Saturday, December 23, 2006

I Should Be There

I was looking at some photographs just a little while ago. They were pictures representing a life I had what seems a long time ago. Pictures of friends, of colleagues. Pictures of that enormous family called the Army.

Some of men I saw in those pictures are dead, some are maimed, still others are psychologically different than when I knew them. Most of them are alive, thankfully, but even they're changed. Maybe more aloof on the outside, but harder on the inside. Some, though they won't admit it, and neither will their friends, are burned forever with fear. Or worse, hate.

These are, for the most part, men that I lived with, trained with, drank with, and shared with experiences that only those who serve could ever even conceive of. Some were even men that I trained, a youthful arrogant expertise bestowed upon even more youthful arrogance. As a teacher in the military, you always know that what you teach can and will save your student's lives. You always know it, but you don't always realize it. I never did, not while I wore a uniform. It wasn't until earlier this year that the realization finally hit me, when I learned that a close friend of mine lost a foot and the use of an arm. He was my replacement when I left Fort Bragg. He was where I should've been. He was where I should be.

In the last couple of years, I've learned that four men that I served directly with have been killed in one of the theaters that we're currently fighting in. Another two have lost parts of their bodies. I'm terrified of calling my friends who are still in, for fear of learning of more dead soldiers, dead paratroopers. As bad as that is, I'm even more terrified of the possibility of one of them asking me, blaming me, "Why weren't you with us?"

When I got out of the Army, I had mixed feelings. The war was intensifying, and I knew that most, if not all, of my former units were going over there. But, I had a plan in life, one that did not involve the military, and I was eager to get that plan started. That plan, as most of you who read this blog know, self-destructed this year, leaving me wondering what exactly it is I should be doing.

Being a soldier is, to this day, probably the single thing I'm best at. I'm certainly no writer, I can't seem to land in a city with enough filmmaking to really see if I'm good at that, and everything else I do is pretty much half-assed or over my head. But being a soldier? A paratrooper? A combat engineer? Damn, I was good. And I never even wanted to be.

2006 has officially left me a wreck, but luckily for me, 2007 is on the horizon, and I'm going to have a lot of choices to make. Choices that will, out of necessity, determine exactly what I'm going to do with the rest of my life, however long that may be. Will I rejoin the Army and once again put on a uniform? Maybe, and the possibility is strong. I almost signed back up this year.

It's notable that Christmas of 2006 will be the first Christmas since 1995 that I've spent "home" with family. In between those years, I usually spent Christmas day working, taking another young soldier's duty so that he could go home and be with his family. It never bothered me, I always felt that I was helping someone out. But here, now, I'm not helping anybody, not even myself. I shouldn't be "home" this Christmas. I don't deserve it, nor do I want it. As far as I'm concerned, I don't even have a real fucking home. I should be over there, with the rest of the 20th Engineer Brigade.

Do I think I can make a difference? No, not really. No one soldier ever really does. But a part of me wants to be with my friends, my old soldiers, most of whom outrank me now. I don't care about this stupid war. I certainly don't give a shit about the politics behind it. But soldiers, as cliché as Hollywood has made it, don't fight for anyone but themselves and their friends. I'm not sure soldiers have ever fought for anything else.

I should be there.


Anonymous said...

Yes, you should. Or here, at least.

Posted by Jessica Lynn on December 23, 2006 - Saturday - 9:09 AM

Anonymous said...

Ah, the same feelings I've had since 09March2002. Do you remember Spc Buchman? From Maintenance? How he hated the Army as he left? He's back in and stationed in Korea now. Not a day goes by that I don't hear, in the back of my head, the calling. It will never be what you want it to be but it will always be great as you look back.

Remember the saying, "no unit is ever as good as the one you just left." I want to go back to, and with all these guard activations I'm still eligible to return. Just might do it before long myself.

Best wishes for the holidays to you and everyone else who has provided them for me. My deepest thanks.


Posted by Cowan on December 31, 2006 - Sunday - 3:57 PM

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