Saturday, October 23, 2004

The Faces of War: Do You Know These Men?

They Are My Brother

This election, for certain, has stirred up the passions among the partisans. There are few, according to the media, that are "undecided". Maybe that is so, though I think it is hard to not have an opinion on the position and condition of this country at this time. I know that there are a few people in my immediate family who are torn on the subject.

My mom is a liberal in most senses of the word. But she is truly a person that will listen to reasonable points. We've had plenty of conversations. She doesn't like war. She particularly doesn't like it because my first brother (second born) is in the military and, about five months ago, was scheduled to go to Iraq. He was ready to go. Had finished all his paperwork, signed his will and his insurance policy. Had his shots. Took leave from his civilian government job (he is in the Air National Guard). It was three days before he had to report to base when they told him that the position that he was to fill was double slotted and the other officer had already reported.

He didn't go. He was disappointed, but of course, my Mom was relieved. Before the news came that he was not going, my Mom had went on a little tirade around the house. Lambasting the government for this war: "Why did they have to start a war? Why couldn't those people (Iraqis) take care of it themselves? If something happens to your brother, I am going to the White House and protesting!" and some other choice words to that effect.

I knew she didn't really understand the reasons for this war at all. Not even in the sense of the Kerry camps understanding. I also knew that she did not understand my brother's pride at being called to go. He wanted to go. When he tried to explain it to my mom, she got upset and started ranting about the government "sending married men with children" or something to that effect. I could tell my brother was frustrated, but he tried very hard to explain something to her. He said: "Mom, I'm nobody special. There are a lot of men and women that have already been there for a year or more who have families. I am no different."

Read more about the men who are my brother in the inner sanctum.

But, of course he is different, he is my mother's son. He is also the husband of a very nice woman who works, goes to school to be a Licensed Nurse Practitioner and raises two daughters together. His wife was not too excited either.

I felt for my brother. He is not a wimp, but when two of the women in your life that are very important, hold on to you and cry, I don't know many men that can hold out against that. Kind of put him between a rock and a hard place, wanting to please the women in his life, but wanting very much to feel good about serving his country. He's very proud of his accomplishments in the Air Force and the National Guard.

He started out as an enlisted man, where he served for 10 years and worked up to a "Tech Sgt". He went to night school to get his degree after he went into the Guard. He was then sent to OCS (officer candidate school) and became a lieutenant.

After these hard conversations with our mom and his wife, he asked to speak to me privately. I wasn't 100% sure what to expect, but I knew by his request, it was something important to him. After witnessing the difficulties he had with the other two women, I resolved to be supportive and raise no questions about his deployment. I later learned that he had put his own name forward to go. I had a suspicion that was the case as no one else in his unit had been called up. He was going to go replace a lieutenant that had been killed on a base in Balad by a mortar attack. He didn't tell anyone else about this as he knew that it would be even harder if they knew he was going to a dangerous base (Balad was being regularly mortared and had suffered plenty of casualties).

My brother believes in this war. He believes it is important to take out any regime that sponsors terrorists, harbors them or has any intent to do so. He also believes that we must change the middle east faster than it is changing now in order to change the atmosphere in which the extremist Islamists are created. He believes that it will not change through diplomacy or economic pressure. It hasn't worked for the 80 years we have been engaged there. He believes it will require force of arms in several areas. He told me this before he got into the meat of his request to me, but he didn't have to. We had been talking about it for sometime and I agreed with him totally.

These are the quiet conversations that are had all over the country, every time we deploy our men and women. Some are full of tears and recriminations and some are full of quiet pride and courage.

I read several soldiers' blogs and one in particular reminds me of my brother. His name is "Greyhawk" and he runs The Mudville Gazette. He was active duty posted in the US and went to Iraq in late September where he now posts from. I read his last post before he left, where he left a message his children and tried to explain to them why he must go and fight the dragons:

I awoke in the quiet watches with my youngest in my arms, wondering what I might say to her and her brother and sister and their mom and knowing I was done with sleeping for this night.

Here is why: Some must go to fight the Dragons. And if you think such things don't exist then it must be I read you the wrong sorts of stories when you were young.

If you ask only why I and not some other than I can tell you this;

Listen

"We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too."

The President of the United States said that when I was very young. Now some will tell you that such thinking is out of fashion these days and that the causes we turn our energies to are unjust. I can tell you only that I don't think so, and that I'm quite certain the dragons themselves would raise such concerns were we to give them voices.

This is for us all: Have faith, not fear. Trust God. Stand fast, be strong.

For me the time is here to leave precious things behind for just a while, and that cost is not too great to bear. After all, what things could be called precious if not worth any price?

For you it's simply time to be brave, as so many of your friends have. Think about this: Without bad there could be no good. Hard times pass. Be kind to one another in every possible way; lift the burdens that others bear and I think you'll find your burden's lighter too.

Worrying helps nothing, try not to do it. Don't feel bad when from time to time you do. And please do fun things and enjoy doing them - you owe me nothing more than that.

And never tell me anything's too hard.

Take pictures.

Write.

Smile.

See you soon.


My brother said nearly the same to me about his own children. He will not stand for his two girls to be in danger and he believes that September 11 proved that, even they, in far away Arizona, were not safe until the extremists are defeated.

Another soldier at American Soldier talks about leaving last year for Iraq:

I remember thinking about when I left would everything be ok? I was not so worried about being placed in a combat environment. I'd been in one before and to be quite honest, you trust in your training and you rely mostly on luck. All the training in the world can't stop a bullet aimed in the right spot. So it was way in the back of my mind worrying about the war. I'd faced my mortality a long time ago.

For the moment I was enjoying my wife and the comfortable silence we were sharing.

**Departing**

Before I got in line to go through security I gave my kids a hug and kiss goodbye. Each one receptive and emotional in their own way. I fight to keep the tears back because I want to be the strong daddy. Woo, that made me tear up just now just thinking about it. So I smile and tell them that I would talk to them soon and will send them pictures. I turn up to my wife and we hug. I tell her that I love her and she squeezes me tight. All of a sudden reality really hits me and feeling her touch is something I am going to miss. The question of will I ever feel that again pops up. But my mind is brought back to reality with her saying I love you and to call her. To be careful.

I sneak a smile in there and tell her that it'll be fine. I kiss her and I get in line.


These scenes are repeated a thousand times every day and month of the year. Some of them are long time warriors, others do the weekend route and some are young and have barely started out in life before they must learn to do and cope with hard things.

A young soldier, who is not so young anymore, posted on Friday at The Questing Cat. They were out on an op when they were mortared and he had to put his skills as a combat life saver to work:

You want to know the most terrible moment of a disaster? It is that split second when it begins. When all of a sudden there is a bright flash, that is nothing special except that it is the big break with reality to the fucked up world you are about to begin. A split second of bright light, and for the briefest second, there is no thought in your head, everything in you braces for....for what?

Glass and sound rain down on me...I know it was bad, I have NEVER heard anything so loud and light debris is falling all around me. I get off the stairs, and get my fucking helmet on. wouldn't it fucking figure, walk around ALL THE FUCKING TIME WITH THAT THING ON AND THE ONE TIME I MIGHT REALLY HAVE NEEDED IT, I WAS RELAXING.

What the FUCK happened?

VBED goes around in shouts around our perimeter, Casualties go around. Then MY name goes around. Our convoy has no medics and 3 CLS. 2 of those CLS are on the CO's Bradley crew. I'm the third. FUCK. My name is being screamed. Someone is hurt. You’re on kiddo. FUUUUUCK.(...)

I'm running...I'm trying to remember my training...and even as I move, some piece of me is awake and thinking without me. Some piece of me sees that I am going to a Bradley's drivers hatch. Some piece of me knows that cowboy [his friend and co-blogger] was driving one of these Bradleys. FUCK. My mind feels like it can't grasp anything. This is a very shitty day.

The casualty is not the Cowboy. But it is almost as bad. A 20 year old kid from Tennessee who once asked me if I knew when our company would get "combustible" butt stocks for M249 saws. He meant collapsible, so of course we gave him a huge ration of shit for it. But he took it in good humor. He wasn't always the sharpest knife, but he'd work hard. His face was a maze of blood...he quivered and we lowered him off the Bradley. But he could walk. Confusion is everywhere...we are in dead spot for coms, we need to move. The first humvee we load him in has room, but it has a flat tire from shrapnel. I steal their CLS Medical Bag, and cram into the other humvee...we take off flying. Well kiddo, you’re on.(...)


The Cat later explains that he is only two years older than this wounded soldier he is treating, but feels light years older than he. I recommend reading the rest if you want to get an idea of what these men face when they go to war.

Well, I've talked all around it, so now I will tell you what my brother wanted to speak to me about. It was about this very topic: what to do if he dies or is seriously wounded. I sat quietly listening. He was back in Arizona and we were on the phone. He took my silence to mean to go on with the discussion, but I was actually a little stunned and didn't know what to say when he said it. It was a punch of reality after all our abstract discussions about the meaning of the war and it's necessity.

He tells me that, after telling everyone that he would deploy, he realized that most of our family would not be able to help if something happened. He is sure that they will fall apart emotionally, particularly his wife, and there are a lot of things to attend to and arrange if that moment should come. He is talking to me very matter of factly about dying. He says that he thinks I am the only one that will be able to hold it together and he trusts me to take care of things.

What do I say? That I'm honored by his request? Believe me when I tell you that the first thing that goes through your mind is not about "honor" so much as the question of whether you will be any more capable of handling the situation than the rest. So I tell him, of course I will do whatever he asks. I don't add that I realize, in the scheme of things, that it might be the last thing I would ever do for him on this earth.

Then it hits me that this is no longer my "little brother". He is a man with a man's responsibility and we are adults. We aren't playing stick ball in the field behind our grandparents' farm or riding our bicycles up and down the street jumping ramps. This is real life and that life is not infinite. We aren't immortal, though we thought it when we were young and did crazy things like jumping out of the hayloft or daring each other to run up and ring the door bell of the spooky house inhabited by "mean ol' Mr. Barry".

He tells me about the will and the life insurance policy. About the savings account at the credit union and the deed to the house. He explains that he and Theresa have a joint will and, if something should happen to her, too, while the girls are still young, they are to go and live with Theresa's parents since they are the closest relatives the girls associate with regularly. I am trying to be practical so I ask him where I should have him buried? Is that in the will? Does he want to come back to Missouri or be buried in Arizona?

He tells me "Arizona" and that he wants a full dress military funeral. I thought that a little strange as, although my brother loves the military, he has always been a little informal and I tell him so. Then he adds a little levity to our conversation and says that, if he had to go and stand in full dress in 110* at a funeral, those "other bastards" can do it for him, too.

When we were done with the conversation, we talked a little about current things and politics and finally said good-bye. When I had hung up the phone, I sat there for a little while and stared at the computer. I can't say that I had many thoughts. My mind was still busy compartmentalizing the information and putting it into perspective.

It wasn't until recently, having read Greyhawk's post at the Mudville Gazette, that I realized someday I might have to explain this war to his children and to my nephews (our youngest brother's boys) who adore their uncle. What will you tell them? How do you explain what was so important that daddy didn't come back? I think if that time ever comes, I will remember Greyhawk's post and try to explain to them about "dragons".

As I wrote earlier, my brother was not deployed. He is now on the list of rotations along with the main body of his unit, but he won't say when that is. I won't look it up either. I intend to wait because I do not want to spend this whole time agitating about it. He hasn't told the rest of the family either and I understand his reasons.

It is a very strange thing, these ups and downs. You prepare yourself for the deployment. Depress yourself with the "what ifs". Relief that it is not right now. And know that you will repeat the cycle when the time comes.

I said "relief" right? I've said many times that I support this war. I am very proud of my brother and support him 100%. Yet I feel this guilty relief that he has not gone. It's guilt because I know that there are men and women there now, who have families, who are sacrificing, not only some time out of their lives, but serving, being wounded and sometimes dying. And my brother said that he is nothing special.

But he is. He is my brother.

Today, I read something disturbing and it's what made me think of this post, even though I was deep in review of the President's proposed permanent tax cuts that I have been promising to write about.

What I read tells me that we are a long way from VE (victory in Europe) and VJ (victory in Japan) day and not so far away from Viet Nam. It's that bump in the road between those long ago wars that we think as honorable when we threw the returning boys ticker tape parades and honor them in history as victors over evil and defenders of our freedom and this war which many cannot understand or do not know if they believe it is honorable or not.

During the Viet Nam war, particularly at the end, the anti-war peace movement had taken on a new, virulent attitude. It was no longer about peace, but militant anti-war in a bizarre paradox where the protestors now became the agressors. They spit on the soldiers. Called them "babykillers" and "murderers". Soldiers were afraid to wear their uniforms in public. Some had human feces thrown on them. These are painful memories of that war and what was endured by soldiers who had already sacrificed so much at the behest of their country. Serving as they swore the oath to defend the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.

This is what they came home to. Since then, the country has made a concerted effort to never experience that again. At least most of us. The shame of it is that we have to make a "concerted effort" at all. There are many things about Viet Nam that can be debated about it's efficacy, it's reasons, it's results. But if there is one thing that seems to echo from there that I count as a serious blemish on our psyche, it is the actions of some of the anti-war protestors against the men who did their duty and the bizarre mythical belief that acting like those protestors is some how "righteous".

The mysticism and myth of the "bloodless revolution" that has been passed down to our current generation, that some how feels jealous of having missed that time and are attempting to repeat it today.

I haven't posted most of these incidents here because I hoped, I thought, that these were just isolated incidents and should not let it effect our discourse with those who don't agree with this war. But Friday, when I read this note on a debate in Milwaukee, I decided not to hold it in anymore. It made me angry.

I had read previously about a wounded soldier who was an amputee, marching in his home town fourth of July parade in Washington state, carrying a "vets4Bush" sign. I posted about this in my July archives under the heading "Excuse Me?". The soldier was called a baby killer and a few other things besides from the crowd on the sidewalk. In my post on the subject, I had an argument with a person that insisted the crowd was responding to his "vets4bush" sign and that it was not directed at the soldier himself. After pointing out that the sign was inanimate and the insults were obviously meant for the soldier, they switched tactics and told me that the soldier had made himself a target with his sign. Which is why that particular post is titled "Excuse Me?"

More recently, in September, a young man on medical leave from Iraq was home in Ohio and went to a Toby Keith concert. He of the famous "Angry American" and "American Soldier" songs. The soldier was wearing an "Iraqi Freedom" T-shirt. As he departed the concert, he was attacked from the back, hit in the back of the head, knocked to the ground and beaten unconscious, while his attacker hurled insults at the army and the soldier. Nobody in the crowd came to the soldier's aid except his sister. The attacker ran off without impediment.

So, when I read this last article, I began to understand that we had not insulated ourselves against such behavior and it has made me quite angry. Not indignant. Angry, because these men are my brother:

Charlie:

I would like to relay to you a disturbing and unsettling incident which happened tonight at the Alverno College debate between Gwen Moore and Jerry Boyle.

Boyle has attended every debate and forum he has been invited to, even ones where it has not been the friendliest of audiences receptive to his Republican message.

Last night's debate at Alverno College was one attended by mostly people which will not vote for him in next month's election, but was a well run and fair debate none the less.

The questions were pointed and thoughtful and the answers were equally to the point. The topics ranged from foreign policy to the economy. The stark contrast between Moore and Boyle was pretty clear to those in the audience. Boyle was to the point and made it evident that although his was not the most popular opinion in the room, this is what he believed in.

Many people approached him following the debate to discuss the topics and their views and several said although they did not agree with his stance, commended him on making great arguments and being forthright in his presentation.

One man, unfortunately took the opportunity to ruin the evening.

As Boyle was walking from the stage to the reception, a graduate student from UWM spit on Boyle as he passed by.

Boyle, restraining himself, went to the restroom to clean up let this incident go.

I, however, did not.

After seeing Jerry wipe the spit from his jacket, I asked him what was going on and asked the young man why he spit on him.

Although it was witnessed by several people (at least five) he denied it and approached me looking for a confrontation. He walked up to me and got right in my face.

I asked him why he spit on Jerry and he said he didn't but should have because Jerry didn't answer his question to his satisfaction.

He called me an imperialistic pig and said that I was a puppet for an imperialistic regime. I asked him if that was a new term he had just learned in school and that I was very proud of him for using it in a complete sentence.

To make a long story short, after a little more verbal back and forth, he was ushered away by his teacher and escorted from the building.

My point is this. Are we now at a time when, even at a debate with dissenting views have the right to spit on each other?

Will he go home and brag to his friends that he spit on an Iraqi War veteran?

Is that the culture we live in now? This is not Kerry vs. Bush, its a small debate at Alverno College on the south side of Milwaukee.

He liked that fact that Gwen Moore is against bunker busting bombs (which she repeated) but will spit in the face of someone who helped liberate a country of 25 million people from a homicidal madman and made the world a safer place in the process.

To their credit, the people at Alverno apologized, but the damage was done.

If there are any liberals listening to your show, please ask them to take a step back and think before they act like this. Political discourse is what our country was formed on, but actions like this are all too common and its time to rein it in.

This was indeed a sad day for Milwaukee and America as a whole.

Sincerely yours,

Matt Lambert


Mr. Lambert has it correct. It was a sad day for America. We have proven once again that we do not honor our soldiers. Do not believe in the right of America. Do not believe in the mission. And invariably, do not believe in the honor of the men who fight for us. People tear them down in an effort to tear down the mission. But it is no more justified than it was 30 some years ago.

People march in the streets with signs villifying America as the great evil in this world. They protest the war. They protest the government. They burn the flag. And though it grieves me, I will not say that they do not have the right of free speech, although they abuse that right in my eyes.

Surely, they do not have the right to spit on our soldiers. They are our brothers, our fathers, our sons, our mothers, sisters and daughters and they serve like the countless others before them, sacrificing family and sometimes themselves in standing by the oath they gave to defend us.

Today, I call on you to read about these few soldiers I have listed on this blog. Read who they are and what they stand for. By a majority, they believe in this mission. And the few that question it, still believe in doing their duty. In either situation, they are the few that stand before us in the winds of a hostile world. So I ask you to learn about them and spread the words that are so often used, but just as often ignored: Never Again.

Don't spit on our men and women. They might not be special to some, but they are my brother.

8 comments:

ALa said...

Kat -this was a really moving post...unfortunately for me I have major pms and was tearing through the entire thing. (LOL) My greatest hope is that these soldiers realize that (hopefully) most of us hold them in the highest regard...and TRULY believe that what they do directly affects our children and their future.
...I wish I could send every one of them something to convey this...

Some great quotes that I just posted over at Lefty's site seem appropriate here too:

"Experience proves that the man who obstructs a war in which his nation is engaged, no matter whether right or wrong, occupies no enviable place in life or history. Better for him, individually, to advocate ''war, pestilence, and famine,'' than to act as obstructionist to a war already begun. ... The most favorable posthumous history the stay-at-home traitor can hope for is—oblivion."

—Ulysses Simpson Grant

"Pacifism is objectively pro-Fascist. This is elementary common sense. If you hamper the war effort of one side you automatically help out that of the other. Nor is there any real way of remaining outside such a war as the present one. In practice, 'he that is not with me is against me.'"

—George Orwell


"I see America, not in the setting sun of a black night of despair ahead of us, I see America in the crimson light of a rising sun fresh from the burning, creative hand of God. I see great days ahead, great days possible to men and women of will and vision."

—Carl Sandburg

The G-man said...

Excellent quotes!

Tom said...

Kat - what a post. All that you've been through with your family; so very moving. I will simply pray for all of you.

I'll pray for all of the brave warriors in our armed forces, and will do everything I can to honor them.

As for the "anti-war" movement, I think David Horowitz has it right. He said that during Vietnam they (the leaders, at least) were really quite pro-war - they just wanted North Vietnam to win. He ought to know, having been one of those leaders.

So far our "anti-war" movement has not gone quite that far, yet. They just hate this country so much and it's military that they don't care what or who we're up against.

tim mccolgan said...

This is one of your best posts, Kat. You truly have a gift. Very thought provoking.
I gotta' ask....why is it that the bulk of violence (thinly veiled as "civil disobedience") is done by Kerrys' supporters? How many people got tossed in the pokey during the RNC protesting as upposed to the DNC? It's hard to respect or even listen to these jackasses when they pull crap like that. Our troops (past and present) deserve much more than that.
Hope all is well with you and your family. I can't wait to vote and get all this BS over with. Hopefully, it will be fair and clean, so neither side needs to get lawyered up and snivel excessively. I hope it's a landslide.....

tim mccolgan said...

This is one of your best posts, Kat. You truly have a gift. Very thought provoking.
I gotta' ask....why is it that the bulk of violence (thinly veiled as "civil disobedience") is done by Kerrys' supporters? How many people got tossed in the pokey during the RNC protesting as upposed to the DNC? It's hard to respect or even listen to these jackasses when they pull crap like that. Our troops (past and present) deserve much more than that.
Hope all is well with you and your family. I can't wait to vote and get all this BS over with. Hopefully, it will be fair and clean, so neither side needs to get lawyered up and snivel excessively. I hope it's a landslide.....

Kat said...

Thank you all for your kind comments. My family is fine. I try not to spend much time thinking about when he'll deploy. just every once in awhile these things remind me. It's funny, it's not the bombs or the wounded or dying that remind me of this fact. The things that remind me are stateside incidents. I was barely two when all the hooopla about viet nam was going on, yet I can see clearly that we have those same overtones today.

When I look at history, to me, it's something that should not be repeated. It is history and we are to learn lessons from it, not repeat it continuously because, to me, repeating the same mistakes means failure. Failure in our society for one.

I hope most have learned the lessons. It's very hard to conceive that too many have not. And the ones that I believe are committing the same mistakes against our soldiers as so long ago seemed to be people who are too young to have even experienced that time. So, to me, the problem is that the "revolution" of the 60's has been glorified beyond it's reality. Kind of like the Camelot that I wrote about. It's a fairy tale with a moral and some folks don't understand the moral of the story.

The revolution, like all revolutions had it's good points. Fighting for equal rights. Civil rights. Wanting peace and tolerance. But like all revolutions, the seedy underside is often ignored in the glorifying tales later told.

Like the revolution of France where the Bastille was stormed and men cried "Liberte, Fraternite, Equalite!" and then they rounded up any body that they thought were against them and cut their heads off. Burning, rape and pillage. Nobody likes to be reminded of the seedy underside of the revolution. But to me, it has it's place in history as a lesson, just as much as the grand ideas that triggered the revolt.

A reminder that revolutions have their victims, too.

The G-man said...

I've just re-read this post. You really do write very well. I too have seen family members leave for conflicts in far away places and I too left my family to go to a far away land to protect another nation's people. Now it is my daughter's turn and I am so very proud of her. I'm proud of why she decided to follow our family tradition. She didn't do it for the sake of keeping a family legacy alive. It wasn't for the GI bill benefits or any other trivial reason like that. When I asked why she'd made her descision, she answered, "Daddy it's my duty".

Kat said...

G-Man, your daughter is the real patriot. The one's that say "this is my job and I will stand for it." What more can you ask of the best of us? Honor and loyalty and patriotism are words that people want to relegate to the past. anachronisms that are past their time. It's why I keep talking about the new revolution. The one where we get reminded that these are not old values, we just don't talk about them, we don't put them into main stream society anymore. Everyone wants their morality to be nuanced.

I've been having discussions with some people who I completely understand their pacifist stance. They really do care about people being hurt or killed in a war that is not their making. But, as tried to explain, that thinking is important because it helps us remember that war is a terrible thing and is not entered into lightly. That being said, there is a time when looking into the gray areas of morality can paralyze you and simple black and white are the best motivators. Honor, loyalty and patriotism are not dead yet. We have the seeds to rebuild it and make it mean something again.

We will have to fight hard but I think we have a chance.