Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Ghosts from the Past

There are ghosts from the past that haunt us all. They do not always show themselves, but they are lurking below the surface, ready to strike at any moment. Some are not dangerous, while others will wear you down until you cannot recognize yourself. The former watch and protect. The latter will haunt your every waking hour, and unless you numb yourself to the point of not being able to remember anything (e.g. alcoholism, drug addiction), they will haunt you in your sleep as well.

From their plaques on the honor wall, with well-earned stares, these ghosts will intimidate the incoming leaders. These phantom guardians were our brothers. Brothers whose lives were cut short on a distant battlefield somewhere fighting for what they believed to be America, and the government believed to be an agenda. I felt these ghostly glares as I walked the halls and grounds of the units I served in- Rakkasans, Geronimo's, Panthers, and Snipers; I could feel them assess me as I walked the empty halls late at night on staff duty and CQ shifts. I could feel their gaze as I passed their pictures on the wall. In the dead of the morning when I would be first to the office before PT, the air seemed thick with their presence. It was as if the dead had been gathering in once familiar areas, joking and laughing with other fallen comrades, knowing the secrets of eternity and watching us mortals struggle.

I can only hope that I proved to them my worth while I served in their respective units. Was I good enough? Not always, but I feel I passed their test because I tried as hard as I could. The concern I felt for the men, unit, and mission was as genuine as could be, emanating from the very deepest recesses of my being. The ghosts remind me daily, hourly, and sometimes by the minute, of a time when I was young, na├»ve, and strangely excited for the adventure that lay before me.  

There was always a nervous excitement that rose to fever pitch as deployment day crept closer; we could feel it in the air. We could feel it as the packing lists were laid out and perfected. For the cherries, or first-timers, it could not come quick enough. In 2003, I was an NCO and I could not wait to leave the states. I figured the deployment would prove something to me. Maybe I viewed it as a rite-of-passage into manhood, as so many do.

To be honest, I wanted to see what it would be like to kill another man. Bear in mind, I do not view myself as a monster, though some may for saying that. Hollywood told me that it was really hard to do. What I would find out, and I think what disturbed me most, was how easy it was for me to take a life. What was most difficult was deciding who not to kill. After all, in a split second you have to determine who is the enemy waiting to take your life and who is the not-so-innocent bystander. Sometimes I wonder if it was my training or the ghosts that pushed me to pull the trigger. Funny thing is, I distinctly remember one thought, or fear, that I had, which was: I had better get over to join the fight as soon as possible before there was no fight left. Little did I know that the war would be going on fourteen years later, and I would spend another twenty-seven months, on top of that first eight, fighting...for what again?

The truth is, with the exception of the invasion of Iraq and some major battles (i.e. Fallujah), there is little killing between ground forces. A large amount of infantryman will never have to kill anyone. This is nothing to be ashamed of, of course. They will never tell you this, nor should they have to (only a dumb fuck civilian would care about this nonsense). This isn’t due to a lack of trying, nor is it due to cowardice. United States infantryman are willing to kill (it is their job), and there was a fair amount that killed much too often. It also wasn’t due to a lack of a fight; sporadic firefights of varying intensity broke out daily in much of Iraq and Afghanistan. There were times you could not leave the Forward Operating Base, or Combat Outpost, without a significant firefight within 500 meters. Over the course of the war, the enemy became better aware of when, and when not, to fight. They learned that it was safer to attack when a unit’s air support had checked off. They knew to only attack from well concealed positions with obstacles like a river or large open danger area to hinder maneuver elements. For those that know, they became experts when considering OCOKA (observations and fields of fire, cover and concealment, obstacle, key terrain, avenues of approach) to hit units with a far ambush. That should come as no surprise, as they were fighting in their own backyards.

The larger numbers of killing are done from the air. Sometimes Haj makes a mistake and attacks when we still have air. Other times we might pull a fast one on them by having air push off a few kilometers, putting them on stand by. Still other times Haj will gather in an open area because they think no one can see them. The end result is always the same. Infantry push forward and occupy, finish off the dying with controlled eights, (you know what I mean, the lead fire team funnels in “just a bit”.) and collect the dead in piles to be identified later. You’ll get so fucking sick of being around so many dead bodies. 

Later in life you will grow annoyed when older civilians, many who know nothing of the real world, tell you thirty and forty-year-olds never think about reality. To a generation of infantrymen, who were surrounded by reality through death for much of their late teens and twenties, it is all we will think about. And reality is maddeningly ironic; the enemy has ghosts too. They will continue to hunt you long after they have been hunted down. They will constantly haunt you, especially in the stillness of the night, in your bedroom as you try, unsuccessfully sleep. I learned, while I was relatively young, that a six pack will help you sleep, or at least it will help you not remember the nightmares. The problem is, that six pack turns into an 8 pack, then a 12 pack, and so on. It is the crux for many veterans- have nightmares or become an alcoholic/ substance abuser.

As the tours began to stack on top each of other, you lose a sense of time. You can feel it passing, but you judge it differently than before. You measure it in single years, as in, a year in the desert and a year at home. Paradoxically, when you are home you want to be overseas and when you are overseas, all you can think of is being home. In truth, you do not have a home; you are a nomad in your own life. If you stay married, you will distance yourself from your wife and children to the point they no longer recognize you. Yet, you think they are the ones who are losing it. You are no longer your old self anymore. Rather, you are a ghost of your former self. You are a ghost in your own family, there but not there, as you deploy or lose yourself to the past time and again. You lose a piece of your soul every time you deploy. A line is drawn in your life and there is only a before and an after of each individual deployment. Before you were yourself. After, you are, what? A lesser version of yourself? Certainly not a lesser version though certainly not yourself either. After each consecutive deployment you become lesser of the lesser version of yourself. Your family will never understand this even if they try. How can they, since we can barely understand it ourselves?

            Now, most soldiers would never admit this stuff to anyone. Soldiers, rightfully, do not want to feel like a victim or burden on society. We have been taught over and over to never be the weak link in the chain. I have said that myself as an NCO more times than I can count. It is not only that they do not want to feel weak, but they also feel getting help is useless, as they do not believe they can be helped. Paradoxically, they do and do not want to forget their ghosts from the past. If they forget their ghosts, who will remember them? Yet what they do not realize is that hanging onto these nightmares is what will continue to bring them down. The older they get, the more these experiences will weigh until they are slowly crushed under the weight of it all. I did not think I was bothered by anything until only a couple of years ago. I thought I could handle everything by shoving it down inside of me. The problem is, these things have a tendency to rise to the surface when you least expect them to. When they surface, they pack a mighty punch. Part of overcoming these ghosts is admitting you have them. The next part is surrounding yourself with a support system (and whatever you do, do NOT push them away). Then you can take the necessary steps to seek professional help. The most important thing to remember is that you are not alone or the only one that feels the way you do. There is always someone to talk to, even if that is me.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Drunken Escapades of an Infantryman

Drunk Adventures I: The Pink Lady

Could be you if you fall asleep too early...
            Infantrymen fight hard. Let me rephrase that, some infantrymen fight very hard. Others do that weird limp wrist thing as they assault the objective, you know, where their wrist is seemingly so weak they cannot keep their weapon steady. What is that about anyway? Seriously, you look way too feminine. Cut the video games for a bit and go chop some wood or something. That combined with their trot skip as they assault an objective makes for a less than intimidating infantrymen indeed. Anyway, as I was saying, we tend to live life to the fullest during our time in service. So it goes without saying that when we party, we party hard. And why not, as long as we do not put ourselves or someone else in serious harm's way. If not then rock on with your bad self. The DD acts more than just a taxi driver, he also protects the drunk infantrymen from themselves. Anyone who ever tried to reason with a drunk grunt at 0230 knows how hard it is to persuade them. “No, Paul, that hottie is actually a 200 pound tundra wookie with herpes sores all over her mouth. I wouldn’t venture over there….Paulie?” Too late. You just failed at DD. He is already at her place making a future dependababy...and he has herpes on his mouth, dick and possibly butt. Don’t try to deny it either. I have heard you soldiers talk.

In all of this hard partying we all have a story or two that rises above the others. I was not one that went out all the time, and I still have more than my share of stories. Stories in which I was the DD, or my wife was the DD, and at those times she has more stories than I do. My wife still tells me tales of my own misdeeds that I can barely remember. Today, let us remember, or not remember, that time we were shitfaced.

The day started out normal enough for a couple of infantrymen. A twenty-four pack and the NFL playoffs. Oh and then another twelve pack. After that the smart thing would have been to go home and sleep it off. Well, not us! We were combat infantryman getting ready for yet another tour in one of the sandboxes overseas. We weren’t going to waste this opportunity!!

As all good nights go, I do not really remember how we got to the strip club, but somehow we were there. Only, this was not a normal strip club. It was a freak show. The first woman to “dance” was about 250 pounds overweight. I stood in shock as I entered the club and stared at the whale that had loosed itself from the aquarium and was now making a living flopping around onstage. The infamous strip club was called The Pink Lady. All I could think about was how fitting that was. I should have turned around and left immediately, but I didn’t. The night only worsened from that point on.

By worsened, I guess I mean it was more of the same? Because there were only three total dancers, which meant the whale came flopping frequently. The one that followed her was a good, old-fashioned southern fifty-five year old meth addict, complete with missing teeth and all. She was rail thin, withered, with skin that looked as though it had already been through skin cancer. That is all I can tell you about her for two reasons. The first is, why the fuck would I keep looking at that? The second is, because I was one of like, three guys in the club that night, the whale was coming in hot to try and, I don’t know, flirt with me, maybe. I don’t remember there being a back room in that cheap ass place so it must have been just that. Anyway, I couldn’t look harder in the other direction. That is when I noticed the guy that wanted to come to the place to begin with had disappeared. This was not good.

Anyone who has partied with their military buddies has that friend who always gets way too drunk. Like shitfaced, cannot remember anything even his own name shitfaced. This was that guy. Anyone who knows me knows how much I hate strip clubs. The fact that I was there to begin with showed how concerned I was for him. Clearly, someone had to watch over him, and that person was me, despite my own inebriated state. And now I lost him!! Seriously, what the fuck!! Frantically, I started to look around the club. That was when I noticed something that scared the shit out of me- The old meth head was walking over to me.

So, here is the situation. I have lost my drunk friend who couldn’t even tell me his name ten minutes before. Meanwhile two women, a very, very, very...one more ought to do it, very large woman was still asking me about...I can’t even remember what, but I couldn’t have made it more obvious I was not interested. And an ancient artifact was asking me for a smoke as well. You really don’t need it lady, but here, now leave me alone. Except that now she wants to talk. Oh, and I am married with two children, on the rocks at the time but married nonetheless. I didn’t know how things could get any worse until I looked at the stage and saw the worst image of the night.

A pregnant woman was dancing onstage. Like not just recently pregnant. No, like in her third trimester pregnant. I was horrified! I was worried her water would break onstage! Meanwhile, the ancient artifact and the whale were still trying to talk to me. The whale mentioned she had a house with a lot of property somewhere out in a local state park. The artifact blew smoke out of her mouth as she began a coughing fit. But I couldn’t take my eyes off of the train wreck that was taking place on onstage. Seriously, how fucked up in the head do you have to be to dance in your third trimester. Who would watch that? FUCK, I WAS WATCHING THAT!! HOW AM I THE ONE WATCHING THIS? The existential question that mankind has always wondered, why am I here, raced through my head over and over. Mercifully, her song ended shortly after. As she picked up her maternity clothes and headed off the stage I knew where she was coming, directly to me. Thankfully, the whale left; it was her turn to dance. I asked the pregnant lady, why, on God’s green Earth she was up there and she said she loved stripping. I could barely even respond. I just told her I would give her twenty dollars if she stopped dancing. Thankfully, she giggled and left.

All of the sudden, I noticed a rail thin black man in a white wife beater coming up to me looking tough, like he was going to fight. Alright, I thought, at least I am going to beat someone's ass tonight!! I was feeling pretty frustrated after all. I still hadn’t located my friend, although at this point I had already began to search the establishment for signs of him. However, when he got to me he was surprisingly polite. He said, “Do you have a tall friend with a military haircut?” I said that I did. He told me my friend was outside pissing in his gas tank. Seriously...seriously, what the fuck? How could this night get any worse? I ran outside as quickly as I could to stop this and get him out of the kill zone, as I was sure we would be in a serious fight soon. Luckily, there was only one other middle aged black guy who was berating my friend, who had his head down and hands in pockets, like a third grader who pulled the hair of a girl he liked and was now in trouble with the principal.

I ran up and intervened as soon as I could. I told him some lame story about how he was my retarded brother or something along those lines. All I know is that, surprisingly, they left us alone. If they attempted to beat our asses they would have been justified. I think they knew they stood no chance against us. One guy was about 120 lbs. soaking wet. The other guy was overweight and about 45 years old. Additionally, I think they were trying to impress the “awesome” strippers. They were there to fuck, not to fight. Thank God for them in the end, because it was my ticket out of there. I didn't even ask him why he did that. Just told him to knock it off or he was going to fight me. After that, we did what any good drunk infantryman would do at 0300 in the morning, in the south, on a work night. We walked across the street, ate at Waffle House, and then called a taxi to take us home.

The Pink Lady has since burned down...thankfully. May the memories of my time there be scorched away, just like the many sexually transmitted diseases were burned off when the place went up in smoke. I am sure there is still a pair of damp and disgusting panties, like a lost spirit from some bygone era, looking for its lost owner. They are cursed to haunt the spot forever, in the same way that the memories of that night have haunted my dreams.

I hope you enjoyed my drunk story, let me know of your favorite night of debauchery while in the service.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

The Spirit of the Bayonet Craves Adventure

So adventure I will give it….

I grew up in New England and have always enjoyed the rich history that area of the country possesses. Tales of adventure and hardship abound in this region. During deployments, instead of playing video games to escape both the mundane and the horrific, my wife would send me book after book about key events that had shaped the six states. While these escapes were necessary in order to maintain one's sanity, they also strengthened my resolve to move back to the area. For years I envisioned myself walking in the footsteps of the heroes during these times as I followed the paths they forged when they set out on their missions. Now, after achieving my goal, something is not quite right. There are no more adventures to be had, wars to be fought, and seemingly all the beers have already been drunk?...drank?...with my buddies. What does an infantry soldier do when there isn’t a war to fight or there are no adventures to be had? I really do think many infantrymen are simply looking for their next adventure. Are there any more adventures to be had? Is the fighting and adventurous spirit we possess no longer needed in this world? Through the last few centuries, this spirit has driven men to explore an unknown world, meet and sometimes war with the various cultures they came across. They were never intimidated of the unknown.

Let us start with the voyage of the Mayflower; the Pilgrims onboard formed one of the first permanent settlements in the new world. The book, The Times of Their Lives, allows the reader to venture to 1619, when the Mayflower landed at Plymouth after the Pilgrims fled Europe to escape religious persecution. As they sought a better life for themselves and their children, they lost fifty percent of their community to disease and exposure that winter. Imagine what that was like, to find yourself on the edge of an unknown and wild continent, far from everything you ever knew. Completely exposed to the elements, you only had a short window to build a shelter and find food for your family before your bloodline perished. Men and women believed continuing the family’s bloodline was imperative. After all, what else is the point of life if not to reproduce your own genes? Is it to acquire as much material possessions as possible? You won’t be able to take them with you when you die...and you will eventually die. Nowadays, millennials were taught to believe pushing paperwork behind a desk is more important than having a family or fighting for a way of life that is being encroached upon.

In the beginning, the Natives and colonials did not hate each other. The Wampanoag Chief, Massasoit, welcomed the new light skinned peoples and helped them survive the first few winters. It was not until the Europeans began to encroach on Native lands that the two cultures began to war. Those first fifty years, with few exceptions, should be studied to understand how different cultures can interact peacefully. There was very little warfare considering how alien the two cultures were. The Europeans and Natives should be celebrated for their acceptance of foreign cultures. Note, however, that as long as the cultures remained separate on the continent things were relatively peaceful. It was not until they began to integrate on a large scale that war broke out.

By the time Chief Massasoit’s son, Metacom -also known as Philip- came to power roughly fifty years later, the relationship had shifted. The war, starting in 1675, was the first major conflict between the Natives and the colonists. King Philip’s War grew so intense that the colonists were almost pushed off of the continent entirely. The first documented case of an American Ranger type unit which combined Native and European tactics, led by CPT Benjamin Church, is what ultimately won the war. He trekked King Philip, or Metacom, across the swamps of Rhode Island and all but ended the war when his unit cornered him near Mount Hope. His body was quartered and his head was placed on a pike at the entrance to Fort Plymouth -a gruesome message to all the Natives of what might happen to them should they wage war on the settlements. This message should also be displayed to the modern world which thinks history has ended. It has not, current year will soon be over and rough men will be needed to fight once more or else they will be butchered. Their women will be raped (need we look to Europe to see this already unfolding?) and children will be enslaved as history usually repeats itself.

Finally, lest I bore you for too long discussing these books with words, War on the Run taught me about missions led by Robert Rogers himself. Using whaleboats, he would traverse the mighty Lake Champlain, conducting reconnaissance missions, ambushes, and raids against both French and native forces. The famed St Francis raid found the Rangers as far as 150 miles behind enemy lines. From Warfare History Network:

“On September 13, 1759, Captain Robert Rogers departed Crown Point with 17 whaleboats carrying 190 raiders to attack the French and Indian staging area at the village of St. Francis near Montreal. He and the rest of Roberts’ Rangers spent the next 10 days slipping past French warships on Lake Champlain. Hiding the whaleboats at Missisquoi Bay they struck out overland. Two days later, breathless guards overtook the column to report that an enemy force had discovered the whaleboats and was in hot pursuit. Undaunted, Rogers dispatched messengers back to Crown Point to report his situation. He decided to continue on to St. Francis, destroy the town, and return by way of Lake Memphremagog in northern Vermont, and requested that supplies be sent to the Wells River.
For nine days, Roberts’ Rangers marched through the knee-deep water of Missisquoi Swamp and slept on tree branches. Twenty-two days after leaving Crown Point, Rogers and his raiders reached the swift-flowing St. Francis River, 15 miles from the enemy camp. The men formed a human chain in order to cross the fast-running water. By dusk, the Rangers had spread out along the crest of the hill overlooking the enemy encampment. Rogers crept into the village and observed that the inhabitants were involved in drunken revelry that would certainly impair their ability to fight in the morning.
In the dead of night on October 6, Rogers ordered his officers and sergeants to awaken the raiders and prepare for battle. He then moved his force to about 500 yards from the village. As muted rays of daylight began to break through the low-hanging clouds, Rogers waved the Rangers forward. About 40 of them sprinted silently ahead of the main strike force to take up positions near the river; their mission was to prevent the enemy from escaping by canoe. The remaining assault force split into three groups to attack the village from different directions. Pulse rates throbbed as Roberts’ Rangers closed in on the objective. Bold momentum ignited as they surged into the enemy camp. A fierce roar echoed from the Rangers as they darted among the lodges where Abenaki Indians and Frenchmen slept off the night’s revelry. Yells of alarm joined the cacophony. Then the village was quickly filled with the smell of burning lodges. The Rangers closed with the enemy and both forces were quickly intermingled in deadly combat.
In a few hours, the fight was over. Rogers rapidly reassembled his Rangers and withdrew from the flaming village. But a large French and Indian force pursued. Bitter winds and freezing rain lashed the Rangers as they raced for the Wells River because, among other things, their food supply was gone. Some Rangers pressured Rogers to stop and stalk for game. Against his better judgment he allowed this force to break up into small groups and hunt for meat. As a consequence, some Rangers were killed or captured by the pursuing enemy.
When Rogers and his exhausted Rangers reached the rendezvous point, they found only the warm coals of a campfire. The fearful resupply force had abandoned the spot only hours before. Rogers realized that his men could go no farther. Whether from starvation, cold, wild animals, or the enemy, they would all die at Wells River unless help came soon. So Rogers, an officer named Captain Ogden, and an Indian boy brought from St. Francis mustered their strength. They built a crude raft and made an arduous journey of 65 miles to Fort Number Four on the Connecticut River. Their arrival started supplies immediately on the way to the starving Rangers.”

Since retirement, I have longed for the spirit which has been lost to me, but it seems it has been rekindled since reading these adventures. I say lost, but that is inaccurate; the spirit is there and always will be. Currently, political agendas and special interests groups in the form of militant feminism make it so Americans believe a masculine spirit is evil. This is the reason an overwhelming amount of young boys are on ADD/ADHD medication. Perhaps this is why a generation of men feel as though something is off. Look around you, something just doesn’t seem right, does it? Every man you talk to is filled with anxiety and depression. Maybe this is because the American way of life as we know it is slowly disappearing. Ironically, this coincides with more third world immigrants making their way into this country and bringing their cultural beliefs with them. How many third worlders can a nation take on before it becomes a third world nation itself? This thought is not xenophobic, but philosophical and even existential. I fear by the time we answer this question it will be too late.

Once a culture and its customs are lost, can they be recovered? The answer is a resounding no; history tells us such. Let us ask the Native Americans if they appreciate their tiny reservations they live on these days. History also tells us that a homogeneous nation does not form from a heterogeneous culture. Rather, when multiple diverse cultures live amongst each other, they will war until a dominant culture emerges. Again, the Native Americans and Europeans mixed really well, right? Nope. Look across the world and you will notice that groups self segregate because they find that living with their own kind is preferable. Even in America, you will find that Muslim communities, black communities, and white communities are largely separate from each other. This is called identity. Identity forms tribes, and tribes war. This is observable and evident throughout human history. The most likely outcome from all of this immigration is the break-up of the United States into separate countries. The most horrific would be a recurrence of the Reconquista. Go research that yourself to find out what it was and just how awful that would be if it happened here.

The bottom line is that our generation is stuck right in the middle of the pussification of the American male. Thus, Invader-Americans are threatening to break up what so many throughout this country's history have fought and died for. Oh, well. I might as well get some popcorn and enjoy the show. Or maybe I am way off. I do know history though, and if humans have shown any patterns at all it is the fact that they will form tribes and war against other tribes. As for my infantry spirit? I figure that walking the New England portion of the Appalachian Trail this summer will soothe the spirit of the bayonet somewhat. I do not know at this point. Maybe Forrest Gump was onto something when he started to run across the US one day. I guess I will find out this summer with Tiger 95, if anyone is interested in joining me then let me know...

Monday, April 3, 2017

The American Wolfpack

I really miss the mentality of my wolfpack...

The best friends I'll ever have.

          I have never felt more comfortable or at peace with the world than when I was surrounded by my platoon, and by platoon I mean my American wolfpack. I am sad to say that I feel less comfortable at home with them then in my pack. This was an unspoken and uncomfortable truth which always troubled my wife (and still does to some extent). There are things she still does not know about me; the three wolfpacks I deployed with know all too well. The relationship in this pack was reciprocal; you knew you could trust them with your life because they trusted you in a similar fashion. I miss the wolves I served with. We all came from different backgrounds, socioeconomic, racial, etc., and yet what drew as together was being in the infantry. We soldiers served with honor and fit together. There were no rules on what could and could not be spoken. Political correctness was nonexistent. If someone went too far, which happened, it was handled immediately, usually in front of the platoon. There would be grappling, and sometimes punches were thrown. The platoon would circle and watch the two offended parties go at it. They would cheer and talk shit, urging them on, but stop them if they started to get too out of control. We policed each other because the wolfpack made us feel closer than our real families. 

It does not always feel this way. Your first day as a private, or fucking new guy (FNG), in an infantry platoon is one of the worst days of your life. As you bounce down the Brigade and Battalion pipelines to the platoon, you stand outside all of your leadership’s doors as they tell you the standards they expect you to understand. Every single person that walks by is staring at you with a smirk on their face. You can feel every wolf in the pack sizing you up; you are not mistaken. They are wondering how long you will last. When you finally get placed in a platoon, there will be smokings and hazings meant to see how tough you really are. You will be the joke as you seek grid squares and canopy lights. It is you against the entire platoon. You are challenged constantly to see how tough, smart, strong, and fast you are. All of this is done both consciously and subconsciously to determine your place in the unwritten hierarchy of the pack. I say unwritten because while you follow rank, you do not always trust them. Everything in the wolfpack is right in your face so frauds are rare and discovered quickly. There is no hiding who you are.

In every pack there is a wolf that is faster or smarter than everyone. It is why we do not fall for the equality nonsense of current year. Sure, everyone deserves equal opportunity, but everyone is not born equal. If we were I would be an NBA star. We observed in our packs the ones who are stronger or more experienced. There is one that gets all the ladies, and one that seems to always be dirty, regardless of how many times they change their uniforms. I swear that there is a tall, white guy with glasses who wears a crooked helmet in every pack. Oddly enough, that one guy will end up being the RTO more often than not...think about it. Some are weak and quit too easy, while others you would never expect had a heart and motor that kept going, even as their bodies gave out. Sometimes I feel as though that is a cruel joke from God, giving the heart of a wolf to a weak body. And there is always a stupid one that constantly takes everything too far. Even though sometimes you hate him, you will still protect him until the end because that is what a pack does. There are some with loads of stripes and flair on their uniforms who cannot lead themselves out of a paper bag. Yet there are others you would follow into hell itself, just because it sounds like an adventure. In the end, the leaders you follow into hell might or might not have a lot of flair; it really doesn't matter because the pack knows who to follow when times get rough. They know who will be there when everything is fucked, and you are pinned down receiving fire from three directions. We will all be there together, but only a few can get us out of that mess. Those are the true alphas.

The wolves came from everywhere across the United States. From the swamps of Florida to the rainforests on the coast of Washington. From the craggy coastline of New England to the rough and sandy mountains of the deserts of the southwest. The wolves volunteered to fight for the country. We all ended up in the armpit of the United States -Fort Benning, GA. It was here where we began an attitude adjustment that meant leaving our solipsistic narcissism or materialism at the doorstep or failing OSUT. For many of us, we realized what was truly important in life which was our families and each other. The shit that you acquire in life is just that, shit. You won’t take it wherever you go when you die. The relationships you develop with each other become your lifeline. Society cannot exist without it, much less a fighting unit such as the American wolfpack. Although they may not understand it, they feel it. That is why the wolves feel so alone when they get out. They long for the pack they left. Oddly enough, my wife feels the same way. She misses military families almost as much as I do. She would cook dinner for my soldiers, and help them in any way she could. She also misses military wives. Civilians just aren’t cutting it. My point is, if wives feel the loss, us veterans sure as hell do as well.

Throughout my career, I was always amazed at the events that must have taken place in each soldier’s life to bring them to that location at that time. From all over the country men volunteered to suck for 14-16 weeks of basic training. Once graduated, orders came down and were sent to Division. This continued until they were placed in your platoon. Think to your closest platoon and consider everything that had to happen in order for that platoon to come together. If one thing went differently in their lives than perhaps there would have been a different outcome. Think to those who have lost their lives fighting for this country, and remember they all started their journey at Fort Benning. Same with the bravest of the brave, the infantry medal of honor winners. I have always been humbled by that thought.    

There were such odd characters in the pack. For instance, I knew a man who claimed to have two fathers. He was smart and young, with a large upper body and skinny legs. We still tease him that he skips leg day too much. He loved to fuck with any leadership who was dumb enough to fall for the ruse, especially in the politically correct environment we live in today. He would continue with his stories, escalating the crudeness until his “Dads” were sneaking into his room at night and doing unspeakable acts to him all night. You learned not to react to these stories in the same way that you do not react to a man who has just had a large portion of his jaw shot off. Any reaction would bring negative consequences. It is better to simply let the story go and poke holes in the logic where you see fit. In the end it didn’t matter, I would never trust anyone more than these men to cover me while I moved forward. Also, they respect you more for seeing through their bullshit.

What happens when a wolf gets hit, you might ask? The same thing that happens to a real wolf pack. We close ranks and protect our own. If leadership tries to force another wolf on us, it won’t work. Not until the platoon is broken up until after deployment, that is. I know because I was a replacement team leader at one point. In Iraq, 2003, I replaced a Sergeant in the 82nd Airborne who was almost burned to death during a firefight in Southern Baghdad. A propane tank had ignited when his team tossed in a frag grenade and followed it in by shooting tracer rounds. The woman was pinned to the wall with shrapnel from the ensuing explosion. The team leader continued to clear the building. In pursuit of our enemy, a young specialist killed her husband with a shot through the neck as the ali baba tried to jump out the back window. He died on the spot. The wife burned to death, and they heard her screams as they cleared the rest of the house. They heard her screams in every nightmare for rest of their lives. I ended up being the man who took charge. For the entire rest of the tour I tried to prove myself over and over again, but I never did. How do you follow a man who leads his team into the fires of Hades as bullets fly around you? How do you discuss the primal screams from a woman when you are a twenty year old who knows nothing? You cannot. You are an outsider forever; not a follower and not a leader. General Washington himself would not be able to follow that team leader. What happens when one of us die? That is a horror that is almost too much to handle. If you have ever stood at parade rest through roll call, you know what I mean.

Here I am, roughly a year removed from the wolfpack. I have discussed before my feelings of vulnerability and isolation so I won’t rehash that. I miss the security I felt. Eyes followed by weapons aimed in all directions; you didn’t have to work your senses until you are exhausted like when you are by yourself. I still do all of those things I used to preach, but now I just do them by myself. It reminds me of being on patrol and S2 informs us that there has been chatter intercepted of an imminent ambush in the next few minutes. You go hyperalert, and it is awful, not to mention bad for the patrol because of how jumpy everyone gets. But at least you could lean on each other and after a few minutes things return to normal. When I am out with my family, I know they are not paying attention so I go hyperalert. When I become exhausted and upset from all of this, I tend to grow angry. It makes you not want to do anything, and that leads to depression. It certainly doesn’t help that the bonds of community have grown weaker. In the civilian world, people just do not look out for each other as the infantry does. This was not always the case. Until we form our pack again in Valhalla, I will do everything I can to keep the bonds of brotherhood alive. The relationships, forged in the fires of war are all some of us have. Perhaps we will hunt again once more in the near future.