"I'm sorry I must leave, but I must do what is asked of me by my God, my Country, and my Corps.. and so, the war blog begins, again." ~B

31 July 2010

Fading Echoes by Mike Sielski

I just finished Mike Sielski's excellent book Fading Echoes: A True Story of Rivalry and Brotherhood From the Football Field to the Fields of Honor.

When I picked it up I wasn't sure if it was a football book or a military book. Turns out it is a little bit of both.

Mike tells the stories of two boys who grow up on the football fields of suburban Pennsylvania, with all its tradition, rivalry, and community. He tells about Colby and Bryan, two boys are a passingly familiar with each other, who play for rival high schools, and play football at a high level. We meet their families, their friends, teachers, and coaches. We ride the ups and downs of their senior seasons and beyond.

Both boys have drive, determination, and leadership abilities that set them apart. We follow them as they grow into young men, struggling to find their paths in life and in football. They play football in college with varying degrees of success until they find the curtain closing on their football lives. Bryan and Colby must find their way as men in their post football careers.

For both Bryan and Colby, the path led to service in the post-9/11 military. Brian became an Lt in the Marine Corps. Colby became an Army officer and an Airborne Ranger.

As family and friends adjust to the mixture of pride and fear having a loved one in uniform brings, fate drops both men in the sands of Iraq.

Bryan Buckley made it back to Doylestown, PA.

As a community comes together to mourn and remember Colby in the fields, bars, and classrooms that helped build both young men, we are reminded that each man and woman in the service is more than their uniform.

Everyone has a story and the uniform is only a part.

1Lt Colby Umbrell has a story and the stone in Arlington National Cemetery is only one part of it.

Mike Sielski helps tell us the rest.

In a way, this idea is why I blog. Bestie, Bestie in Law, and I all have stories as well. Someone has to tell them. Someone has to tell the stories. Good on Mike Sielski for telling this one.

27 July 2010

Road Trip Lessons

I am recently back from a cross country road trip with friends, which was a fantastic and badly needed vacation.

One of the goals of the road trip was to get away from everything I do and deal with on a day to day basis. No cell, no email, no news.

I also took a break from all things war-related, as much as that is possible with Bestie still over there.

What I learned is that the war, the wars, are in inescapable.

A lot is made about how much this war is different from others, how detached the general population is, how the American public isn't at war, the military is. That is true to an extent. What I found on my road trip is that while America generally may be able to ignore the war, it has slowly become a part of the fabric of a thousand small communities.

It is in new, shiny signs that declare a patch of interstate or highway a memorial to a LCpl, a Pfc, a Sgt in Illinios, Missouri, and Kansas. It is in the newly unveiled GWOT memorials that have sprung up in front of VFW posts and downtown next to WWII and Vietnam memorials.

It is in the somber passage of family and friends headed to a funeral in a city in Colorado on the day I passed through. A Marine was laid to rest and I couldn't help but think of Bestie. May you rest in peace, Cpl. Harris.

In a few months, a few years, maybe there will be a stretch of highway bearing his name.

Maybe there will be a banner with his picture on it in a town just off the interstate, his name added to the list on the plaque honoring his state's lost in the rest stops.

These wars are a part of us now.

21 July 2010

Just Another Day

Bestie is now 65 days away from his mid tour R &R. He and Bestie in Law will be going on a getaway, which excites them both to no end. I know that they will both be so happy to have the time together.

This is the lighthearted stuff. If you look close, if you are let in, you can also get a glimpse into the darker side of this struggle.

I hit a breaking point this month that Bestie was able to talk me through, for once. I'm not particularly proud of it, but it is what it is, for both of us.

I had a series of run-ins with people who I call "mall people," referring to the quote "The Marines are at war, America is at the mall." These mall people have to tell me their opinions on the war, on strategy, on how those boys should just come home because why are they over there anyway. If you continue after my hostile response of "gee, I don't know, maybe cause a bunch of ideologues in Afghanistan attacked our country (again) blew up a couple of our buildings (again), killed (again) a few thousand people, and decimated the FDNY," well, you deserve whatever happens after that. I cannot escape the war, I see it in everything. The mall people only see it if it inconveniences them in some way, if they trip over it, and even then, only see the tip of the iceberg, if they see it at all.

I had a run in with a couple of groups on the 4th of July who wanted me to do tributes to the troops, but "you know, keep it light. Don't focus on death or fighting, or any of that stuff, it is too depressing. We don't want to see that, it's a downer." My usually contained temper exploded at that point. I saw stars. My ears turned red. I got tunnel vision. My heartbeat pounded in my ears. A friend later told me she had never seen that look on my face before and she sincerely thought I was going to punch someone. I wanted to. I didn't. I just walked away. But some cosmic shift in the universe must have taken place because Bestie's spidey-sense was tingling. I get an email that night asking if everything was ok.

No. No it was not ok. It hasn't been ok since G took a round to the head, since J left his left leg and half his blood volume in the desert, since L hung upside down and bleeding next to her dead Sgt for an hour after an IED while they tried to extricate her from the vehicle, since C killed the man shooting at him, since J went down in the helo crash, since S's 12 year olds with RPG launchers, since J had a mortar land on his chest, since BD held the hands of a hundred dying soldiers, since M spent 18 months driving up and down the roads of the the Sunni Triangle, since Bestie was ambushed and tried to keep the blood of a fellow Marine from seeping through his hands, since an AK round collapsed W forehead, since a thousand Phils, Rays, Michaels, Chris', Ambers, Kellys, Shellys, Jacobs, Mikes, Glenns, Donalds, Dereks, Stevens, Brians, Kathys, Maggies, and their stories.

I can't put it away. I can't go to the mall. My heart, my soul, is with the Marines, with the Army, at war.

I keep all of this inside me somewhere. I push it to the back and it sits there most of the time time. But it is a darkness that seeps into your very soul. It is fear and anger and anxiety and helplessness. It is there and it is something that you have to deal with eventually, even if you don't know how to begin. It eats away little pieces of something unknown. Most days it is a non-factor but once in a blue moon, you find only your nose above water and it is all you can do to breathe.

That is when my Bestie throws the life ring.

It is what we do for each other.

He also knows the darkness intimately, for he too, has feared drowning in it.

I can share with him and he will give me neither the blank stare nor the horrified look of the sheltered.

He goes where others fear to tread or are simply not welcome.

My best friend returned the favor this month, for the many times I have thrown the ring to him.

He jumps into the darkness with me and says,
'I have been there and we will get out together.'

He empathizes:

"this is, believe it or not, still a war. sure, it's different from any other war ever fought by our military, but it is a war nonetheless. bad things happen to good people, and not bad enough things happen to the bad people. if you want to talk about being cynical, i sit here some days and...
i laugh at these little people on the screen... but still, that i laugh at watching people die, other human beings... it's just something i never thought i would do."

He consoles:
i'm here with you on the boat across the river to senility and cynicism. maybe you just need a break? and it's alright if you do. you don't always have to push yourself 120% for this all. you have earned your right to take time to yourself when you need it, or take time away from thoughts of these places and these people. no one can blame you, and no one who truly knows you like i do, or who truly respects and loves you the way i do, could ever think anything less of you. you're a heroic individual, and you're worth more to the world than any of these people who don't understand you, kid. Keep breathing."

We turn off the chat, get off the computers.

He begins another day in Afghanistan, one closer to being home.

I head to bed and say my prayers of safety and thanks, hoping my sleep is dreamless.

Maybe I need a break.

Maybe he does.

Just another day at war, at home, and abroad.

18 July 2010

DH Lawrence

On vacation and catching up on my reading. Read a DH Lawrence piece that was recommended to me and this quote stood out:

"DH Lawrence: "The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer...it has never yet melted."

Too bad I found that after the 4th of July festivities.

02 July 2010

Independence Day

It is easy to forget what it took to get a holiday on the 4th of July. It is remarkable when you think about it. A group of people came together and did more than talk about how they wished the world to be. They took their beliefs about limited, representative government, about faith, tolerance, humanity and unity, and actually made that world happen.

Think about how much courage it took to sign that Declaration of Independence. By signing their names on that document, they became wanted men. The King wouldn't have minded at all if each one of them was killed for their rebellion. It is breath-taking. Yet these men and women of the not yet free United States of America stood together. They fought a battles they probably shouldn't have won. Yet, they did.

The Founders saw their vision to fruition. They achieved their freedom and generations of Americans have fought to keep it through numerous challenges.

As I prepare to enjoy my family and a long weekend, I remember the men and women who helped make this nation happen. I also remember the men and women who have taken the torch and defend our nation today. We will save a plate and a lawn chair at the fireworks for our friends who are in harm's way and can't be here to celebrate with us. Miss you. You are in my prayers.