I am a veteran.
Today is the designated day for people to remember the men and women who have given much to all for this nation.
I spent 31% of my life in service. It changed and defined nearly every aspect of me as a person. Some things were changes for the better, others maybe not so much. I spent 1 year in Korea, 4 years in Okinawa, OIF (Operation Iraqi Freedom) II at Camp Anaconda with the 29 BCT, OIF IV with the 705 MPB Camp Bucca. The rest of the time was spent doing nuclear security or attending training schools.
My hands have been soaked in the blood of my enemy and the blood of my friends. No amount of washing has ever taken the stain out. I shook hands with Donald Rumsfeld on the tarmac of Osan Airbase in South Korea. I have had to put my hands on service members to get them to stop beating the shit out their wives when they were drunk in Okinawa. I installed a multi-million dollar security system piece by piece which was upgraded only two years later. I had coffee with the US Army Chief of Staff GEN Peter Schoomaker Christmas day in 2005 and was told “there is no better life than the soldier’s life.” 8 days later I was in the theater hospital holding a bandage on a 19 year old kid’s leg who had his tibia blown off from a road-side bomb.
My eyes have witnessed the most incredible things you can imagine, the things kids play video games to see. 500 lbs bombs being dropped on groups of men. The absolute fear and terror of 5 year old kids with pieces of steel sticking out of their chest, begging us to save them. The most beautiful sunrises in the world. The darkest nights in the most desolate places. The smile on men’s faces when they meet their new born child in an airport because they were deployed when the baby was born.
My ears have heard things which I will not forget. The sound of a 1,000 lb bomb exploding. Screaming, crying, laughing, yelling. Motivational speeches, prayers, dirty jokes, and last words. The sirens warning of incoming rounds. The whomp of blades of another chopper approaching with wounded. The incredible noise of F-16’s taking off with afterburners to run interdiction.
My feet have set on the soil of many countries, many of which I would like to see again in perhaps different circumstances.
I have asked people to do the strangest things. 7 bag drags in a row because one man out of 26 forgot a AA battery. “Shoot that motherfucker.” Calming down frantic men who had normal reactions to incredibly abnormal events. Losing my mind when people failed to strap their Kevlar chin strap during field maneuver.
My mind is stuck on what could have been different, and how it all turned out. All kinds of memories. The most delicious breakfast ever after having a 120 mm mortar round explode 40 feet away from me. I do believe I still had wet pants from pissing myself and laughing. I was so god damn happy to be alive and in one piece I didn’t care. Wondering I could have done something differently for a hundred different situations, ranging from how I routed EPRs to how I responded to superiors to how I handled situations that got a little crazy.
The spectacle of horror after a badly aimed rocket hit the inside of the TIF compound instead of our LSA. Dead crooks all over the fucking place being trampled by live crooks who had pieces of steel and shrapnel pulverizing their flesh. Having a master bomb maker walk up to me holding his intestines and saying “Sergeant I need help.” Then looking back at him and laughing while calling for more people to assist. How funny, you assholes sent us a morning present that missed and instead landed on all your freedom fighting pals. I do believe it occurred to me that morning something is wrong with me by the way.
My behavior is locked on funny little rituals and routines. I find I do somethings automatically. I do some things unintentionally. Things that are no longer required, things that used to be important.
My heart has been torn in pieces. Turned cold and hard, and filled with sorrow and remorse. Armored with pride and pressure treated with hatred.
My soul blacked and tarnished; from a year of comforting the same men we were sent to kill the year before in the shit hole prison of Bucca Iraq. Nothing will ever replace the shame of having to provide care and protection to the same men who wiped young children off this planet with their god damn IEDs. The same men who fractured my skull and left me with the promise of a life time of pain and brain damage. The same men who killed my friends. I got to serve them their dinner and mediate arguments over soccer games. Babysitting Iraq’s unwanted citizens, what a fucking honor.
My back has been fatigued from carrying 70 pounds of gear in 140 degree heat for days at a time. My spine is distorted from falling out of that stupid fucking helicopter in 2002. I have spent two years regaining normal hip and ankle movement from years and years of combat boots.
Everyday I feel pain for my friends who died on the sand of a shit hole country. A war for liberty and justice, or greed and oil? Our enemies, did they do anything that we wouldn’t have? Placed in their shoes I would have done the exact same acts, no, I would have done worse. If someone invaded my home and dropped bombs on my city my violence would have surpassed anything they tried to do to us.
My friends, every few months one of you kill yourself. I know it’s hard. Men must become monsters and there is no going back. We pretend. We smile. We say everything is fine. There is no comfort left. No excitement to be found. Dull, boring, painful day-to-day life is all that remains afterwards. I can’t ask you not to do it, but I do request you call me before you check out. I am not going to talk to you down, I just want to say thanks while I still have a chance to.
Thank you Scott Smith for covering my ass when I needed it. Thank you Lamont Hughes for saving my ass when I need it. Thank you Mark Hyden, you taught me more than any other SNCO. Thank you Michael Miller, you were my absolute favorite person I ever worked with. Thank you Matt Smith, you are one of the sharpest NCOs in this Military and I trust you will be recognized in due time as such. Thank you Chris James Smith, rest in peace my brother. I miss you. There are a lot of people I would offer a thank you too, but I don’t know if I can recall all the names right now.
To all my troops, I hope I have been the meanest mother fucker you ever had to work for. Better you get hard now then later. The god damn world is not sugar cookies and candy canes a