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The Last Deployment

How a Gay, Hammer-Swinging Twentysomething Survived a Year in Iraq

Bronson Lemer

Publication Year: 2011

In 2003, after serving five and a half years as a carpenter in a North Dakota National Guard engineer unit, Bronson Lemer was ready to leave the military behind. But six months short of completing his commitment to the army, Lemer was deployed on a yearlong tour of duty to Iraq. Leaving college life behind in the Midwest, he yearns for a lost love and quietly dreams of a future as an openly gay man outside the military. He discovers that his father’s lifelong example of silent strength has taught him much about being a man, and these lessons help him survive in a war zone and to conceal his sexuality, as he is required to do by the U.S. military.

            The Last Deployment is a moving, provocative chronicle of one soldier’s struggle to reconcile military brotherhood with self-acceptance. Lemer captures the absurd nuances of a soldier’s daily life: growing a mustache to disguise his fear, wearing pantyhose to battle sand fleas, and exchanging barbs with Iraqis while driving through Baghdad. But most strikingly, he describes the poignant reality faced by gay servicemen and servicewomen, who must mask their identities while serving a country that disowns them. Often funny, sometimes anguished, The Last Deployment paints a deeply personal portrait of war in the twenty-first century.
A main selection of the InsightOut Book Club
Featured Title of Book of the Month Club 2

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. 3-5

In a dimly lit restaurant, I stare back at the only man I’ve ever loved. It’s the end of January 2008, and this is the first time I’ve seen him in seven years. I’ve come to tell him that I still love him and to resolve some unfinished business I thought we had from when we dated in 2000 and 2001, but looking at him now, I realize that I’ve probably made a mistake....

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1. Olympic Hopefuls

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pp. 6-18

Soldiers are erasing Saddam Hussein from Iraq. They start in Firdos Square on April 9, 2003, helping an ecstatic group of Iraqi citizens topple a twenty-foot statue of Saddam constructed for the ruler’s sixty-fifth birthday.The Iraqi men have been throwing shoes at the statue—a great insult in the Arab world. Marines come along, attach a chain to Saddam’s ankles,...

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2. Last Supper

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pp. 19-32

January 20, 2003: I’m twenty-two and debating growing a beard. I’m sitting in the office of the college newspaper I work for, stroking the three-day growth on my chin. I have to time growing a beard just right, starting after drills this weekend and letting it grow until February’s drill weekend, when the National Guard will force me to shave again. Only once did the...

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3. Snow Bullets

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pp. 33-48

We leave Wahpeton thinking we are heroes. As the sun comes up on January 28, I hoist my rucksack over my shoulder and board the bus headed for Fort Carson. The other soldiers take their places behind the wheels of our trucks or in the vinyl bus seats. They look like statues, all straight-faced and angry from a busy week of preparing and packing, and little sleep....

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4. Even Pawns Have Nice Legs

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pp. 49-67

I stand next to them, but not among them. They stand rigid—black boot next to black boot—in formation on the pavement outside our barracks, listening to Captain Roar ramble on about the training and how he still hasn’t heard when they’ll be leaving. They are dressed in their camouflaged uniforms and slick black berets, hands cupped together behind their...

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5. Click, Click, Click

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pp. 68-69

Inside a large white tent at Camp Wolf, just outside Kuwait City, and women push ammunition into steel M16 magazines. The bullets go click, click, click against the metal plate above the magazine’s spring. Each bullet hits the next, staggering left then right, left then right, like a steel zipper. Young hands rapidly push the bullets into place. They must...

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6. The Mustache Race

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pp. 70-77

The curtains are the color of blueberries. It’s difficult not to notice them. They sway hypnotically with the warm air rushing into the bus, and because it is hot, all eyes are on the undersized windows. The air cycles in, pushing the curtains back and forth in a game of tug-of-war. It’s as if the curtains sense the nearby turmoil, and through their constant shifting, they help...

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7. All Sand and Stars

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pp. 78-92

The thing about Kuwait is that it’s all sand and stars, and we’re stuck somewhere in between. I wake to the sound of somebody snoring. I sit up, wipe the sleep from my eyes, and look around. The tent is midnight black, dark, and full of shadows. Across the wooden floor I see bodies laid out like corpses in a mass grave....

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8. Wolves

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pp. 93-108

Bobby has the perfect poker face—demure, innocent, emotionless. He doesn’t give anything away with his pale brown eyes, his cherub like face,his thin lips. Words tumble from his mouth in a monotone like bricks slowly falling from a wall. He’s still a boy; baby fat clings to his young face.Yet when you look at him, he stares back with those sad eyes, and you...

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9. This Is Our Comfortable Hell

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pp. 109-121

As the soldiers push the refrigerator toward the tent, the wind whips the sand into a fury. Particles rise up like flames around the appliance, devouring the box like termites. They walk the box forward, teetering the giant appliance back and forth like a mother escorting a child toward a grandparent. The men maneuver the large rectangle through the curtain...

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10. Icarus in Iraq

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pp. 122-138

On May 14, we move to Baghdad, where, once we’re settled, we’ll begin work on repair missions in the violent city. As we pull out of the south gate of Anaconda, I notice a lone child standing in a field of weeds. From the back of a truck, I squint to see him. He stands near the road, knee-deep in twisted weeds, wearing a gray burlap sack. His eyes are wide as our...

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11. Baghdad in My Boots

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pp. 139-160

We call them hajjis. Most of us don’t even know what the word means. We heard it one day outside the wire, and now we can’t stop calling them that. There are hajji men—dressed in dirty slacks and T-shirts, standing on the street corners or peering from behind steering wheels. There are hajji women—covered in black as they walk down back alleys and slink down...

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12. Don’t Tell

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pp. 161-162

The magazines come in the care packages, tucked between logs of chewing tobacco, our favorite candies, and letters from school children back home. Most of them are weeklies—Time and Newsweek are the most popular. On our days off, we sit or lie on our cots, flip through them, and read up on the latest news...

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13. If Charles Bronson Were Here

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pp. 163-177

The longer we’re in Iraq the more I think about luck and superstition. I had read stories about GI superstitions and seen them depicted in movies, but I never really realized how widespread superstitions were until I found myself in the middle of a war. When you’re at war you have a hard time not thinking about luck. During every mission you think about how lucky...

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14. How to Build Your Own Coffin

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pp. 178-189

We know very little about the dead mechanic. He didn’t sleep in our tent or share in our nightly bouts of laughter when Cole and King reverted back to teenagers. We don’t know his name, his hometown, if he had a wife, kids, or pets. We don’t know why he joined the army, if he liked being a mechanic, or if he woke every morning hopeful and excited (like...

15. Two Toonies and a Loonie

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pp. 190-191

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16. Vets

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pp. 192-202

In the middle of October, after hearing that we’ll be in Iraq another six months, we settle in deep. We’ve been living in the moment of the war, moving from place to place, mission to mission, never stopping long enough to push the stakes of our tents deep into the sand. We are wandering gypsies, and we like it. But when Captain Roar stands before Bravo...

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17. Out Came a Spider

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pp. 203-206

In the dream I am guarding the Baghdad zoo. The night sky is starless, a blank void of darkness, and below the horizon the grass in the field looks deep blue like an ocean of softly shifting waves. Out on this ocean of grass are all the animals of the zoo. There’s a shaggy-looking lion asleep near the wall that surrounds the field. A gaggle of geese is camped out nearby,...

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18. Dump Gulls

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pp. 207-215

The holding area at the north gate of Anaconda Army Airbase has a kind of Auschwitz feel to it. It’s about half the size of a basketball court and smells like a locker room. Dozens of Iraqi men are standing along the fence, all watching us and waving IDs. Iraqi men come here every morning looking for work, all eager eyes and grabby fingers. Recently, the army...

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pp. 216-221

Of all the days I spent in Iraq, it is those last few weeks that I recall most vividly now. We weren’t working any missions. Our replacements had arrived, and we’d finished handing over our missions to them. We didn’t have to tear down our tents; they were staying in Iraq...

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pp. 223

There are many people who helped make this book a reality. First, I would like to thank Raphael Kadushin and the staff at the University of Wisconsin Press for believing in my story. I would also like to thank the men and women of the North Dakota Army National Guard, who took me along on an experience that changed my life. Thank you to Alicia Strnad and...

E-ISBN-13: 9780299282134
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299282141

Publication Year: 2011

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Gay military personnel -- United States -- Biography.
  • Gay men -- United States -- Biography.
  • Iraq War, 2003- -- Personal narratives, American.
  • Soldiers -- United States -- Biography.
  • Lemer, Bronson.
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