SGT Marie (Phelan) Vedder, U.S. Army (1999-2007)



The following Reflection represents SGT Marie Vedder’s legacy of their military service from 1999 to 2007. If you are a Veteran, consider preserving a record of your own military service, including your memories and photographs, on (TWS), the leading archive of living military history. The Service Reflections is an easy-to-complete self-interview, located on your TWS Military Service Page, which enables you to remember key people and events from your military service and the impact they made on your life.

Riskiest Moment: Was there any specific incident during your military service when you felt your life was at risk? What were the circumstances, and what was the outcome?

We are all gathering outside of our rooms, ready to mount up when, seemingly out of nowhere, the wind blows with a startling ferocity. The doors all slam at once, as a blanket of silt lifts off of the tiled floor in a sort of miraculous display of unity, hovers momentarily mid-air, and then returns again to its resting place, leaving behind a cloud in the corridor. The building seems to have breathed in sharply, before spewing chaos in a sudden exhalation of violent illness. My confusion lacks the appropriate measure of fear; my complete ignorance of what is unfolding around me shields me from panic. I feel only that the seconds have collapsed, that our every movement and sensation is stifled by the thickness of the dust in the air, resulting in a painfully slow resolution to my question: what has just happened? My eyes are fixed on Mari’s. She is talking. She is the only one talking, but I cannot hear her over the cacophonous ringing in my ears. Sir! Sir, what about Michaels and Sa’ad? They are outside. Someone needs to make sure they’re ok. The sounds come to me as if they, too have been dampened by the haze of ancient river silt, slowed by the broken seconds, as if my ears are stuffed with cotton that actually impedes the march of each syllable on its journey from her lips to my brain. She says it once, twice. The third time I feel that I have finally caught up to her. She seems able to avoid the cracks in time that are causing me such uncertainty. I feel sure that she knows what is going on and envy her quickness. But his face, our commander’s, is fixed in blank hesitation. He looks as lost as I feel. Battle positions, sir? Should we go to our battle positions? Something shifts in his expression. Not yet — let me think.

On the 14th, Mari and I sat on the patio space in the Qanal Hotel’s Blue Room, sharing a bottle of champagne, and stayed into the darkness of evening celebrating her birthday. The music and the soft chatter floated up as if trying to slip through the transparent turquoise roof in an effort to trade places with the lengthening shafts of sunlight; there was a sort of temporary escape from place and time. Everything beyond those walls faded for a few hours. I still have a photograph of Damaris from that evening, with the champagne cork and wire over one eye, held in place by the crinkling of her beautiful, dark eyes into an enormous smile.

Those moments are fresh in my mind, clear and sharp, as I lie prone over the hot metal of a 249 that I have never fired. I try to envision the extent of the damage just a few meters behind me. I don’t know yet that the blue room is destroyed, its cerulean roof lying on the floor in pieces. My thoughts shift between horrifying imaginings of what is left on the other side of the broken wall, the one we had peed over for the first few days, as if marking the limits of our tiny territory, and the obsessive desire to call home. To say simply, it’s OK, I am alive.

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