk to the squad leader or platoon sergeant who just spent the last week at a TCP [traffic control point]. He may have awards to write, counseling to conduct for his soldiers and then he may phone his branch manager to talk about what lies in store for him when he redeploys. Phone connectivity is not always the best, and you know he would rather be spending the time on the phone with his wife or kids, who he has not seen in eight months.

Click here to read the latest readers' responses to Capt. Dan.

E-mail Captain Dan at Click here to read his bio.