Chakra Discussions

Memoirs of a Modern-day Ksatriya, Part 9

by Govardhana das

Posted March 25, 2006


I was medically evacuated by way of Black Hawk helicopter, taking fire as we ascended toward the calm, scorching skies. The Air Force pilot, who had the luxury of returning home every fortnight and with whom as a soldier I would generally have a "bone to pick," would now be my friend and ally on my way to Landstuhl, Germany, where the wounded veterans were held before returning to the Unted States or returning to duty.

I thought of the weeks before this which had led to my departure. . . . 'Gulf War Syndrome', as they called it, must've been the kick-off. Blood-speckled coughs and random blackouts were, by some odd chance, reason enough for the quality medical providers of Camp Anaconda to question my medical status. As they ran their tests and poked and prodded, and I became the guiney pig for their pills and potions, they grew concerned with the golf ball-sized lumps that had formed in the tenosynovium portion of both of my hands.

Steroid injections and laser therapy proving ineffective, my hands were rendered useless and, unable to perform my duties as a mechanic and infantryman, it was determined by the powers-that-be that I would be retiring my battle dress and returning to garrison. Hence, Landstuhl.

Bravo Company — Medical Hold Battalion, Landstuhl, Germany

The barracks were full the night I arrived; full of wounded footsoldiers, cooks, signal operators, supply clerks, field engineers and others, with and without legs and arms. The number of injuries reported in the Army Times were wrong.

Soldiers lay waiting for their due examinations, some happy to be out of the "sandbox," as we often referred to Iraq, and in a cool and hygienic room, free from the ongoing alarm of incoming mortars and distant artillery, others anxious to return to duty and administer their revenge. Everyone yet again celebrated their survival, as they always do, by drinking themselves into oblivion.

Krsna remained in my mind and Srila Prabhupada in my heart, and I wondered where my dedication would be upon my return to America. Would any of the small but true realizations I've had over the past ten months remain imbedded in my memory, or would I become like those soldiers who I've so self-righteously critiqued, my efforts futile? Will this chapter of my life have all been in vain, or will a newfound faith exist in place of the old? I prayed for strength.

Return to the homeland

Fort Lewis, Washington never looked so beautiful, its green grass and multi-colored flowers accented by the landscape of grey skies, the air kissed by a cool breeze. The grey buildings, beaten and downtrodden, criticized and unappreciated, appeared rather inviting to a soldier who'd been living in the dust weeks earlier.

Another two months of medical studies, further poking and prodding, drug X, drug Y, drug X in combination with drug Y, sleep tests and physical therapy, as well as re-integration and familiarization -- and I was officially, and gladly, a civilian.

It would take some adjustment, no doubt, but I embraced continuing my former life. The adjustments, just to make things clear, would not be in a dramatic, post-trauma sense but, rather, in the sense that I had been living in a desert, surrounded by the same people, with no good food or association, for nearly a year. Anyone would need to adjust.

The Spiritual War

My return home was met with the almost instant news that my guru of many years had decided, for personal reasons, that he would no longer be acting as a guru. Welcome home! My first test of faith!

Naturally, this experience was crushing to a lot of my godsiblings, my wife, the devotees in the temple and myself. I had seen this situation time and again throughout the past 13 years, but never expected to be in it. Had this happened while I'd been in Iraq, it would have had a devastating effect. I felt for my godbrother, Parthasarathi das, who was still over there, partially because he had just accepted our guru's suggestion to re-enlist.

Nevertheless, this was the situation we were now faced with, and it was no easier than that of determining which route or reactionary measures to take while under attack.

After some time, I rekindled a long-standing relationship with HH Bir Krsna Swami, who accepted my request for re-intiation.

To be continued

Author's note: I've been back from Iraq for over a year now and had hit a major writer's block, giving up any hope of finishing Memoirs of a Modern-day Ksatriya. Things are different now -- my mind, my consciousness, my writing style. My interest in finishing this book has, in a sense, stayed in Iraq, along with many of the experiences I've reported.

Were it not for many requests from devotees to keep it going, I would not. I'm already living in the next chapter. However, being so close to the end and humbly attempting to give something to the devotees who, for some reason or other, have enjoyed reading my ramblings, I've submitted to finishing this thing. Ananta Press had kindly offered to publish it in print, but I never followed through. So, for now, here it is online. Prior submissions are available in the Chakra archives:

Part 8: Cookies
Part 7: 'Captain Sankirtana' / The devotees' mercy
Part 6: Devil's Corner / The Chaplain and the Sceptic
Part 5: Four months in / Abu Ghraib / Lord Nrsimha
Part 4: The mortars / The characters of my life
Part 3: Camp Anaconda, our new home / The food
Part 2: Caught in concertina / Close, but no cigar
Part 1: Camp Udairi, Kuwait / First two weeks / Phantom fire / I wait