In kindergarten I found a stuffed bunny rabbit that I named Snowball. He’s been with me for so long now that I don’t remember a time without him. He traveled everywhere with me, so it was no surprise that when I left for basic, he came too. He spent nine weeks in my bag, locked in a closet, but knowing he was down the hall comforted me. When we graduated and got our bags back, my friends stood around waiting for me to open mine. They didn’t believe he’d really be in there. Of course he was and the drill sergeants gave me a ton of shit about it: “Howell, what in holy hell is that?”
It was even less of a surprise that he would deploy with me to Kuwait as we waited for the war. I mean, shit: he was in Korea with me when I got fired from being the Command Sergeant Major’s driver, which was the whole reason I was in Kuwait in the first goddamn place. In hindsight, maybe getting super drunk and hooking up with Major Diamond was a bad idea. The CSM missed the award ceremony on the flight line because I was late, and I was late because of Major Diamond and a bottle of tequila.
Anyway, since Snowball was with me in Kuwait, of course he was going to Iraq with me – I couldn’t leave him behind. The Platoon Sargent knew it, the Section Chief knew it, and my A Driver knew it. As soon as those missiles volleyed over the border, we all went north. When I saw the General on the convoy, all he had to say was, “Jesus, Howell. You brought that fucking teddy bear?”
To which I replied, “He’s a rabbit, Sir.”
I had Snowball braced in a sort of hammock made out of plastic chain that was painted metallic red, white, and blue, in front of the American flag I had hung behind the seat of our 5-Ton. Because, why not? Right? Nothing says invasion like an American flag. He rode between my A-driver and me until we were 20 clicks south of Baghdad. I’d hoped people would see him sitting there and know that we were safe and wouldn’t hurt them.
Forty days later, we convoyed back down to Kuwait along with buses full of Iraqi refugees. We played leapfrog with one particular bus for hours. On that bus a three-year-old girl was flirting with me through the window: gummy smiles with chubby hands hitting the glass, and I was happy to flirt back.
For the first time since we’d been together I thought maybe I should give Snowball away. I wanted the little girl to have him. I wanted her to have a happy childhood with him like I had. And maybe if I gave him to her she would have a happy memory of a soldier rather than only horrible ones. Maybe her parents would see him, and the joy in her face upon receiving him, and forgive us for destroying their homes and their families.
I would have let him go but we crossed back into Kuwait and I never saw her again. I didn’t have the opportunity to give that little girl the life I had imagined for her in those brief few hours of flirting. But truth be told, I’m selfish and I’m glad I didn’t give him away. Sometimes I wish I had though.
Julie Howell served five years both as active duty and activated National Guard. Her first tour (02-03) was during the initial assault with C 2-1; 35th BDE, working as a Patriot Missile Launching Station Crew Member providing air defense for 101st Airborne Division. During her second deployment (03-04) she was attached to the 1/153rd infantry battalion as a driver and a female searcher performing raids, patrols, and checkpoints in and around Central Baghdad while attached to the 1st Cav. Div. Her last five months were spent in Northern Baghdad as a prison guard. Since leaving the military, Julie attended Le Cordon Bleu culinary institute in Portland, OR and has been traveling the world cooking in places like New Zealand and Antarctica. Now, she is in her final year at the University of California, Santa Cruz where she is studying History with a concentration on the Americas and Africa.