24 September 2009
A worthy warrior I be;
Although no uniform I've worn,
By wounds of labour I am torn;
Leave them their ribbands and their stars
...Behold! I proudly prize my scars.
~Robert Service, "Decorations"
When you start a journey, you do not know where it will lead. You cannot foresee how it will change you or how you will grow from it. You simply put one foot in front of the other and go.
I have come to the realization that I am unique in a lot of ways. How many people can say they have stood with warriors through five years of war. But I am not so different, in a lot of ways, from Vera Brittain or the Red Cross Girls of Vietnam. They are my sisters in history.
I have had countless amazing and positive experiences. I believe passionately in providing support for our armed forces and continue to actively do so in many ways. I have a strong conviction that this is an absolutely necessary thing. I made a promise to a soldier. I will keep it. And so my work continues.
But nothing worthwhile is easy, without cost. It has taken me awhile to grasp this concept as well. Working with warriors- immersing yourself in the experiences, history, language, mindset, emotions-of war, is hard. I have been emotionally spent.
I have felt emotions that I didn't understand. How can you hear 200+ war stories without taking them into your soul. How can you remain unaffected by the tears, the loss, the death, the pain, the struggle, the intimacy, the insanity, the joy of it all. It took a long time for me to understand that it is ok for me to feel these things. I don't have to feel guilty, because this is my war too. These are my experiences. This is what it is like for me. And sometimes, I have bad days. I haven't physically been on the battlefield, but that doesn't take away the truth of my experience. The truth is, I have been emotionally deployed for awhile. It is ok to admit that these things are hard. It is ok to admit it hurts. It is ok to feel. It is ok to acknowledge that I have scars of my own. I do not have to be ashamed of them. They are not weakness. I can be proud of them. I can be proud of what I have done, too.
This is a work in progress. I am coming to grips with my own role in this war as I help others come to grips with theirs. I am only now able to talk in any depth about it comfortably. I owe many people a debt of gratitude for their role in that- in helping me understand that I need to heal as well- and then helping me do so. To those people, thank you. You know who you are.
I have spoken more about my experiences working with warriors this week then I ever have before. For the first time, I feel like I have little pink scars to show, instead of jagged, open emotional wounds. And I am proud of them.
It has been worth it. I have helped warriors. That makes it all worth it.
For that reason, I'll get up tomorrow and start again.
21 September 2009
Benteen is prompted to reflect on his life, especially the days leading up to the battle, after he receives a letter from a young man.
What I found moving about The Lost Thoughts of Soldiers is how human the characters are. As Benteen eulogizes his men, his friends, the reader is allowed a glimpse into the inner circle. Circumstances, technology, even tactics change over time, but men at war do not.
Benteen has to deal with the reality that he lived while so many of his friends did not. He thinks, " It is a myth that we prove ourselves in war; we test ourselves in silence."
How many men and women must test themselves today, in the silence?
Benteen writes to the young man:
"If you truly wish to understand the battle and my place in it, you must understand the dreams and jokes and stories that we bore within us. You must see how, as we shared them, they formed a kind of landscape."
How true. And what landscapes are being formed in the mountain and desert battlefields of today?
17 September 2009
Thank you SFC. Jared Monti. You will not be forgotten.
Sgt. 1st Class Jared C. Monti - Medal of Honor Operation Enduring Freedom
Staff Sergeant Jared C. Monti
United States Army
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty:
Staff Sergeant Jared C. Monti distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty while serving as a team leader with Headquarters and Headquarters troop, 3rd Squadron, 71st Calvary Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, in connection with combat operations against an enemy in Nuristan Province, Afghanistan, on June 21st, 2006.
While Staff Sergeant Monti was leading a mission aimed at gathering intelligence and directing fire against the enemy, his 16-man patrol was attacked by as many as 50 enemy fighters. On the verge of being overrun, Staff Sergeant Monti quickly directed his men to set up a defensive position behind a rock formation. He then called for indirect fire support, accurately targeting the rounds upon the enemy who had closed to within 50 meters of his position. While still directing fire, Staff Sergeant Monti personally engaged the enemy with his rifle and a grenade, successfully disrupting an attempt to flank his patrol. Staff Sergeant Monti then realized that one on his soldier was lying wounding in the open ground between the advancing enemy and the patrol's position.
With complete disregard for his own safety, Staff Sergeant Monti twice attempted to move from behind the cover of the rocks into the face of relentless enemy fire to rescue his fallen comrade. Determined not to leave his soldier, Staff Sergeant Monti made a third attempt to cross open terrain through intense enemy fire. On this final attempt, he was mortally wounded, sacrificing his own life in an effort to save his fellow soldier.
Staff Sergeant Monti's selfless acts of heroism inspired his patrol to fight off the larger enemy force. Staff Sergeant Monti's immeasurable courage and uncommon valor are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 3rd Squadron, 71st Calvary Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, and the United States Army.
The Army put together a video of Jared's life. See it here.
11 September 2009
I also pause to remember the heroism of the 343 New York City firefighters, 23 New York City Police Department officers, and 37 Port Authority police officers who lost their lives that day. I remember those who lived, and continue to serve.
I will never forget September 11, 2001.
I was at school and was taking a test. The teachers made us finish, but after we were done they had the coverage playing on the tvs in the classrooms all day. When the Pentagon was hit, there was a boy in the room who started yelling that his uncle was in the building. He sat down, kind of stunned, and said, "We're at war. This is war. And we are going to be the ones who fight it." There was discussion about a draft, would they have to go from high school to the war?
I sat in the chemistry room as the towers fell, the teacher sobbing at her desk. It was the worst feeling, like the world no longer made sense. The adults could offer no comfort as they struggled to comprehend the day themselves.
In my memory, the day is a blur of tv coverage, snippets of conversations, and emotions- fear, sorrow, confusion. My grandfather picked me up from school that day and said we were going to his house, he wasn't dropping me off to be alone in mine. I resisted this. I wanted to go home. I remember feeling that if only I could get home, everything would be normal again, like it was when I left it. But he was adamant that I not be alone. So I went to the grandparent's house and we sat in front of the tv, watching the latest news together until my parent's got off work. My grandparent's couldn't fathom who would have such hatred in their hearts to do such a thing either. But they were clear that the nation was going to war.
Seeing the time 9:11 on a clock still gives me pause.
I had a history teacher, who on the one year anniversary, said he'd like to fast forward 10 years and see how this changed our (the students) lives.
It changed the way I look at the world. It led to an interest in politics and world affairs that I took to college. It put many of my friends on the path to military service. Many of them are in Iraq and Afghanistan today. Many more are veterans of one or both wars. I joined Soldiers Angels in Feb. of 2004 because if felt like a way to do something- to make a difference- and to help those doing the fighting.
One of the students in the school the day that teacher was pondering our future is no longer with us. He was killed fighting a war; the path was set in motion on 9/11.
We must NEVER FORGET.
God Bless the families of the fallen, those who live with injuries suffered that day, and those who struggle with the memory of the horrors they witnessed.
9/11/01- Eight years on.
08 September 2009
But if the life will not be easy, it will be rich and satisfying. For every young American who participates in the Peace Corps—who works in a foreign land—will know that he or she is sharing in the great common task of bringing to man that decent way of life which is the foundation of freedom and a condition of peace." John F. Kennedy
I had a fantastic Labor Day weekend. Part of what made it great was that I was able to spend it with my family. I have a very large, very extended family which happens to be pretty close. We spent one day at the VFW, having a going away lunch for my cousin and his wife.
The thing that made this one unique is that they were joining the Peace Corps rather than the military. Usually if there is a Corps involved in my family, it is the Marine Corps. But we are proud of our Peace Corps volunteers, just as we are proud of our Marines.
Both organizations have noble missions and the cousins will be doing important work where they are going. They have chosen to step outside their comfort zones and give of themselves in a struggling part of the world. I am thankful for the advances in technology that allow us to keep in touch. I wish them all the best and pray that God keeps them safe. Good luck guys, have fun!
"Some people spend an entire lifetime wondering if they made a difference. The Marines don't have that problem." ~Ronald Reagan
07 September 2009
This is one I think is particularly moving:
If a body is what you want,
then here is bone and gristle and flesh.
Here is the clavicle-snapped wish,
the aorta’s opened valves, the leap
thought makes at the synaptic gap.
Here is the adrenaline rush you crave,
that inexorable flight, that insane puncture
into heat and blood. And I dare you to finish
what you’ve started. Because here, Bullet,
here is where I complete the word you bring
hissing through the air, here is where I moan
the barrel’s cold esophagus, triggering
my tongue’s explosives for the rifling I have
inside of me, each twist of the round
spun deeper, because here, Bullet,
here is where the world ends, every time.