Joshua Meeker has had some surprises in his life.
When he enlisted in the peacetime Army in 2000 at age 17, he was surprised to find himself deployed four years later to a warzone. Josh had completed his Army duty, but as a member of the Individual Ready Reserve, he was involuntarily recalled for deployment in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Ironically, he boarded a plane to report to Fort Leonardwood for duty on September 11, 2004. By December 31 he was at Camp Aiifjan, Kuwait, and soon after found himself driving truck convoys into Iraq.
Joshua began a journal documenting his experiences and reflecting his personal feelings, thoughts and attitudes.
“…this is not a fake memoir, nor is it a telling story of the war in Iraq. It is my experience of being called into the Army after basically being out for 4 years…This is what I went through. This is my IRR experience.”
The journals reflect the confusion and frustration that often accompanies a soldier in the field:
“Did I ever give the definition of incompetence? Look it up in the dictionary and you will see a picture of Camp Buerhing. We got to the gate at Buerhing to leave and the guard tells us the post is shut down. No one can leave. Why? Because someone on post lost their weapon. I told the guard, “Why don’t you guys just search the vehicles and if they are clean let them leave?” he said he didn’t have orders to do that so we sat, and sat, and waited, and waited. Sgt. Lewis, the convoy commander of this two truck mission, called the company commander and asked them if they could make a call to get us back because we had a 3 hour drive ahead of us. So they made some calls. They called us back and said the battalion commander was in bed with orders not to be disturbed. So we waited right there at the gate for four hours. Until the guards came out and said they were not going to search the vehicles…It turns out they were looking for an M-4 weapon, but everyone in our company carries the M- 16. We were on our way.”
Like so many soldiers before him, Joshua experienced the sense of family familiar to brothers in arms.
“Soldiers develop a bond that few people know. There is something in common with each and every one of us that people on the outside will never fully understand. We are here getting ready to put our lives on the line. Leaving our friends and family, sacrificing everything. Why? Some people will say for their country, for the United States of America. I guess that’s part of it, but the real reason is just each other. I’m still here fighting because of guys like Lewis and Leonard….that’s what gets us through…each other.”
But Joshua also recognizes that there is no escaping the realities of the world and the cultural differences that divide
“Even though this is the army and we’re all supposed to be the same color – green – we still come from different backgrounds. We still have different views on people, race, ethnicity, religion, etc. While it is good the army has ethics classes and equal opportunity officers in place to help with these factors, that doesn’t mean that prejudice isn’t there. We may be fighting a war with terrorists abroad, but we will always be at war with ourselves and our notions of who other people are. One day we may finally realize there is only one race…the human race. Again I refer to something my idol John Kennedy once said, “…in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet, we all breathe the same air, we all cherish our children’s futures and we are all mortal.” In today’s army, and more importantly the world, we must learn to respect and accept each others’ differences as well as the similarities. Its easier said than done, but the best things in life take time.”
His account also highlights the dramatic differences between the experience of soldiers on today’s battlefields from those of previous wars.
“While resting here at Cedar for the night I also did something unusual. I bought a car. Yep, while in Iraq, I bought a care off Ebay. I’ll have my parents pick it up for me and it will be there waiting for me when I get home.”
The days of boredom interspersed with lack of sleep, too many missions and narrowly escaped injury from mortar attacks are all detailed, along with the joys of homecoming
“Today it rained, right as we pulled back into Camp Arifjan. I haven’t seen rain here since February. It’s a tell tale sign it’s time for us to go home. ..it’s been a long time coming and it’s finally coming to an end.”
Since returning to stateside and civilian life again, Joshua has channeled his idealism and his heart into helping hospice patients and families at Ohio’s Hospice of Dayton. As a social worker with the interdisciplinary hospice team, Joshua helps grateful patients and families through transitions of their own.
Joshua’s wife compiled his journal writings for publication and surprised him with the book as a Christmas gift in 2014. For those interested in reading more of his memoir, Unsung Heroes is available online.