Posts Tagged ‘US Army’

I turned twenty one in the desert of Iraq. When you turned twenty one
you spent the night resting on your laurels while hanging out with your
family and friends. I was mostly alone except for my new family of
brothers in arms. (My brothers from a lot of other mothers)…I was
leaning hard on a dog eared birthday letter from home. And while you
were tipping back something cold on the rocks, for as far as the eye
could see, the only something cold on the rocks that lonesome night was
me and my fellow protectors of your freedom back home. While you and
your friends were lining up shots on the bar, my unit and I were lining
up our sights to take shots at others who were doing pretty much the
same thing to us. No fear of a hangover here…no celebrating either,
except a prayer of thanks at dawn after the lot of us had lived through
the night. No one carded me that night, we have dog tags here on the
front…but you don’t want to go there. Happy birthday? Whatever…You keep
your chin up, while I keep my head down…

I spent a second Christmas in the desolation of this desert. While you
hung your stockings on the chimney with care, and you and your kids
were nestled snug in your beds, longing for a white Christmas and
waiting for jolly Saint Nick, I was fighting for a few minute’s rest
for the first time in nearly two weeks worth of endless battle filled
days. My ‘bed’, as it was, was a shallow hollow I dug with the bill of
my helmet. The only stockings hung out are the ones I just washed after
wearing them for far too many days. There’s not a snowball’s chance in
hell for a white Christmas here. This year the only thing falling from
the sky around here was incoming rounds, and the blowing sand. While
carolers might have stood on the walk outside your door and sung a
chorus of ‘sleep in heavenly peace’ and ‘silent night, our hosts
serenaded us with one verse after another from their doctrine of
jihad…and we heard a less than heavenly version of gunpowder thunder
while we remained awake and dead on our feet in the middle of this
hell. This war. They say Jesus was born on Christmas…I was with a lot
of boys who found religion sometime during that fire fight. But I think
a couple of them actually went home with God somewhere along the
way…they don’t have to worry about turning twenty one in the desert.
One was nineteen, the other twenty. But they won’t be getting any
older. There will be volleys from seven solemn troops gathered there on
a hill when they lay them down for good. Three times they will fire
toward that sky for a salute of twenty one. Taps will be played
afterward…and a flag will be folded, presented, and thanks will be
given on behalf of a grateful nation. The stars and stripes will be
christened with a mother’s tears.
Merry Christmas? Whatever, you listen for little hooves on the roof, while I keep my head down.

While a housewife back home drove her nine mile per gallon Hummer to
wait in line for a four dollar coffee at Starbucks…she was on her cell
phone talking about the rising price of gasoline and pretty much
everything else. Let me tell you what I was doing just about then…I was
watching the remains of what had been our military Hum Vee just moments
earlier, burn to the ground. I was thinking how I couldn’t find my
buddy who had taken the brunt of the blast, who had unwittingly saved
my life just by sitting on the wrong side…While some cowardly soul had
dialed a cell phone to trigger an IED left buried in the side of the
road, the very road we fight to protect.

And so far from home, far removed from the debate of whether this
is a justified war or not, an oil war or not…Ours is not to second
guess, to question the validity. Ours is to follow orders. And while
you at home debate the justification for why my compadres and I are
here, we are justifiably scared, and really are dying and getting
gravely injured over here. We only think about the cost in the blood of
our brothers and sisters…About the cost of it all as we wondered if
we would ever again look across the breakfast table and drink another
cup of our mother’s no frills coffee. Without having uttered a word, it
is unanimous that we’d all give anything for a ride home about now…then
the sad truth becomes apparent… that the man on my right has earned his
ride home…and his mother will never drink another cup of coffee at her
table without looking at the folded flag gracing her mantle…at the
empty chair that her boy had filled for so many mornings of his first
twenty years. And while dust accumulates on his childhood memorabilia,
there will be no fading of the stark reality that will cry out the
glaring absence of his being for the rest of her part of forever. All
he wanted was to make her proud. All he bargained on was one weekend a
month and a part of the next few summers. All he asked in return was a
chance to go to school, a chance to enjoy the freedom he wound up dying
to preserve. Whether you agree with the policies of his Commander in
Chief or not, that young man is still just as dead…and his
compatriots remain far from home and in harm’s way, getting wounded,
and making the ultimate sacrifice. War has no opinion of its own
righteousness, only the finality of its effect on the mortality of its
participants and the bystanders…

….A tribute to the men and ladies of our armed forces…Matthew Landsman Summer 2008

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