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Interview with Ingrid C. Lim [10/4/2008]

Jenifer Faria:

Ingrid, I need to know some biographic details, Where and When you were born?

Ingrid C. Lim:

Born in Kingston, Jamaica 1965

Jenifer Faria:

Do you have any other family members who served in the military?

Ingrid C. Lim:

Actually yes, I did. I had a cousin who was a 82nd Airborne towards the end of Vietnam War.

Jenifer Faria:

What you were doing before you entering the service?

Ingrid C. Lim:

I was going to school.

Jenifer Faria:

How did you enter the service? Were you draft or enlisted?

Ingrid C. Lim:

Neither. I was at Syracuse University, and I became citizen and I was walking thru the quad and they were recruiting and I was very feeling patriotic that day, so I joined the ROTC that day. There were some guys on my dorm floor who were in ROTC, they dragged us: a bunch of us to a softball game and it was fun. I joined because I was feeling patriotic and was eventually commissioned through ROTC.

Jenifer Faria:

Did you have any specialized training in the military, in early duties?

Ingrid C. Lim:

I went to Airborne School in 1986.

Jenifer Faria:

Which branch did you, do you serve?

Ingrid C. Lim:

I'm now in the Medical Service Corps. I used to be an Engineer Officer.

Jenifer Faria:

About the war, where did you serve?

Ingrid C. Lim:

I was in 2 wars. The first one was Operation Desert Shield/Storm. We started out in Saudi Arabia, went to Iraq, south of Basra, then Kuwait and back. They called it the Kuwait Theater of Operation. The second time was all Iraq. I was in Baghdad the whole time

Jenifer Faria:

And when that happened? How long did you stay?

Ingrid C. Lim:

The first one was about 3 or 4 months, because it was a short war. I got there in December, on Boxing Day and we left in like around Easter.

Jenifer Faria:

Which Year?

Ingrid C. Lim:

See, 90? 89-90. Because I came back ... I think it was 92, no 92 I came back to the States, ... it was 90-91.

Jenifer Faria:

And Iraq?

Ingrid C. Lim:

This time I went in 2005. I was supposed to leave in 2004, but I got sick. So I left in January 2005.

Jenifer Faria:

How long did you stay there?

Ingrid C. Lim:

Almost the whole year. I came back in November

Jenifer Faria:

What were the actions that you witnessed in battle or outside the battle?

Ingrid C. Lim:

They were very different wars. The first war was a traditional war. That war was more traditional kind of work there. The Iraqis had trenches that they filled up with oil. The idea was to set them on fire so we couldn't cross the barns into Iraq. In the assault the engineers filled the holes in with Iraqis in it if they did not surrender. They got the opportunity to surrender and we did have a lot of soldiers' surrenders. Ahnn ... What did I see? I saw a lot of awesome stufflike our fire power, it's amazing ... during the first war we had something called MLRS. They were very loud and can shoot far away. We had a short search, a rescue mission, because we had a pilot shot down and we were trying to find him; eventually he got captured, as the Iraqis got him before we did.The most amazing two things that stand out were when we were crossing the line of departure, I call the kick off, because we are all lined up, as far we could see were vehicles and tanks on line and we were going across the desert into Iraq ... that's just amazing, wow, it was a lot of vehicles. And you get missions, and I was made to go and find who was that unit was over there, b us, and I was "Are you kidding me? They will shoot me!!" but I had to go and do it, because I was what they call an LNO .. .liaison Officer, so I had to find who was over there and OK they are friendly. During that war there was a really high fear of chemical attack, so you have to be sure that an area was chemical free. So we were all suited up to MOPP level 3. So we had no masks on, just MOPP gear and driving in MOPP suits. It was winter so it felt good because it was cold in the desert, so didn't really matter, but to get your chemical paper out and test the air and the area to make sure it's not contaminated, that was another thing. A lot of people had chemical alarms go of. I traveled a lot, all over the battlefield, so I got to see all kinds of place, and a lot of units had their chemical alarms go off, so very scary, you had people jumping up and trying to get there gear on. I remember when I landed in Riyadh the first day; we fell asleep because it was so hot. We stayed at a place called the "Dew Drop Inn," just a tent city and I fall asleep. We had a chemical alarm go off \and "Holly cow" and you are like, put on your stuff and suit up and wait for the all clear. You never went to the bathroom without your mask. In that war, things were very austere, we didn't have portable potties or flushing toilets, you had made up potties, I mean, at one point it was like two pieces of wood across a trench, and that was the potty and your bathroom door was like a pile of dirty, you know you can see people going by, they can't really see you. But you just had to say, "Okay" so modesty could not be an issue. Probably the most memorable thing was that when we were heading North, I was in First armor division and Second Brigade had a huge fight with one of elite Iraqi unit. As we were headed North to something they call Objective Python and than we were supposed to tum East. As we were headed towards the Objective Python and the Second Brigade run into the Iraqis there was a huge fire fight and. The Corps Artillery, big guns, they were awesome, I think they were Arkansas National Guard Artillery, and we had to stop our convoy so this Artillery Unit could cross and fire in support of the Brigade, you know, they stop, they shoot and they pick up and they go again. It was just amazing; it's like" WOW." I was young and it was exciting, fun and I got to do all kinds of stuff that I probably wouldn't do now. About this war ... this war was different. I think I saw the political impacts more, also was scarier, not scary like I would get hurt or killed, but scarier like your career was on the line. A lot of rules were unclear you have to worry about if you will be questioned or even testify to Congress about things you see or know. It was scary, more intense.

Jenifer Faria:

What did you experienced over there, like in Iraq? What did you do in Iraq?

Ingrid C. Lim:

I'll talk about that the last one. So in Iraq, I was a psychologist. My job was treat the soldiers, but I also get an additional mission of treating some EPWs [enemy prisoner of war], so I can't talk too much about that. But I treated the EPW s of different levels, because they would come in, there was an initial collection point; I wasn't there at that point, I was in the second step. Once they were processing them, you know I get questions like: 'How do you know an Iraqi is crazy? Because we only speak English' I'm like, OK. 'Why do you think he is acting crazy ... ? You have to help them to figure out if this guy acting or if he is really crazy. There are also a lot of cultural issues. For the guards with the Iraqis and ... it was very hard. They didn't want to work with the EPWs - they wanted to be out fighting you know, and their peer gives them a hard time because they are not out fighting. So, they have a lot stress because as far as the guy shooting on the battlefield, is concerned his buddy have a cushy job. Please, these soldiers are caring for these Iraqis, who are just seen as gross people because their habits are different. Their hygienic habits are very different and the soldiers were grossed out by it, and they had to take care of them. It's very hard on those guys. And than, of course, your typical mental health issue 'I miss my wife,' 'My wife is leaving me,' 'I miss my kid;' that kind of stuff. Of course the ones that I think truly deserved my whole attention are the soldiers who had to go out, do things and come back and have combat stress related.

Jenifer Faria:

Did you see something that had impact on you? Like war related.

Ingrid C. Lim:

No, just a General who was not as smart as he ought to be. This probably was the biggest impact on me: Stupid people doing stupid mind numbing things. Or you have a guy who doesn't know his staff; he doesn't know what they were supposed to know; probably that, that was the cc.J thing that probably bums me the most. How can you not know where your own units are. How can you tell people to do things that are illegal or just not right? And how does one manage that? That was the biggest challenge ... having to negotiate professional boundaries, professional military, but professional psychology boundary, and than international laws of war and international rules when such rules are unclear even as our own government was making them up as we went along. That was probably the hardest part it required all your professional knowledge to negotiate the awkward position one was in. It was hard because you are in a tenuous position you are just a little cog in the wheel, but I was supposed to care for these guys, and I have to follow rules, rule that were unclear ... , that nobody knew what they were .... We still are supposed to do something. But how do you know do your job ethically and care for people whose status are unclear? How do you provide care? You know, EPW s are going to tell you things that may have some intelligence value, but at that level, is not actually useful on the battlefield intelligence. They have been in prison for three, four years. So it is not anything immediately worth wire. But still, anything they tell you could be used against them and so you have to be discrete and balance America's need to know versus the patient .... Privacy, are prisoners entitled to privacy? Sometimes their status was not even clear. If they were POW, it was easier. But these weren't just POW s, we had people with unclear status. It was an environment that in which the rules were questionable. I did absolutely some of the best work I ever did before. I saw a ton of patients, I saw more patients than anybody in our Task Force It was challenging to deal with people who did not know what their job was or who did not want to do their jobs. There were others who did not know doctrines or even understand it. The least they could do was understand the intent of the doctrine, at least try to approximate, so soldiers can be cared for. So, when I saw people doing stupid stuff you just had to stick to your lane and run things your way. And it worked a lot because I recruited air force psychologists and social workers to help me, and they were glad because they didn't have a lot work, and I had a ton of work.

Jenifer Faria:

How was the friendship that ... did you form some friendship over there or it was more like treat of time?

Ingrid C. Lim:

I did form some friendships. I mean it is the military .... Your friendships are as long as you are in the location. I mean, we meet up around the Army sometime later and you say 'Yeah, I remember you!' It was nice that when I deployed, 3rd ID [Infantry Division] came in. I was previously assigned to that Division, so I knew some of these folks. It was really nice, I knew how the Division worked and I took care of them when they come to me for help. They helped me out when I needed help, so was good. And I made some friendship in there. They were also acquaintances, based on work, ethic, and trust. Like the Brigade and Batallin physician and nurse from 2nd Bde, 10th Mountain Division .... those guys, totally saved me. You have to have peer support in a deployed setting for your sanity. I had to join my unit because I had to have surgery. So, they weren't warm and welcoming when I arrived. I had nobody to run with, nobody to do peer things with, and the other folks all had their cligues, and I was by myself. So one thing you do when you go in a new area, to find out who is there. Well, the Surgeon in 2110 Mountain was one of my Supervisors in Hawaii; he was a Gastereologist from Hawaii. He was leaving and a new guy came in and that guy, Andy, was a very supportive friend. When I was stressing out about getting these illegal orders, trying to figure out what to do, he was just very supportive, so was the nurse. There was a core group of folks who were very helpful to me.

Jenifer Faria:

Good.

Ingrid C. Lim:

I get e-mails from them now and then. I just sent one of my interns to someone I worked with in a theater: "here is an intern that I trained. She is good." ... So we have a relationship, even though we are not close friends, it's a working relationship that helps, because they know my reputation and I know theirs and that helps you along way ... even the new psychiatric to our department, I met in Iraq. "How do I know her?" I don't remember how I knew her ... Oh yeah! We were in Iraq. So, your reputation does a lot, to kind of make professional friends. I did not have any close friends, I don't think. If! ever never see some of the folks from that unit again, it wouldn't hurt me one bit. I wouldn't be sad. I wouldn't show a tear. That Unit was ok but I despise some ofthe people that I encountered in that unit. The behaved ridiculously and I could not stand stupid stuff in a war.

Jenifer Faria:

How did you stay in touch with your family back in here?

Ingrid C. Lim:

Oh, I bought a laptop. One ofthe things the Colonel told us before we deployed: take a good laptop. I don't have a laptop, so I needed to buy a laptop, and my ex-husband said 'NO'. I'm like: WHAT? I'm buying my own laptop. So, I bought a laptop and I took with me, and what I did was, I spent two months trying, figuring out, how to record on this laptop, because it would only do it like one minute. So, some of the enlisted soldiers, they are kind of byte heads; so I run to this one guy, he is a medic, and I said: How do I record on this thing? I know I can record ... and he said: Give me your laptop. They [soldiers] were like, oh, we can do games. I don't do computer games. He played with it and than he carne back and said: You got to buy a headphone with a mic on it and than you can record as if you are making words to a video. And so, I would order books from Amazon or Barnes and Nobles, because they ship them to APO. I would read them, recorded make a CD and sent to Tess [daughter], and that way, she hears my voice. She would listen to them at night before she went to bed. I got an Iraqi phone, and every Saturday, I would call her, usually I'm coming back from the Detention Center, so on the way back I get a call, or I call her, usually they called me, because it was cheaper, and we talked on the way.

Jenifer Faria:

That's neat.

Ingrid C. Lim:

Well, I was used to call every day and that got expensive, I was: Oh my God! I could not afford it. .. it was expensive. So Saturday, she called me because I would be on the way back home.

Jenifer Faria:

Do you want to talk something else about the war, like destruction that you saw over there?

Ingrid C. Lim:

Oh, it was just amazing the destruction. I mean, where we lived, our campus was Saddam's hunting ground, so they were some very exotic animals there. I was running one morning or night, I don't recall, but I run into these things that look like antelopes. Another day I ran into hyenas. I was running one morning by myself, and oh my God, I was so scared, out of my mind, because there's a hyena in front of me, and heading my way, and thanks God, a small group of soldiers ran by, so I just tagged on, I'm like: I'm running with you guys because there is an hyena down the road. So, a lot of things were destroyed, I mean absolutely destruction. And then, some things stood up anyway, just a wonder as some of that stuff is poorly constructed. Saddam's Palace for example, the bridge was damaged, but the palace was still standing, and the at another camp a bomb destroyed a building so completely. But one can't go in it, I mean they can't go in and take out bodies or anything. It's just totally closed out, it's unstable because one ofthose smart bombs hit right in the middle, just sitting there. Nobody can do anything to it. Other than looking at it. I went by the zoo, you know, there are no animals there and you wonder: Where are the animals in the zoo? Some of the animals got loose - I remember the guys from 2/1 oth Mountain, who had to go help track this wild cat, because was running out loose. I'm like: Oh my God! I run by myself. So they gave me, like a thing to spray, in case of animal attack. I have to run because I would go crazy. And they gave me this thing to defend myself until they captured the animal. So that was a lot of. .. destruction. I found one of Saddam's Green House, and I got some pots, and I made a garden. I would get somebody to come with me, and we go find the Green House and I would get pots and stuff for a garden.

Jenifer Faria:

How were the emotions that you can relate to that combat?

Ingrid C. Lim:

Well, it is hard. I recalled that I had several patients that had really difficult time. Like one guy saw his commander killed in front of him. When the Commander is killed, it's really hard on the unit. And he started seeing things. So he came in, because he is like: there is something wrong with me, I'm seeing things as well as other symptoms. He was definitely having combat stress; so we pulled him off the line, and give him some rest and some treatment. It was a good treatment, by caring for these soldiers you get to know all these things that you wouldn't ordinarily know, and meet really brave people. Other times you have people who refuse to go back and that's probably the hardest one because he was afraid. And I said: It's ok to be afraid. But he has to go back to this job and you have to help him do something he is afraid to do. He might get killed. You need them to have a normal, healthy fear, not a destructive kind of fear. And so, I made them sent him back. And I told: I'd go with him in the vehicle ifthat is what it takes for him to go back on the road. And we've done this before. If! have somebody who is scare to fly, I'll fly with you. So it's just exposure therapy, and it works. I don't want to have you die hiding from your mission. Now, I don't want you to die, but it is part of the job, getting shot at and there is always the possibility, and that is why if I go with you, there is a possibility I could get hurt, but we are going to go do it. The situation deteriorated to the point where his team refused to drive with him, because now he is being a coward. This was a National Guard Unit, so ... everybody knew each other from the same hometown, so that would be very bad for this guy in general not go and do his job, because everybody in his whole town would know that this guy was a coward. So we worked with the Commander, since his team refused to drive with him in the truck, they take off and leave him, and of course, he wasn't upset, he just go back to his room. And that was not good. They told the Commander: "you must make this guy drive back on that same road, pass that same spot where his friend was killed," and so, they had him drive and he was better for it. That was a hard one because this guy could die, I could die, but he is going to drive, even if I had to make him.

Jenifer Faria:

Did you go with him?

Ingrid C. Lim:

No, I didn't have to go with him. He drove his own vehicle.

Jenifer Faria:

And now, you're coming home. How did you return home and when?

Ingrid C. Lim:

I came back around Thanksgiving. It was horrible. My ex had filled for divorce while I was in Iraq. Coming back was hard. Nobody came to greet me, except my department chief LTC Luckie. He had the unfortunate job of giving me this deployment. See, I was in a non-deployable slot, but they ran out of officers for a variety of reasons. I was PROFSS to four different Units before finally, they said: 'we have to send you.' Coming back was hard. He came and greeted me at Fort Hood and that was nice. That is how I get home. He came pick me up and took me home. I was so glad to see Tess. It was really good to see her. I came home and spent the night, but I had to go back off in like, two or three days. But, it was good to see her.

Jenifer Faria:

And about reflections, how this wartime experiences affected your life?

Ingrid C. Lim:

Hmmm ... the war. I'm more cynical. I have no tolerance for bs. I can't stand whinnying and complaining about stupid stuff. The war is not having a big impact at home. Now people complain about, you know, how long they stand in line at Starbucks, just stuffthat has no significance. I'm very jaded, very cynical though, and I'm very intolerant actually really of any kind of whining. I have no tolerance for whining and complaining people who dodging responsibility.

Jenifer Faria:

Did you have some life lessons that you learned in your military service?

Ingrid C. Lim:

Well, I learned you have to take care of yourself. That was probably it. I did not believe in compassion fatigue until the war. I was taking care of all these soldiers and to have a clinician who would not leave her "home" was outrageous ... She was seeing 1/7th of my patient load. 1/7th! So not even a patient a day. She might see two patients a week if she is lucky. I had five to seven patients a day, and I have three clinics, ok. So, it's me and the Air force person covering these clinics. This woman wouldn't travel the four hundred meters down the road to come see our soldiers in our clinics. She wanted them to go to her. It was just ridiculous. So I said: 'Stay down there, I'll take care of my guys. And that was the first sign of compassion fatigue. "I'll do it all." We were kicking butt, but right around August, it is like, 'You know what, I need a break. I needed a serious break.' After you hear the seven hundredth story of 'my wife is leaving me, I need to go home right now because she is leaving me.' My thoughts were like: 'Dude, she is going to stay with you if you go home? How is that going to make difference? Is she going to change her mind? No, I don't think so. Why do you need to be there? No, you can't go home. I'm sorry. Find another reason to go home.' And it's hard, but after you do seven hundred times, like you have no compassion left. You just kind tell him straight up: it's not going to work, and point him in the right direction. Go talk to the Captain. At other times, you know, the guy has been deployed two or three times, so their was no relationship left, and the wife was sick and tired of being alone. And those are a little bit hard ..... But I was running out of kindness.

Jenifer Faria:

Do you have something else you want to add?

Ingrid C. Lim:

No, I mean, thank God for friends, I mean, I ran into another friend of mine from Hawaii, who is a SF surgeon, oh, thank God for them. Because I made sure every Sunday I was not in my room. I went to church and disappeared right after that because you get business all the time. I couldn't go to the dining facility, I couldn't go to the shower, I couldn't go to the church, I couldn't go anywhere without somebody running into me and say 'I have a soldier I need to talk to you about.' So, on Sundays, I'd go to the mass and leave right away. My friend would come get me and we go down to his FOB talk. And when the social worker of the Air force was here, she drive up in the NTV and come get me, and we go down there, or I'd go get her in the HMM WV, or if we were out of vehicles and we would have them come get us .... Yeah, it was fun. I had my sister send me stuff, so I had virgin margaritas, because they had ice, and hang out at their pool, and they always had barbeque. So, that was good for my mental health to be there, and I think I helped the surgeon there too. I think he was a, ... I wouldn't say he was lonely because he had other friends their, but he was the only surgeon, just having other peers there, such as the ER doctors from Air Force, other mental health type. We would go hang out with them, and even the surgeon from the National Guard Unit would come down there too. So it was a small group of professionals. All having a little escape hang out at the pool. So, it was nice, it was cool, to get away, and it was just like smoke cigars out in a patio, make sure you don't get shot [giggles]. That was probably my best memories. I'd go running. I had another friend; he is a Jamaican guy who could go running with me, but he was getting ribbed so much that he stopped. So, I go running in the morning, whatever, that's probably the best [whispering]: I lost a lot of weight .... So, yeah, I think lender stress true times you have to find peer support. It is crucial, and that's probably one thing I learned: you got to find a peer group of some kind. You have to be careful who you hang with because it is just like High school. There is bickering, gossiping, not something that I'm used to deal with in a clinic or in a professional setting. Here I am doing a job (1.5J and I have to worry about people gossiping and saying: Oh, so and so is hanging out with so and so .... Yeah, that kind of stuff is a drag. I'm way to busy to deal with this BS .... Besides that, everything else was fun. I made sure I had fun, which is the hard part: you are away from your family, you miss your kid, but I'm doing some cool stuff, this is cool ... .1 mean, I, we planted flower, I grew some flowers. I had the only blooming garden. People would like, they like to walk by my trailer. I was going to paint: The Other Green Zone [giggles] because I had stuff growing - the Iraq dirty is awful. So, some guys had planted grass, and another one built a deck, I built a shade over my trailer. I had no shade. There were no trees. So, I made my own, like a porch. It was nice. And when I'm not working, I was visiting with my friends down at the pool, or I'd go shopping, I meant, everybody went shopping. So it was nice to go and see interesting things, play with some different weapons that is not in the normal military inventory .... I assisted with a surgery. That's kind of interesting.

Jenifer Faria:

Thank you Ingrid. I appreciate.

Ingrid C. Lim:

You're welcome.

 
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