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The Road to Iraq

Kris Peterson

Between the acting of a dreadful thing and the first motion, all the interim is like a phantasma, or a hideous dream.

William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act 2, Scene 1

The Beginning

In December 2002, with war looming, I learned I would be called up to the 98th Combat Stress Control (CSC) to deploy to Iraq. Several others had been ahead of me in the Professional Officer Filler System (PROFIS) position slated for deployment. One by one they dropped out. My anxiety increased as I moved up the priority list to become one of the remaining names able to deploy. My supervisor at Madigan Army Medical Center, near Seattle, was looking for another psychiatrist, and with his list growing short he informed me that I would be going.

I was not looking forward to this deployment and leaving family and home but was willing to do my duty. My anxiety was increasing. I was lamenting leaving family and was increasingly scared about going into combat.

I was not alone in terms of working my way up the list to deploy; CPT Mike Cole, a young Army psychiatrist, was moved to the 98th as well. Mike and I headed dutifully off to the 98th and 62nd Medical Detachment Conference in January, 2003.

Our mission was briefed to us: land in Turkey, convoy to a rally point near the port, drive 4 days across country to an assembly area, and then follow the 4th Infantry Division (4ID) across the border into Iraq. Our entry point was to be just east of Syria. We were to follow the 4th Infantry Division across the Euphrates, and

K. Peterson, M.D. (*)

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© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2017 E.C. Ritchie et al. (eds.), Psychiatrists in Combat, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-44118-4_1

then move southwest to Tal Afar. That city is just 30-40 km west of Mosul. Here we would be based at a secure airfield doing combat stress operations and other medical support.

We were told to have a duffel bag packed within 24 h. I had little idea about what to pack, but in hindsight did not do too bad a job. Uniforms, wet wipes, medical books, batteries, nets for holding things, a small fan, a head lamp, some snack bars, and pictures of family were packed. All were helpful. Especially the wet wipes.

Days went by. Turkey refused to let our troops into the country. Diplomatically it was a nightmare. Offers of billions of dollars in aid were made but refused. Debates on the TV raged on, with the outcome declared by three votes of the Turkish government. They refused to let the United States and the 4ID go through the country.

The news made us think we might not deploy. Unfortunately instead it resulted in a much more arduous and dangerous journey.

The days wore on, and each weekend was sought after like a life preserver and then held on to with the same fervor. Every Sunday night, putting my one and three year old boys to bed and hearing their prayers was painful. Nights were spent looking out at Mount Rainier in the moonlight. My head did not seem to be on right. I would be wrecked on the occasion of my 3-year-old saying “I don’t want you to leave,” or “I’ll miss you.”

In mid March the president gave a speech to the UN. One more time Saddam was given “one last chance.” That chance came and went. On March 19, 2003, the B-1 Bombers and Stealth fighters began the attack.

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