This article was originally published on Point of Decision on September 2, 2015. Thank you to Point of Decision for continuing to publish my work! Note: The first part of this article may be viewed here.
My rifle made the ever-familiar “chunk” sound as I released the bolt and chambered a round. I then retracted the charging handle 3/4 of an inch and visually checked the chamber. I see brass. Release the bolt, two taps on the forward assist, close the ejection port cover, remove the magazine, insert one more round, slap the magazine, re-insert the magazine with a push-pull and I was ready to go. I grab my go-bag and yell across the motor pool to my partner, “Jimmy! We are going to be late!” Jimmy walks over to our vehicle and stands in front of it. He looks at his watch while slowly finishing his cup of coffee. “There, we are now officially 30 seconds late.” I roll my eyes and we load up.
We depart the forward operating base having missed our exit window by 30 seconds. As we are driving towards our destination there is a large explosion in front of us. It takes us approximately 30 seconds to get from our current location to the scene of the explosion. When we arrive in the chaos we note the intermixing of dead humans and dead camels. We do what we must and move on. If not for my partner Jimmy’s antics with the cup of coffee the bomb might have seen us. And as many know, if you can see the bomb then the bomb can see you.
Three years later…
I wake to a crying baby. It is December. It is cold. I am sweaty. I don my sweater and grab a Dr. Brown’s bottle full of Similac Alimentum formula. I pick up my child and the feeding begins. Halfway through the feeding my thoughts rush to wartime experiences. I think about dead humans and dead camels. I remember the smell. I remember what the road felt like under my feet. I remember the cup of coffee and the 30 seconds.
The next morning I tell my wife it is time for me to look for a new job. I tell her that my head is full of enough crazy for two lifetimes. I tell her that I don’t want to take time away from our child and give it to the enemy. It is time for me to move from operations to policy. My wife looks me in the eyes with a seriousness I haven’t seen before and says “Phil, I love you, and if you want to do this then I am happy. However, I worry that you won’t feel normal unless you are deployed.” Two plus years of counseling off-and-on plus four years of being in policy world and I am about as “normal” as I am ever going to be.
My child is now old enough to know what war is. As a Veteran I struggle with what to tell my child about war. I want to imbue my child with military values such as integrity, dependability, judgment and decisiveness. At the same time I do not want to glorify war. Maybe it is a coping mechanism, maybe it is reality, but I often seek to separate the effort of military operations from the outcome of victory or defeat. There is much to be learned and many good behaviors that can be modeled by studying wartime efforts. In opposition to this, studying the political factors that lead to the beginning of a war, its end, or the calculus driving troop levels or timelines, often leads to frustration.
We went to a far away place, we did what we must, and it stayed with us.Though it is challenging, try to find something from your wartime experiences that can drive you towards good in your everyday life. Let good acts be the phoenix that rise from the ashes of your wartime experiences.