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Pfc. James Bluebird says laps in one of Saddam Hussein’s favorite pools in Tikrit beats running in the blistering heat any day.
Pfc. James Bluebird says laps in one of Saddam Hussein’s favorite pools in Tikrit beats running in the blistering heat any day. (Jon R. Anderson / S&S)
Pfc. James Bluebird says laps in one of Saddam Hussein’s favorite pools in Tikrit beats running in the blistering heat any day.
Pfc. James Bluebird says laps in one of Saddam Hussein’s favorite pools in Tikrit beats running in the blistering heat any day. (Jon R. Anderson / S&S)
Army Staff Sgt. Timothy Himburg stands in front of a mural he painted at Camp Dogwood. Many of Himburg’s murals are scattered throughout the camp. “It helps me pass the time,” he said.
Army Staff Sgt. Timothy Himburg stands in front of a mural he painted at Camp Dogwood. Many of Himburg’s murals are scattered throughout the camp. “It helps me pass the time,” he said. (Scott Schonauer / S&S)
Lifting weights has a refreshing effect on many troops. While some have access to equipment such as benches and dumbbells, others lift sandbags or other heavy objects.
Lifting weights has a refreshing effect on many troops. While some have access to equipment such as benches and dumbbells, others lift sandbags or other heavy objects. (S&S)

Stars and Stripes asked servicemembers of all ranks to share their secrets for curing the deployment doldrums.

“The soldiers who get into trouble emotionally are the ones who focus on ‘I want to go home.’ A day drags on like a month,” said Capt. Brett Navratil, a chaplain with 2nd Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment in Fallujah, Iraq, who advises troops to focus on anything besides going home.

Here are some other suggestions:

¶Work out: Keeping the body strong helps keep the mind strong, said Staff Sgt. Amador Guarionex, a tanker with the 1st Armored Division’s 1st Battalion, 37th Armor Regiment. “Working out actually motivates me. It releases stress and helps me get rid of all that aggressiveness after coming back in from missions.” Guarionex’s unit just got a weight set, but before that soldiers made their own with sandbags.

¶Practice your faith: Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, commander of coalition ground forces in Iraq, said laying his burdens before God is the key to keeping his own morale up. Faith is “the source of my strength in this environment. I reach back into it multiple times every day,” he said.

¶Stay clean: For Staff Sgt. Eddy Jones, a 1st Armored Division tanker based in Baghdad, there’s nothing better than a good scrub. “This place is nasty — dust, dead animals, you’re constantly sweating and getting dirty. But after, when you get a chance to clean off, your whole perspective changes. It really refreshes you. It’s like a burden’s been lifted.”

¶Write it down: Army psychologist Capt. Mark Houck, who helps treat combat stress for the 4th Infantry Division, said writing is a great way to purge stress and help clarify issues. “I’m a big fan of journaling,” he said.

¶Find the silver lining: This is another of Houck’s suggestions. “The situation may suck, but you should ask yourself, ‘How can I go home a better man or a better father?’ If you get hung up on the things you can’t change, it’s going to drive you nuts — and nothing will change.”

¶Order things online: “I’m obsessed with online shopping,” said Spc. T.J. Kurczewski, a tuba player for the 4th Infantry Division band in Kirkuk. “I’ve spent $400 on Amazon in just the past month. Reading is my morale boost.” A quirky online vendor has also helped Kurczewski spruce up and replace some of the furniture looted from the room he shares with about 50 soldiers in one of Saddam’s former palaces. Sitting on a giant lime-colored inflatable couch, he said with a smile, “It’s great, we got it at bubblefurniture.com. Too bad we don’t have room for the matching easy chair.”

¶Count your money: Spc. Jason Ingle, a paratrooper with the 173rd Airborne Brigade, said money in the bank helps keep him motivated, and whenever he has the opportunity he checks his bank account. “That’s my biggest motivation. I just keep looking at all that money stack up.” By the time he leaves, he expects to have saved at least $20,000.

¶Build something: It fills time, challenges an idle mind and can make life a little bit better. In March, the 6th Battalion, 101st Aviation Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division moved into a gutted, squalid maintenance building at Qayyarah West airfield in northern Iraq. The team of Black Hawk pilots, crew chiefs and mechanics renovated their quarters from scratch. Tired of squatting over slit trenches, Chief Warrant Officer 3 Kevin Powell scavenged for wood and built a first-class “blue canoe,” complete with a padded toilet seat and magazine rack.

¶Help someone: For those feeling down, try focusing on others. “I try to make people smile,” said Pfc. Andrea Zimmerman, a 30-year-old nuclear, biological, chemical weapons specialist. “I’ve learned to focus on the positive. It’s mandatory when you come to my section — you have to smile. Smiling is contagious.”

¶Take Action: If you believe something is unjust or substandard, you can go to your chain of command first. Then, there’s your inspector general. Some have written to congressmen or the newspaper. Spc. Tim Predmore got national attention by writing a letter accusing top leaders of “half truths and bold lies.” He says there was nothing in his contract “that said I had to give up my freedom of speech.” But be careful how far you go — there are rules about what you can say about top leaders, and some soldiers have been punished for insubordination.

Staff writer Marni McEntee contributed to this story.

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