That was all he said coming into the pit. And the look on his face and the sound of his voice was all I needed to know what happened.
Three more gone.
It hits you. It kicks you in the teeth. The reality of those words. Of what they will mean to a family tonight. And even though I don’t know them, I feel the loss. And as the rest of the soldiers on this camp go about their day, shielded by ignorance of what just happened, as the rest of the camp plans for the Memorial Day picnic tomorrow and talk about what their families are doing at home, I’m stuck in the reality of the war: That young men die as people plan picnics.
The atmosphere in the pit is different because of the news: serious, quiet. They are all trying to get the reporting right. “It will be good to put the distances and time of attack on that slide, let’s get that timeline right… the General will want to know that information there, ” I overhear the battle captain say.
But what does it matter at this point?
I have to walk away... away from the pit, a work place saturated with white noise that constantly updates the war. That war, for us, takes place on 42-inch plasma TVs that silently update the KIAs via PowerPoint.
In a hallway, off of the command group area and a few steps away from the pit, is a wall. On that wall are names. A lot of names. It’s our memorial wall. And if you walk by it, at night, sometime around 11pm when most of the folks around here have gone “home” to their twin-size bunk-beds and four-foot lockers, it’s quiet. And you can listen to the stories of young men that died before their time.
I would stand there some nights, when I got tired of reading and hearing about Afghanistan, and let the hum of the air-conditioning fill the air as I read the names of the young staff sergeants, old master sergeants, and young captains whose lives ended before their time.
I know the last few names. I recognize them. They are the ones added recently. I’ve been to their memorial services, and I’ve seen their photos. It’s difficult to explain the connection to those men. The connection made when you have had the opportunity to meet their team. Their friends. Their brothers.
Even the people in the pit don’t really get it. After hearing the news, laughter slowly makes its way back into conversation and in an hour its ‘normal’ again. You have to move on I guess. You can’t let it consume you. You can’t let it marinate too long or it will eat at you and you will start to let fear and sorrow consume you.
You can’t let that happen here.
You have to stay sharp. So you joke, and talk about things like sports, or the Cubs, or how you want to purchase that new Tahoe truck when you get back to the states, you talk about anything but the reality of the war we live in.
A reality where suicide vests are the latest and greatest, and where young girls get married off at 13 to the highest bidder. Where the things you see everyday make no sense to you, and you get frustrated trying to understand it. It’s easy to make blanket statements like “these people are all crazy.” It makes the reality easier to deal with.
And as all these things happen around me, I selfishly think of myself. I hope I make it out, I hope my parents don’t worry, I hope nothing happens to me when I go out tomorrow… and I immediately feel guilty.
Shame on me I guess.
And even after attending the memorial service, after watching grown men who are not afraid of a damn thing, sob like children who have lost their parents, I still don’t understand it.
I watched as a staff sergeant clings to his buddy, weeping at the sound of his friend’s name: Marty. And every time it’s said you see the tears swell up on this Special Forces guys and realize they are human.
They hurt, they feel pain, they cry, and they don’t understand it either.
Even watching our general make his way over to the team, there is nothing he can do or say to them that will make it better. Just his being there comforts them, and it comforts me.
It helps me to realize that even though I don’t understand this war, or understand why these men have to die, I know he cares for us and will do anything he can to finish the mission, and protect his guys.
I guess it helps to know that someone cares.