October 10, 2007 - It's been nearly two months since I departed Baghdad and a lot of people have asked me to give my final thoughts on the re-adjustment phase. I have to admit that, while I don't think I suffer(ed) from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, I did have a period of post-Baghdad "flakiness." When I first returned, I spent a lot of time sleeping and just vegging out. But sometimes it seemed as if the simplest tasks were insurmountable for me. When I was in Baghdad (and couldn't sleep), I would make lists of project I was going to accomplish when I got home: clean out the closests; re-organize the kitchen; file all those photos into albums, etc. But once I got home, I found that I would get up in the morning and putter about the house but never seemed to get to the projects. One afternoon, I opened my closet, pulled out some clothes to sort (give away/keep) and suddenly was swept away by a total sense of being overwhelmed. I put everything back in and closed the door.
Little by little my energy level has increased. I spent two weeks on "home leave," then went to a two-hour course/debrief for people coming out of high stress posts. I was so happy to run into some buddies from Baghdad! That afternoon, I reported for duty. Then I took the next three weeks off - one week at home and two weeks in Costa Rica. The two weeks in Costa Rica were fantastic. I call that vacation the "Just Say Yes Extreme Adventure Aguilera Vacation." Anything anyone wanted to do, we did. We went with no plans and no reservations and just went with the flow. We went white water rafting, diving and did the "zip wire." The latter involved strapping ourselves to a wire that stretched from treetop to treetop in the rain forest and just letting go - at about 600 feet above ground! I have a horrible fear of heights, but I figured if I survived Iraq, I could survive anything. By the last stretch (there were 8 individual stretches), I was hooting and hollering and laughing. It was very cathartic. But the greatest thing was just being with my family - husband and sons - 24/7. It was a fantastic time to reconnect.
When I started back to work, I had already been away from Baghdad for over 5 weeks. Most of the adrenaline had drained from my system, but it was another month or so before I felt like I was "firing on all cylinders." My brain felt like mush for the first month or so and I thought "Oh, man, these people think I'm a super star and I can barely remember my name!" But it was more of a physiological issue than anything else. And while I still feel exhausted by the end of a work day, I think I'm finally getting back to normal.
October 15, 2007 - The biggest question everyone has for me is "Was it worth it?" I have always said yes, from a professional standpoint. Being in Iraq gives an officer the opportunity to "strut their stuff" and shine. I was able to accomplish some amazing things while I was there - very real, measurable goals. And, to top it off, I did get promoted last week. I don't think I got promoted simply because I was in Baghdad, but I think that Baghdad gave me the chance to get an outstanding evaluation and the things I did in Baghdad were so different from what other people do at other posts, I was able to stand apart from others who were competing for promotion as well. To be honest, having this website may have been one of the things that called the attention of the promotion panel!
From a personal standpoint, I would never want to put my family and myself through that hardship again. But it gave all of us a chance to appreciate each other a bit more; it gave my sons a great opportunity to grow closer to their father; it gave us a chance to pay off some bills and save some money (college tuition and a future mortgage are calling!) Everyone has to decide whether they (and their family) are in a position to volunteer to go to Iraq, but I am glad I did it.
It's hard to explain it to anyone who hasn't been there, so I don't talk about Iraq much. It was a great opportunity and sometimes when I've been ironing for an hour, or struggling into the house with groceries, I remember how simple life was in Baghdad - someone cooked, cleaned and did my laundry and all I had to do was work! But it's the "life maintenance" issues that make life what it is - I'm back to being a crew/lacrosse mom, living in the suburbs, commuting to DC and loving every minute of being with my darling husband and boys again. I have no regrets, although I don't think I will ever take an unaccompanied tour again. I've been there and done that!
March 5, 2008 - Andy Warhol said once that "Everyone has at least 15 minutes of fame." Well, my family and I have had ours. In December, I was approached by the Public Relations person in the Director General's Office and asked if my family and I would be willing to be interviewed by CNN for a report they were doing on "The New Diplomat." CNN wanted the perspective of how a family separated by service in Iraq handled the stress. Needless to say, I agreed. My husband was excited - my oldest son less so - and the crew came to our house right before Christmas.
The interview itself was a lot of fun. Seriously, who doesn't want to be a movie star or be on TV? The producer asked us a lot of questions, filmed us playing with our dog in the back yard (how "Stepford Family"-like is that?!), filmed the boys and my husband "making a meal" of cereal and chatting in the kitchen, etc. Then we didn't hear anything for more than two months. Finally, the CNN producer notified me that our story would be on mid-afternoon on Friday, February 29th (Leap Day!)
Everyone in my office settled around the TV at the appointed time (2:15 p.m.), and when the interview came on, there were lots of hoots and hollers. But midway through the piece, it was cut off to make way for a live broadcast regarding a ricin scare in Las Vegas. Darn! But the good news is that a day or two later, the producer notified me that the piece had been posted to their website. It was up there for a few months. I finally loaded the clip to youtube. SO!!! If you want to see my family and me in action, check out the clip below. And while the piece didn't last 15 minutes, it did last 2:22 minutes. Our fleeting moments of fame!