Conversing with fellow Marines at weekend drills in December, Tim Carson said the talk turned to the possibility of going to war.
“We all kind of saw the writing on the wall,” Carson said.
While none of them were quitting jobs or dropping classes yet, they were mentally preparing for the possibility of being deployed.
But Carson said he had no idea how heading to war would affect his family. He said he felt guilty for leaving and causing sadness among the people he cares about.
“You feel like a jerk because it’s something you’ve done,” Carson said. “I didn’t want to start it.”
Carson’s mother Barb Kula said she went 60 days without talking to him, and though they agree it brought the family together, it was difficult not knowing what might happen next.
“It was a roller coaster of emotions,” Kula said. “You may hear there are casualties and they’re Marines, and you have no idea if they’re the ones that are hurt or not.”
Carson said he was able to call home a couple times. Once, he and his team traded food for the use of a reporter’s phone.
“It was nice to hear his voice,” said University senior Paul Horner, a friend who met Carson in high school.
Carson said he felt fortunate that none of the 78 people in his company were hurt.
“That’s all you can really ask,” Carson said.
As a military police officer in Baghdad, his and his company’s mission was to guard a bridge that the Navy was reconstructing.
Carson said there were difficulties directing traffic and trying to communicate with people whose language he did not speak. Iraqis would often mistake hand gestures for something else, such as confusing waving a car out of the way for waving hello.
The miscommunication sometimes resulted in the soldiers having to use their nonlethal ammunition – bean bags in a shotgun, he said. These were used when people were not compliant or would not listen to authority.
Everyone in Carson’s company was trained to shoot, but only one had to, and it was not Carson.
No one was hurt, but Carson said the situation at times left him and his company in fear.
After the fear was gone and the danger dissipated, one of the most challenging parts of the eight months overseas was the boredom he experienced in Kuwait.
“There are only so many times you can watch (the movie) ‘Van Wilder’ before you know every word,” Carson said.
In Kuwait, he spent time inspecting Marines going home. From June until September, however, Carson said, most days were spent playing cards and talking.
“I would stare at the desert for hours,” Carson said.
Carson said he was able to have a more positive attitude about being overseas and away from everything familiar when he had missions to complete and something to constantly think about.
“Whenever you have something meaningless, you lose your morale for it,” Carson said. “It’s probably not hard for the president to get up, because he’s got stuff to do that matters.”
Though he faced many challenges overseas, Carson said, returning was not a challenge. The 22-year-old, though away for eight months, has two semesters left at the University.
Students who are deployed and need to drop classes must alert their colleges, turn in military active duty sheets and leave of absence forms. Then, he or she must call University Student Legal Service to authorize someone – usually a family member – to sign forms and documents for the student while he or she is away.
When a student returns, he or she notifies his or her college and can register for classes for the next semester.
Though the process and experience was more positive than negative, Carson was relieved to come back, and so were his friends and family.
“It gives you a sense of normalcy again,” Horner said.
When Carson returned Sept. 26, his friends and family members raced to his house to greet him. It was supposed to be a low-key event, but when the news slowly spread, Kula said, there were almost 30 people at her Plymouth, Minn., home.
Carson is not sure what he is going to do next and does not know if he wants to go back into the military when his time in the reserves is up.
“I’ve got time,” Carson said. “I’m 22, it’s not like my life is set in stone.”