13 May 2013
The Soldier reaches down with two hands and pulls the 50-plus pound
protective plate carrier over his head and rests it uncomfortably on his
shoulders. He fastens the quick-clips on both sides, raises his arms,
and has a fellow Soldier tighten them down. The tighter across the
abdomen the less weight on his shoulders, it distributes the weight
evenly across his body. Next comes the knee pads, each put on and
cinched down so they stay in place. Looking down he ensures each
magazine of bullets is still set, curved the correct way to facilitate
the quick reloading of his rifle, a battle drill he has trained on for
He fastens the wolf clip to his shoulder. His weapon is now a part of
him. The smell of cleaning oil from his M4 rifle fills his nostrils as
he places his right thumb on the safety lever to ensure it is on safe
and slaps the bottom of his magazine to ensure it is properly set inside
the magazine well. With two fingers on the charging handle, he pulls it
back until it stops, and then releases it sending a bullet into the chamber.
A rush of adrenaline fills his body as he tightens down the chinstrap on
his Kevlar helmet.
He is ready.
He is ready to kill the enemy.
He is ready to put his life on the line.
He is ready to die for his country.
He won’t though…
His Soldiers will kill the enemy first.
My wife and friends have often asked me to describe the brotherhood and bond that is built with fellow Soldiers during combat. It’s hard to describe, to come up with words that detail the closeness that is built is almost impossible. Chatting with my wife last night about this topic, she admitted that she was somewhat jealous of my relationship with my Soldiers during my last deployment, and looking back now I can see why. They were my life. I spent every waking second with them.
In the civilian world, we have friends and family. We call, sometimes visit, and generally keep in touch with each other. Our daily lives go on with the main purpose of doing what is needed to keep ourselves and our immediate family members happy. We make decisions that affect our families and our immediate lives. Bills don’t get paid; we receive a letter in the mail. We forget to pick up milk at the store; no cereal for breakfast. Don’t wash the dishes; they stay dirty. Don’t do something your wife/husband asks you to do; they get mad.
In combat we have brothers. We eat, sleep, work, fight, sweat, bleed, kill, and mourn together. We make decisions that affect each other. Our daily lives go on with the main purpose of doing what is needed to kill the enemy and keep ourselves and fellow Soldiers alive. I’m not in a support by fire position in time; my brothers die. Forget to order chow; Soldiers go hungry and have less energy for mission, putting lives at risk. Don’t clean our weapons or ensure our buddies clean their weapons; weapons malfunction and brothers die. Don’t follow an order from a superior; you could be in the wrong spot at the wrong time and Soldiers die. In combat, your life is in your brother’s hand. You must trust him with your life. This one factor, trust, is the largest difference between civilian and military friendships.
When your life is in someone else’s hand, or multiple hands, you develop a bond amongst each other that is for life. So strong is the bond with my last platoon (90% of them anyway) that any of them could show up at my home, at any time, and I would have a room for them to stay. No questions asked. Katrin may get a little annoyed, but it is because of the actions of those Soldiers that allowed me to come home from that deployment alive. I could only say this about two of my civilian friends, Mike and Jason.
The things we did together, countless hours of sitting in a truck, talking about everything. Nothing was taboo. Combat, unlike what is depicted in the movies, is 99% pure boredom with 1% balls-out-pure-craziness. When you are with a group of people for 15 months, you really get to know each other. Conversation games such as “What would you do?” were common. If you are not familiar with the game it goes something like this: A certain celebrity would be named and each person in the truck would describe, in detail, what they would do, or allow the celebrity to do to them, in order to spend the night with them. Conversations about wives, girlfriends, mothers, family, growing up, you name it; it was discussed with each other.
I can only think of one time where I was a little uncomfortable with the “closeness”. As I have written before, we liked to listen to music on the truck. Well, my driver had a device that he brought on the truck to play music. As we were cruising down the road I went to change the song and noticed a picture of his wife as the screen saver. There she was, wearing nothing but tiny lace underwear and tiny matching bra, showing of her new “assets” that were recently purchased. My driver acted as if nothing was wrong. I couldn’t change the music anymore. The line had been crossed. She is the sweetest girl, but every time I see or hear her name mentioned, my mind flashes back to that moment in the truck.
This bond or brotherhood also has its downfall. The things we endured together, troubles, pain, heartache, need to be discussed and talked about. After we move on to other jobs, get out of the Army, or move away from those brothers that we have been so close to, we lose the ability to talk about things that only our brothers in arms understand. I know for a fact that some of my former Soldiers are having a hard time coming to grips with some of the things we went through. It’s tough talking to civilians about it as they don’t understand the situations we went through or conversations we had during the deployment.
And I’m sure everyone would love to know a “What would you do?” conversation. But like I said in the very beginning of this blog, I want to keep it PG-13. But here is a taste: Scarlett Johansson (the celebrity), a thermos, 100 meters of broken glass, and a phone. I will let you all fill in the blanks.