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I keep two important items on my key ring. The first is my Army-issued ID tag, which I wore on a chain around my neck every single day from August 25, 2005, to December 6, 2006, when I was deployed in Baghdad. It was with me in good times (I’m in the front row, center) and bad. I’m not superstitious, but seeing the ID tag is comforting to me. Subconsciously, I think it protected me, and now it reminds me that no matter how bad a day I might be having, I’ve had it worse and survived.

The ID tag (we were told never to call them “dog tags”) also represents a different me than the person I am now. It says I’m “METH-CH” — Methodist Christian — even though I’d long been agnostic when the tag was issued. I only listed my parents’ faith to give them comfort in case I didn’t make it home. But now it gives me comfort, even if it isn’t accurate.

When I think about that time in Baghdad, I remember the moment it all became real. We were told to use Sharpies to write our blood type on just about everything: our boots, our helmet covers, our body armor. This was in case we were injured and a blood transfusion needed to be expedited. There’s something very humbling and fatalistic about writing your blood type on your boots — it feels like you’re attaching your own toe tag. But it’s important, so my key ring also includes my Oklahoma Blood Institute tag listing my blood type. You never know when you might need it.