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My Redeployment Packing Checklist

Pfc. Brooke King recalls the ritual packing of items to and from deployment

Warning: This story contains content that might be offensive to some audiences.

Photo credit: Justin Hudnall

Portrait of Brooke King


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From KPBS and So Say We All in San Diego, welcome to Incoming, the show that brings you stories from the lives of American veterans told in their own words, directly from their own mouths. I’m Justin Hudnall. Brooke King likes to talk about how often she was told by her Army superiors and recruiters that women would not be seeing combat in Iraq.

BROOKE KING: And I hit first day in Iraq and it was balls to the wall. I mean, it didn’t matter if you were on base or outside the wire. You were seeing combat.


Her training stateside was as a mechanic, but once she got to Kuwait and picked up a certification on 50 caliber machine gun, she found herself reassigned as a Vehicle Reclamation Specialist.

BROOKE: Which is basically a glorified tow truck operator.


Except she would be responsible for recovering any bodies still inside those vehicles as well.

BROOKE: I remember going oh man, I hope I don’t have to do this. Then the next day, after that debriefing, I went outside the wire and a Stryker was my first mission.


When she came back home and sought treatment for PTSD at the local VA, she hit a wall.

BROOKE: I remember one of the psychologist at the VA in Mission Valley Clinic saying that can’t possibly have happened to you. I’m sorry but women aren’t supposed to go into combat. I’m like I hate to break it to you, but I have, and the fact that you’re not taking me seriously- I’m leaving.


But, lucky for everybody, she persisted and found her own way home through her writing. I’ll let Brooke tell you the rest.

BROOKE: Hi, my name is Brooke King. My story, Redeployment Packing Checklist takes place in Camp Liberty, Baghdad, Iraq April 2007.

(prior recording) Pack your Army Combat Uniforms first. Military roll. Cram the black Under Armour sports bras, the tan undershirts, and the lucky convoy socks around the bottom inside edges of your green Army issued duffle bag. Tuck the laminated photo into the bag, but don’t look at it. You don’t want to look at it. It’s the picture that you held after your first recovery mission in the sandbox, where you bagged and tagged three soldiers who had burned alive after their Stryker rolled over a pressure plate IED.

Your brother’s smirk and your father’s wide grin, your look of disenchantment, the picture taken when you were on R&R, all three of you standing in front of the house, each one of you pretending that nothing had changed since you left for Iraq. It helped

you fall asleep that night. You can’t help yourself. You unpack the photo to look at it once more. The corner edges are falling apart. The girl in the photo used to be you, but that’s not the face you see in the mirror anymore.

Pack your camo covered Army Bible. The pages have to be rubberbanded

shut, otherwise it opens to Psalm 23. Pack your tan "Rite in the Rain" combat notebook, another sort of bible: the name and rank of every soldier you ever placed into a black body bag written on its pages. Poems. Letters to your father that you never mailed.

Pack the maroon prayer rug you stole while raiding a house in Sadr City. Unpack the prayer rug. Kneel on it while you pack the empty M4 magazines, the pistol holster, ammo pouches, and desert combat boots. Pick up your aviator gloves, the feel of manning the 50 cal machine gun.

Pick up the shell casing from your first confirmed kill. One of six 7.62 caliber bullets that you fired into a fifteen year old boy’s chest. He was shooting an AK 47 at you. You shouldn’t have the shell casings. You shouldn’t have the gloves. Women weren’t supposed to see combat. Pack it all into the duffle.

Pack the hours spent in a cement bunker waiting for mortar rounds to stop whistling into

base. Pack the hate and the anger. Pack the fear. Pack the shame and disenchantment for a job done too well. Pack the back to back months spent going out on convoy without a day off. Pack your combat lifesaver bag, your hajji killing license, and the rest of your dignity. Pack them all next to the Army Core Values and the bulls--t promise your government made to protect innocent civilians. Pack your worn copy of Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. Pack the tattered American flag you picked up off the ground outside Abu Ghraib. Fold over the top flaps. Shut it up tight. Lock it. Heave it onto your back. Carry it all home.


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