Category Archives: Veteran
Today I did something that brought back memories. Not of something I’ve done exactly, more of someone I used to be. While we were experiencing squalls from Hurricane Sandy, instead of hunkering down and staying warm and dry, I got in my truck and drove to the beach.
Crossing the causeway during a squall is what triggered the thoughts. Instead of turning around, I drove toward risk. I wouldn’t exactly call it danger, but it was close. When I got to the beach I walked right out there onto the sand to see the waves for myself. I’m not silly enough to get in on a day like this, maybe too old for that, but I still wanted to see it myself.
After snapping a couple pictures and heading back to my truck I saw a couple guys putting on wetsuits and asked if they were going to actually get in. After we talked for a few minutes they learned I was an army vet and I learned they were active duty soldiers. I took a few pictures of them in the waves and looking at them afterwards, they reminded me very much of myself and my fellow soldiers twenty years ago. Maybe a little more brave than smart, but we wouldn’t let anything named Sandy get between us and a nice day at the beach.
With the tragedy in Colorado last week there has been a lot of talk about heroes and sacrifice. In particular there is this story about “Three heroes died in Aurora taking bullets for their girlfriends“. Now first let me say that I agree that these men should be honored by their friends and family for making a snap decision to do the right thing and saving another’s life. Well done.
There is a different type of hero I’m writing about today though. The American military man and woman. Every one of which should be considered a hero. According to iCasualties.org, nearly two hundred Americans have sacrificed their lives in Afghanistan this year, over two thousand over the last decade.
For these brave men and women it was different from the three men above. It was not a snap decision but a decision that each individual made over the course of months or years. And they did not die for a single loved one but for all Americans, most of whom they never knew and will never know they died for them.
Every person that joins the military knows that one day they may face a situation they won’t come home from, and they are ok with that. It’s not that they have a death wish or don’t care for their own lives, to the contrary, having looked war in the eyes they want to live more than most. It’s that they believe in our country, in the United States of America, to such a degree that they are willing to sacrifice their own lives to protect it.
Again, I’m not saying don’t honor people who make a snap decision to protect innocents, just don’t forget at the same time to honor the heroes that had time to think about it and still made the choice.
I can’t claim to have written this nor do I know the original author. It’s been floating around the internet for at least the last year.
It may give some of you a better perspective on why some us are the way we are.
The Infantrymen’s Arrogance
Infantrymen have a pride and arrogance that most Americans don’t understand and don’t like. Even soldiers who aren’t infantrymen don’t understand. The pride doesn’t exist because we have a job that’s physically impressive. It certainly doesn’t exist because it takes a higher level of intelligence to perform our duties. It’s sad and I hate to admit it, but any college student or high school grad can physically do what we do. It’s not THAT demanding and doesn’t take a physical anomaly. Nobody will ever be able to compare us to professional athletes or fitness models. And it doesn’t take a very high IQ to read off serial numbers, pack bags according to a packing list, or know that incoming bullets have the right of way.
The pride of the infantryman comes not from knowing that he’s doing a job that others can’t, but that he’s doing a job that others simply won’t. Many infantrymen haven’t seen a lot of combat. While that may sound ideal to the civilian or non-infantry soldier, it pains the grunt. We signed up to spit in the face of danger. To walk the line between life and death and live to do it again – or not. To come to terms with our own mortality and let others try to take our life instead of yours. We have raised our hands and said, “Take me, America. I am willing to kill for you. I am willing to sacrifice my limbs for you. I will come back to America scarred and disfigured for you. I will be the first to die for you.”
That’s why the infantryman carries himself with pride and arrogance. He’s aware that America has lost respect for him. To many he’s a bloodthirsty animal. To others he’s too uneducated and stupid to get a regular job or go to college. Only he knows the truth. While there are few in America who claim to have respect for him, the infantryman returns from war with less fanfare than a first down in a high school football game. Yes, people hang up their “Support Our Troops” ribbons and on occasion thank us for our service. But in their eyes the infantryman can detect pity and shame; not respect. Consider this: How excited would you be to meet the average infantryman? Now compare that with how excited you’d be to meet a famous actor or professional sports player and you will find that you, too, are guilty of placing the wrong people on a pedestal. You wouldn’t be able to tell me how many soldiers died in the war last month, but you’d damn sure be able to tell me if one of the actors from Twilight died.
Yet the infantryman doesn’t complain about that. He continues to do his job; to volunteer his life for you, all while being paid less in four years than Tom Brady makes in one game.
It’s a job most Americans don’t understand, don’t envy, and don’t respect. That is why we have pride for the infantry.
– Unknown Infantryman
This is not meant to demean other veterans or lessen their shared sacrifice, just to explain why we are who we are.
For those of you that don’t know me very well, which I would assume is most of you, I spent the early 90s as an Infantryman in the U.S. Army. Specifically I was an 11c Indirect Fire Infantryman, which means I fired mortars for a living. During that time as a member of the 10th Mountain Division I went many places and did many things, both in training and “real-world” deployments.
In 1993 my battalion deployed to the lovely seaside country of Somalia. That’s me on the left in the picture above, taken by a fellow squad member on the dunes on the Somali coast. Over the course of this blog I’ll post about various life lessons I’ve learned over the years, including several during my time in Somalia. Don’t worry, I won’t post anything that’s graphic.
One lesson I learned was that the policy of gunners on crew-served weapons (like mortars) carrying only a pistol kinda sucked when in real-world situations. In training it was great, you got to carry a pistol in a holster and be all cool.
When your convoy comes under fire from an unknown number of assailants armed with AK-47s and you realize all you have is a pop gun, your whole view on life changes. Anyone that has been in a situation like that and says they didn’t feel fear is lying, maybe even to themselves. 19 years later and I can still feel it like I was there.
It’s no coincidence that less than 18 months later the Army’s standard equipment was changed to replace the M-9 pistol with the M-4 Carbine (kind of a shorter M-16). Just one of many things the soldiers that went to Iraq and Afghanistan owe thanks to us older veterans for. Too bad they don’t even know.