U.S. Air Force Flight Surgeon

Capt. Nicholas Bird


APRIL 25, 2003 · Some troops in or near Iraq say right now their biggest enemy is boredom. In the recent relative calm, some service personnel say they spend a lot of time wondering why they're still there. Capt. Nicholas Bird is a flight surgeon in the U.S. Air Force, based in the Persian Gulf. He's not in Iraq, but he could be going there soon... or maybe home. He doesn't know. There are few patients to see these days at his field hospital. So Bird spends most of his time napping, watching movies, and re-reading The Lord of the Rings. That doesn't sound like a bad life. The problem, Bird says, is that he has no idea when it will end. This is his NPR War Diary entry.

Uncertainty is not something that the human mind likes very much. A lack of anything to do and a lack of knowing what's going on is really the greatest frustration, and the sense that somebody must know and yet not telling us.

A lot of us feel very caught in the middle between families that are asking us, 'When are you going to come home, what's the next step?' and to feel absolutely no influence and control over that and dealing with the frustrations of military hierarchy in the midst of being an accomplished physician and an adult person and also then being treated like a kid... You don't know if you're going into a more hostile area or not, told that you're going to be going home and then not. I can see the commentary from colleagues now that I was some sort of complete wimp.

"You don't know if you're going into a more hostile area or not, told that you're going to be going home and then not."

But that kind of uncertainty definitely breeds some psychological instability. People act out, people get more angry more easily. A guy down the hall... does one little thing and that sets us off. Fortunately, the access to alcohol is extremely limited here, but if it were not, people would be doing all kinds of awful things to themselves and to others. There's already been elements of that, which I can't go into. But this is something that certainly I will and others will recover from without incident, other than having some interesting stories and perhaps take a certain added relish in a fine meal and a soft bed.

But I cannot imagine what these cultures that we're invading and bombing on a regular basis, who've been in war-torn areas for generations... I cannot imagine what that has done to their psyches and souls.


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