Friday, January 25, 2013
A Step Forward or Three Giant Steps Back?
The weekend after my son game home from Iraq we took a long drive. He started talking and continued to share story after story with me that made me so sad as I listened and talked with him. He left the states as a boy; he came back as a man. He left with a healthy brain; he came back with PTSD that haunted him for months. His sleep life was routinely interrupted with him screaming as one nightmare after another possessed him during times when his brain should be at peace. His experience came to the forefront of my mind after hearing something on the radio recently while driving to work. The news kept coming back to mind after several days as I thought about my changing views of women, now that I am married to a dominant wife. I view women differently than I did years ago. I respect them more. I make more of an effort to honor them, look out for them and value them as special.
Let me share some of what my son told me while we drove. He talked mostly. I listened mostly. His words were spoken several years ago, yet this particular drive remains so vivid in my mind, probably because of the subject matter. Here are a few brief recollections from that drive
Story 1. A few weeks after he arrived in Iraq he was on patrol. He entered a house and encountered an insurgent. He was too close to fire his weapon and so pulled his K-bar and instinctively thrust it into the guys gut and yanked it upward, gutting the man. He looked to his left and saw the man’s wife and children cowering in the corner, horrified at what they had just witnessed. He left and went to the next home.
Story 2. A fellow soldier standing a few feet from him was hit by an RPG – a rocket propelled grenade. Both legs were blown off on impact. He and a medic applied pressure as blood poured from the wound and all over them. The medic told the marine manning the 50 caliber gun on the Humvee to ‘burn the barrel’. He continued to fire until the barrel overheated. They removed it and cauterized the man’s legs with the glowing hot piece of steel. The marine later died. My son stripped out of all his clothes and burnt them in the trash when they returned to base. He called his sister and sobbed on the phone. Not able to tell her the whole story, he told her enough to know that something terrible happened. He begged her again and again to not tell mom and dad. She didn’t.
Story 3. While on patrol he found a IED - an improvised explosive device. He took the detonator and wire and kept it with him. Later he found a package of C4 (plastic explosive) when he was on base. Actually he stole the C4. He kept it with him as well. One day on patrol his fire team entered a home. They could hear movement on the second floor. Knowing that whoever attempted to go up the stairs was going to be shot, he pointed to the C4 and detonator he had and then to the ceiling. His Fire-team leader nodded with approval. He stuck the C4 to the ceiling, having never done this before, nor been trained with this material, attached wires, left the house, curled up and detonated it. He had used way more than he needed. He told me the house literally went ‘straight up’. They found body parts, twisted and mangled weapons everywhere. No US soldier was killed yet he had to view the destruction he caused.
Story 4: In a fire fight he shot and killed several insurgents. After the battle they investigated the house where the shooting was coming from. There he found a still-alive but dying man. Knowing he had fought valiantly he put two bullets into his chest at close range to quicken his death and ease his pain.
Story 5: While on patrol they spotted an enemy soldier setting up an IED. They turned their Humvee in his direction and chased him until they caught him and ran him over. They backed up and crushed his body.
Story 6: A week or so before he returned home I attended a briefing with Marine officers. The purpose of the meeting was to talk to parents, family, and friends about what to expect from their loved ones. I distinctly remember them telling us that they didn’t expect much of an adjustment since they were not involved in any of the surges where combat and stress was quite high.
Story 7: Several months after he had come home, we shared a drink together in a bar. Sitting at a corner table he told me that anytime he came to this bar, he sat here and had a knife hidden under both legs, and two more on his body elsewhere. He said that a month after he had come home he realized that ‘nobody here wants to kill me’ and afterward never brought weapons with him when he went to town. How sad that he still felt that level of stress back in a place he had beforehand felt so safe.
I could go on and on but will stop here. I mention this because of the news of women now being permitted to perform combat duty on the front lines. This is what the US military is allowing people like my daughter, or your daughter, or your wife to now experience. The ACLU pushed for the honor of allowing women to be right up front and close so they can gut others, kill others, see the gruesome aspect of war up close and in person. War is a horrible thing. Killing is senseless. My son came home with nightmares. He came home a different person. He killed A LOT of people. He saw a fellow soldier die. He had his blood all over him. He smelled burning flesh. I wonder if the eyes of the wife whose husband he gutted haunt him. I wonder if he lost the desire to preserve life at all costs after killing so many men at close range. I wonder if he cowers when he hears firecrackers on the 4th of July. He was 19 years old when he took so many lives. `
And we call this progress? We now believe that we’ve taken a step forward as a nation to allow not only our sons to kill and be killed but now our daughters? It’s easy to say from afar, without knowing the reality of the horror of war, to believe this is a great day for women. I would question that belief. For me, this is a sad day. I wish for no one to experience the few things my son experienced. I would never wish for your wife or daughter to have a similar experience. This is not exalting women. This is not recognizing them as superior. This is not honoring them. This is so wrong.