Rule Number Two

Acclaim for Rule Number Two by Dr. Heide Squier Kraft:

Rule Number Two is one of the most amazing books I have ever read.  It made me weep.  It made me laugh.  It made me proud.  It is funny, sad, sweet, and powerful.  It is this war’s M*A*S*H.” – Lieutenant Colonel Dave Grossman

September 2006

My dear Brian and Megan,

You were fifteen months old.  You don’t remember.

On an isolated air base in Iraq, somewhere between the Sunni triangle and the Syrian border, a small group of U.S. Navy doctors, nurses, and hospital corpsmen attempted to stabilize the trauma of war.  They ducked their heads and ran to the helicopters that landed in their hospital’s backyard.  They unloaded wounded U.S. Marines, put them on stretchers, and carried them to waiting triage teams.  They battled, day after day, the same grief and fear they saw in the eyes of their patients.

A tiny team among these Sailors — made up of a psychiatrist, a clinical psychologist, and two psychiatric technicians — provided mental health care for over ten thousand Marines in western Iraq.  For nearly eight months, these four people fought to keep their patients, and one another, functional.  They found themselves leading trauma interventions that were different from anything they had ever studied.  It quickly became evident that combat mental health was anything but an exact science, and they strove to provide individual moments of comfort amid the chaos.  They worked alongside their patients to uncover those wounds that surgeons would never see.

I was the psychologist on that team.

Your daddy, who flew attack jets in  the Marine Corps for eleven years, gave me a card the day I left for Iraq.  In that card, he wrote that he was proud of me for taking care of the men and women of the greatest fighting force in history.  I packed my bags, and we all said good-bye.

I left your daddy there — with the generous help of your grandparents, who left their home and their lives to come and live with you — to take care of you, my children, so I could go halfway around the world to take care of someone else’s.

I returned home just before your second birthday.  It was the most difficult thing I have ever experienced, trying to reconnect with a Marine husband who had faced the unique challenge of staying back while his wife went to war and with children who had truly grown up while I was gone.  One day, I started writing about those eight months away from you.  Originally, I thought I would want to forget my time in Iraq.  It turns out I was wrong.

I wanted to remember the pride of serving with the most extraordinary people I have ever known, so I would always treasure those friendships.  I wanted to remember the grief of watching young men die and the anguish of telling their friends of their loss so I would never again take the gift of life for granted.  Most of all, I wanted to remember the courage and the character of the Marines whose care was entrusted to me, so their sacrifice would be known to as many as I could tell.

Above all, I wanted to share those things with you.

Some of the memories I’ve included here for you are very sad, as they tell tales of great loss.  War is traumatic, and that trauma is illustrated in some of these pages.  While I was in Iraq, I learned firsthand about the cost of combat.  And about the price of freedom.

I wrote this book so that the sacrifices of the Marines who fought in Iraq, and of the Sailors who took care of those Marines, would be remembered.

And I wrote it with the hope that you will both be able to understand, at last, why I had to go.

I will always love you.

Mommy

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