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This is a different look at one soldiers deployment to Iraq in It highlights the thoughts and emotions of a "Civilian Soldier" suddenly thrust.
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Ex-Army, she was now a doctoral student and civilian analyst collecting research on democracy-building in Iraq.

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Theresa was tiny, with more positive energy than a sunflower. The food in front of her was untouched, as it often was. We came for love of country, for patriotism, for money.

We came to escape debt or marriages. We came because of television— Alias and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. We came for adventure, for service.


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I grew up in the Washington, D. Inspired to help my country, I chose political science as my major in college and studied three languages, including Arabic. Before I deployed, I stood in a line with other contractors and soldiers at Fort Benning, in Georgia, waiting for our physicals. We started talking about his home in St. Petersburg, Florida, which is where my mother lives. We spoke of boats and streetlights and dolphins. He had gray hair and friendly lines around his eyes.

He asked where I was headed. He frowned. He nodded and looked out at the line of men behind us. The creases in his forehead were like rails of a train track. He turned back to me and leaned close. They called his name. He looked up at the nurse and then back to me. From the moment I stepped outside my trailer, when I stood in line at the dining hall, when I ran to the duck-and-cover, when I sat at my desk, the male soldiers watched. Men with enormous hands, with shoulders the width of door frames, with pistols strapped to their thighs—they watched.

I read before I went to Iraq that women made up one in 10 American soldiers in the country, but I had no idea where all those women were. The ratio seemed closer to one in 20, even I counted how many women were in a room the second I entered. Twenty-nine men, three women. Sixty-three men, two women. Forty-four men, one woman: me. I wore my hair in a tight braid. I wore shoes that hid my toes. I put on sweaters in degree heat. Even so, my body was everywhere.

How are you? Are you okay? Are we safe? They openly made bets about who was going to get pregnant, who was going to get an STD.


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  4. We worked , , hour days. We put in as many hours as the men—we made sure of this. Say Yes, sir. Do not ever say Yes, sir. Some of us were married, had kids back home.

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    One of us was quietly going through a divorce. Theresa had deployed to Iraq with her mother, also a soldier, while Ann had come with her husband, who, like her, was a staff sergeant. They lived together in a married trailer and held hands while lying on the floor during shellings. Some of us were looking to date. A number of us were virgins. The sun striking the Potomac River, where we used to swim. My own eyes and breasts and legs and feet, misshapen and rearranged like in a cubist painting. I was lucky.

    This made a difference, I think. In the office, though, I was fairly safe. Each evening, I chose six events to highlight. Not long after my arrival, a translator, Nazir a pseudonym , reached out to provide guidance. Nazir helped me keep track of the latest faction to boycott the prime minister and which new militia was splintering off from the last new militia. On a mortar-free day roughly a month into my deployment, I sat outside the palace. The air was like the inside of a hair dryer.

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    A squad of soldiers jogged around the T-walls, the foot slabs of reinforced concrete lining the embassy compound. After they went by, I saw Nazir and waved.

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    We laughed. He lit a cigarette for me, which I held awkwardly. I shrugged.

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    Three soldiers passed our table; the shortest one blew me a kiss. I mumbled something, then decided to ignore the question. Nazir chuckled. He took a long pull on his cigarette. What would possess me to provide such an intimate detail? Now I can recognize my extreme loneliness in a place where men looked at me and tried to attract my notice, but rarely spoke to me as a friend. I never imagined that a man old enough to be my father, a highly respected professional whose knowledge and experience far eclipsed mine, could be interested in me.

    Thank God for Morgan. Practically overnight, we became as close as sisters. I could almost always find Morgan to walk with. One day, Morgan was a bit quiet at lunch. I asked her why, and she blushed. A half-empty bottle of sexual lubricant had been left on her desk, and her colleagues had watched, laughing, as she found it.

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    We women drank. We picked up smoking. We flirted and slept with several men or, like me, hunched our shoulders and stayed out of their way as much as possible. Some of us loved Baghdad, no one more than Nicole, the doctoral student.

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    She swore as well as the men and had jaw-length red hair so thick, it looked like a crash helmet. She barely seemed to notice the lack of women.