On the Deck
The U.S. daily defends its interest and those of its allies
Luis Angel Vega
The infernal heat that can reach up to 140 degrees slaps you in the face, without warning, as soon as the airplane's door opens. It is dry, arid and inclement like the landscape. Immediately we are moved to the other side of the runway, not to the commercial terminal but to the American military base that shares the airport with the small Arab island of Bahrain. We never escape the walls and fences that isolate and protect their only aerial port of entry.
Published on LatinoLA: April 5, 2003
This is my first military activation since I joined the Navy Reserves. The two week journey to the Middle East presents an opportunity and a challenge; one I have no choice to reject. In spite of Bahrain being the headquarters of Navy operations in the region, the security measures are extreme, and the salary includes extra pay for working in a permanent battle zone. I do not know if it is a good omen to start my military career in the middle of a military conflict. I accept my luck.
We fly in helicopter directly to the aircraft carrier USS Constellation that awaits us in the peaceful waters of the Persian Gulf. Tied to its sides, with ear and eye protection, and the lifejacket on. The copter's back door remains open during the flight and you want to avoid that the suction rips you out of your seat through it and unto the air, thousands of feet above ground. This model allows the easy boarding and unboarding of troops in enemy territory. A car easily fits through the open door. I sat as far from the door as possible as I watch the city disappear in the horizon as we fly towards an unknown destination.
The USS Constellation is an inmense floating iron colossus, with a crew of more than 5,000 doing all kinds of jobs. It is a complete city with its own television and radio stations, newspaper, armaments and food to supply other ships and submarines that escort and protect us. From the air it seems an insignificant gray dot lost on a vast blue canvas, but when you live in it, it becomes your country, the center of the world, your universe, your only living platform.
You enter into a secret world, private and vital to the nation's defense. And suddenly you discover that you are one more uniformed piece in the meticulous engine that protects the interest and security of the United States in far away distant lands. Where now your colleague becomes your brother, and ethnic differences are ignored before the imperative need to do your job carefully. Each person is important because the survival of the unit depends on the group's unity and cohesion, regardless of rank.
The journey's mission is to enforce Iraq's "no-fly" zone, an air and sea blockade. Not to allow the flow of weapons into or out of Iraq. We make sure the blockade remains with the approval and cooperation of many countries in the region, to avoid invasions like Kuwait's in 1990 and that Saddam Hussein does not export poltical instability and terrorism to his neighbors, like Iran in the 80's.
Iraq in the Middle East, like Cuba in Latin America, train and shelter terrorists. Fidel Castro and Saddam Hussein are the respective "black sheeps" of their regions. Their neighboring countries repudiate and tolerate them intermitently, while trying to maintain the United States on their side. In the Middle East, like in Latin America, the United States is the only power that keeps poltical and military balance among
friendly and rival nations. There is no other nation in the world today with America's wealth and military might. We are the world's economic engine.
This provokes admiration and resentment, alliances and competition, advantages and disadvantages among our many friends and enemies. They want our help and support but are willing and ready to replace us if we fail. Is the reality of the second millenium after Christ, the "new world order" predicted by Bush Sr, was inherited by Bush Jr.
The United States daily defends its own interests and borders, and those of its allies, around the world. Protected by an anonymous army of voluntary soldiers who come from every corner of our great nation. An army the general public does not know, civilian society do not celebrate, and intellectuals often disdain. Nevertheless, the American Armed Forces besides defending our freedoms, are always present not only to fight but also to prevent future conflicts. Many while thinking about their families back home.
As I walk in my new temporary home, an aircraft carrier bigger than a football field, I meet many other Latino soldiers. I listen to their Spanish music, their proud voices speaking Spanish among themselves, I join their 'dominoes' contests, I become one of them. Most of us are Puerto Rican and Mexican Americans. Surrounded by bombs and laser guided missiles we walk long gray hallways doing our jobs. Contributing to America in metallic corridors replete with history being written daily
with the sweat and sacrifice of their acts. In my eyes, they are all heroes.
I WANT TO DEDICATE THIS STORY TO: Jose Gutierrez (Guatemala), Jose Garibay (Mexico), Jorge Gonzalez (Mexico), and Francisco Martinez (Mexico). All Los Angeles County residents who died in combat in Iraq serving the United States of America. And all other fellow soldiers who throughout out history have been willing to protect and defend our nation at times of war.
Originally published April 2002 in Telenovedades in Spanish. Vega (c)