I am a veteran.
I read articles on a weekly basis that address the PTSD and difficulties that thousands of veterans face every day and I understand and sympathize.
I raised my right hand twice and have taken the same oaths that these men have taken in public. I know that they have many more oaths that they have sworn in private with the men who stood at their side. I know what it is to look at someone you have spent perhaps 100 hours with and swear an unfaltering blood oath to them without saying a word to them. I know what it is to carry an oath that the subject of the oath is unaware of:
“You are an ass-hat, but you will not be left behind. If you are left behind, you will not be left alone, because we will all be ‘left’ with you.”
I have never been called on to carry through on that oath, but I know what it is to swear that oath silently to the girl who was shaking too much to load her magazines. I know what it is to swear that oath to the kid who insisted that he was going to charge off in the direction of the ambush because he had the 249… if we ever got ambushed. I was deployed, granted to the safest place that was actually in the war zone and I will not make up and grandiose stories to the contrary.
However, we did not know where we were being deployed when they handed us our full combat load. We did not know where were going while we piled into the short cargo area of the 747 to unload our own luggage. We did not know when we had gotten on the plane. We did not know when we were state side getting our gear and brush up training. I did not know when I was sitting at my desk writing software for my dream job and the UA called to let me know we were being deployed. I did not know when I went with her parents to drop my girlfriend off for her flight to be cross leveled and mobilized. I did not know when I raised my hands and swore to obey the orders of the President of The United States and those officers whom he should appoint above me. I did not know when I shaved off my goatee and shoulder length hair the night before I signed my contract. I did not know the night my heart chose to stand in front of her. I did not know that morning when she called and told me she was raped, while at training. I did not know that day when the towers fell. I did not know the night we waded into the water fully dressed and I told this lovely girl I had known for less than two years that the country could always to go to war in an instant but she decided to sign the contract the next morning.
I could go on. I didn’t know I was being given an easy and safe deployment. I made decisions at every step, and most of them were not a choice to take the easy route. Not one of those choices was related to being handed an easy and safe deployment. I volunteered to take whatever was handed to me and it could have been a much more dangerous deployment. Even if it was, it would have been by no merit of my own.
All of that being said, my life has not been easy. I don’t suffer from PTSD like some of my dearest, no longer nearest, friends and I do not for a fraction of a second demean the suffering they will endure for the remainder of their lives. There is one girl who was hit by an IED who I think of often because although most of her body came back and they have done much to help her heal that way, she is dead. She was this glorious flame of rebellion that would wrap herself in a uniform and play the game because she believed in defending freedom and the free. The uniform is still there. The uniform came back. She is dead. The flame is gone.
But you know what, I joined the military, in large part, because a girl I cared about got raped and I couldn’t protect her if I wasn’t there. You want to talk about PTSD? All these rants about soldiers and how no one knows their stories are good and important. We need to increase understanding in an attempt to increase compassion. I read them and I have an awkward moment of understanding and a long reflection on the fact that through no factor of my own control, I will never understand. I wasn’t part of those relationships that were torn apart by IEDs. I wasn’t part of a team that had whole people amputated by RPGs. I am part of the family and I love my brothers and sisters dearly, but I wasn’t there to protect them. I signed away over a decade of my life to be there and protect them. The first contract I signed for one girl. The second contract I signed for my brothers and sisters in arms.
I will never be able to protect them. I am getting out of the military. I joined for the wrong reason. I say that because it shuts people up, but what I really mean is I joined for the right reason, the only right reason, but it’s futile. There are millions of people everywhere that need to be protected. You do not know the African woman who greets people at Walmart with the warmest smile in the world because she was able to get them out before all of her daughters were violently raped. You don’t know what that does to a person. She has 3 daughters, the youngest was born just before she got away. She had a son once, but you will never hear another word about that. She doesn’t know what going to war and holding the hand of a stranger while they bleed to death does to a person. You don’t know what it does to a person when a flirty phone conversation over eggs at a diner turns into the quiet discussion of not fully remembering last night and having flashes of 4 men forcing themselves on her.
You do not know the suffering of others. I have traveled in enough circles to say that as a considered statement. You do not know the courageous choices they have made in the long dark nights. You do not know their spirit, their soul. You can hear my story in pieces, but you can only hear my entire soul all at once.
I write this rambling piece because I get it. I am not good at showing it, but I know we have all suffered. I know that we will all suffer again. It would be good if everyone offered more compassion to veterans. It would be great if everyone offered more compassion to everyone. Compassion doesn’t shape my face. I don’t look sad when my heart breaks for people. Compassion shapes my actions. I do my best for people even if they don’t think I am. I love it when they thank me, but I don’t do it for them. I am very selfish. If you could do me a favor and let compassion shape your actions, that wold be great. I do my best to reduce suffering in the world because it gets shared faster than pictures of cats on the internet.
I offer this prayer to those that understand:
Lord, I really don’t care if you forgive me my trespasses, just grant me the strength to forgive those misguided and horribly injured souls who trespass against me. The things I have done out of hatred and spite, are my faults and I will bear that weight. Please give me the strength to take my punishments and not lash out against others any more. The demons I carry with me are mine. They are horrible and will probably kill me one day, but please let me stop hurting others. Let me learn to stand in the front of a Walmart and smile and greet people as if everything will be okay. Let me learn to embrace others and let them beat their fists against my chest until their own demons subside. Let me learn to quiet the storm in my soul. Let me learn to light and protect the candle flame of my own soul once more. Lord, please grant us all a peace that never requires war. I ask this daily as a child asks for love. I ask this daily in misguided thoughts and misspoken words. But here and now, I ask this in clear mind and clear words. Please let this prayer work in every movement of every fiber of my being.