In All Honesty

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In the way of a blog, here’s my response to the prompt we used in Warrior Writers tonight.

The prompt:
Current news events have proved very re-stimulating for many in the military community. As a veteran, write a letter to someone who is deploying tonight to a war zone for the very first time.

My response:

I don’t know you. I don’t suppose I’ll ever even know your name. All I’ve been told is that you are deploying to the Middle East tonight and this is your first deployment. I went to Iraq in 2003. I remember what that was like. I’m invited to share anything with you I think might be helpful. I’ll do my best. Vietnam veterans tried to do the same for me.

I joined the Marine Corps when I was 34 years old. I joined for a short list of reasons that still hold true today.

  • To support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic.
  • To defend defenseless people.
  • To promote and preserve peace on earth.
  • Love of country.

 

In honesty now as a 54 year-old war veteran I can tell you there were other reasons that came into play, personal and emotional reasons. I can be honest about that now, mostly, about the homophobia piece. Probably some of my joining up had something to do with be accepted by my society and my country when I had not always felt accepted. Partially, maybe I was just trying to hit the old reset button on life and get a fresh start. Who knows? None of that’s really important right now in the context of this letter. You’ve got a job to do. Me too. I have to impart any wisdom or experience that might help you and time is running out.

You are deploying to war zone with some of the best people you will ever meet. There’s also a fair chance you are deploying with some of the worst people you’ll ever meet. Presumably any of them would give their life to save yours. You, I realize, are now willing to die for them. If you are the one to be saved at the expense of another, make your life worth dying for—now and when you come home to us safe.
Remember who you are. At all times remember that even though the unexpected ethereal cupcakes may appear in war they very likely may not stay. Learn to use whatever hot sauce or ketchup life might provide to make MREs palatable.  War is hell. There’s a reason they call it being “in the suck.”  Expect it to suck and you won’t be disappointed.
For the sake of your life and those with whom you serve, always remember that every second you are in the eyes of the Iraqis (or wherever the fuck you’re headed) it is essential that you remember the importance of how they perceive you and no matter what Call of Duty may have taught you about war, your real intentions could save or end the life of your best friend. Remember that although our government has seen fit to send you there, this is still their country and they are watching you.
Keep your finger straight and off the trigger until you are ready to fire. Never point your weapon at anything you don’t intend to shoot. Don’t be a dick. Keep your weapon and your toothbrush clean and daily find someone in your unit who needs some extra support and give it. Your turn will come around often enough when it’s you who needs a little extra. There’s no shame in it. There’s only shame in considering yourself to be always strong and never in need of help. That shit gets motherfuckers killed.
When somebody dies, when time presents itself, grieve them. If you don’t, you’ll be telling your heart you’re losing your humanity and eventually your heart might believe you’re telling the truth. Be compassionate when you need to be and be cold, heartless, and calculating if the situation warrants it and trust me, there will be times when the situation warrants.

You may often come to believe that those around you have forgotten what We stand for, as Marines (or soldiers or whatever-the-fuck you are) or as a nation, the important part is that you never forget what you stand for.
Some of hardest moments of war came for me after I came home, likely that might be the case for you.  “Moral Injury “seems to be the most enduring among the lot.
Many who survive the war deployed don’t survive the war at home. When a warrior takes their life after returning from war it sends immeasurably painful shock waves through the veterans’ community. Please don’t do that. I’ve wanted to kill myself more days than not since I came from Iraq and so far that’s 6,063 days.  We must do after we leave the service what we hopefully did when we were in, we must look after each other.
When you get out, find a group of veterans to gather with regularly. If you can’t find one, find me.  “The cave” can be seductive. Resist it with everything you have.  Sit together and write quietly for a couple hours, at least once a month. Share what you’ve written with each other if you can. The most miraculous things can happen.

 

 

 


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