Tuesday, February 19, 2008
"In war there are no unwounded soldiers."
The heat, dust, loneliness and frustration, worry, lack of sleep and fear all play over and over in my mind like a maddening commercial looped for eternity. The endless nights on guard just watching, waiting for the stillness to be shattered by the sounds of gunfire and explosions can be maddening. You start wanting it to happen, willing it to happen and when it doesn’t your left empty and drained. The constant vigilance feels like slow bleeding…you wonder how far you can go and survive. How much more can I take and still be the man who left America and my family just months ago. Has it been that long? I feel so old and tired. It’s as though the very act of touching the soil draws the life slowly out of you with each step.
With the end of my tour in the Stan nearing what once seemed so intangible and far away may now becomes a reality. That day, that moment that will bring so many lonely hearts together in one place seems almost unimaginable. I have thought about that day in so many different ways it can be, at times, a source of maddening distraction.
Now the realization is that this last flight will be over and you won’t be going back to the places that caused so much pain and longing can be hard to fathom. I have watched my children grow in pictures and heard my daughter say her first words over a static filled satellite phone from eight thousand miles away. My son speaks in complete sentences now, always asking me how my soldiers are and if the there are any bad guys near. I wonder what I will tell him of this war when he grows older. What I can tell him about the things his Father has done to survive.
Will they understand? Will they be able to see the man who left a year ago is still here inside?
How will I react to those who are so blissfully ignorant to the war and all its obscenities of violence? Will I resent them for their apathy or will I understand that I am the one who’s changed and react accordingly? The nature of this conflict with its landmines and lightning attacks has kept us in a perpetual state of vigilance with explosive moments of adrenalin and despair. The Army gave me the Purple Heart award for injuries in battle but what do you get for wounds of the soul?
Being my second time deployed to war zone did not make it any easier to adapt at surviving on the home front. My wife has had to work and raise our children without a Dad for a year and a half and during those dark moments alone after the children have gone to sleep she wonders if I’m safe.
How has this war changed her?
I remember one of my first firefights where I was so fuckin mad at them for slinging rounds at me for months, waiting for the floor to explode under my feet and not being able to return fire because of civilians in the area or we were unable to positively identify a target that the act of squeezing that trigger and hearing those rounds hammering the enemy and seeing them fall was more exciting and more rewarding than your first porn film.
War, by its very nature, sometimes allows too much time in between the missions for deep thinking. If you dive too deeply into the pool of your own emotion you may never reach the surface again and find yourself descending into the darkness. And it is madness you see. This wafer thin veneer of societal normalcy we carry like a child’s cardboard shield will not ward off the ugliness and savagery of those to wish to destroy you.
In some ways I guess I was kinda lucky. My initiation into the suffering and death of others was gradual enough to give me some time to build up mental defenses but there never is enough time is there?
I know this; I will not allow this experience to shade the rest of my life with bitter angst. Being older this time I hope I have gained the wisdom to accept the path that has led me to the door I must now open and know I will be stronger for it. I have taken all the men under my command and returned them safely to their loved ones and I have prayed for the fallen.
God bless this rag-tag bunch of misfits I call my soldiers and God bless America the one true beacon of hope in this world.
This story is a recollection of my time and duty serving in Afghanistan. I have tried to be as honest and true to the events as they happened using my notes and columns I had written but as usual my minds eye sees things differently than others. All the quotes used are from my memory and therefore may be remembered differently from another’s perspective.