Each passing year brings new or rekindled emotions as we enter the Memorial Day weekend. This past year I have sparked new interest in my status as a Veteran as I have renewed some friendships with men that I served with long ago and have taken a look at my career as a soldier and the what that all means now that I am removed from that part of my life.
What I have learned more than anything else is that the bonds and at a risk of sounding cliché, the brotherhood shared with the men that I served with are lasting.
This morning I watched a TED talk. The subject was “Why Veterans miss war”. I thought, this guy must be out of his mind. The speaker is Sebastian Junger, he was an “embed” that is what we called embedded reporters, those reporters that become a part of a unit through the time of their deployment. Junger was embedded with a unit in Afghanistan, a unit made famous by the documentary “Restrepo”. Junger followed the 2nd Platoon B Company 503rd Infantry of the 173rd Airborne. Again, I thought this guy was an absolute nut case, but I thought to myself; “Well, I’ve seen the movie and it tells the story of pretty much what any Infantry Platoon is like, so I’ll listen to his talk”. His point is that they do not miss the battle, they don’t miss the conditions or the locations. What they miss when they get home is the brotherhood. The idea that there is no one in our daily lives that will ever understand the bond and the love that we have for one another. The absolute trust that this man to my left and the man to my right love me enough to give their life for me. They know that in their daily contacts there is no one that will do that in Anytown, USA. That bond is left on the battlefield, in the FOB (Forward Operating Base), in the camp. They will never have that contact again in the context that it belongs and so they miss war.
My war-time experience was a little different in that by the time the Army saw fit to send me to war, I had progressed through the ranks and now was in a position at the Battalion level. 680 soldiers in our care, the Commander and I knew that beyond good decision-making our soldiers were in the hands of those men directly to their left and right. This is a weird position to be in as we knew what it took to be at those squad and platoon levels, but now were removed to a certain extent from “their world”. The brotherhood and bond though in an Infantry Battalion remains the same. My love for those soldiers was and ever will be deep and true.
As the Senior Non Commissioned Officer of the Battalion it was my charge to ensure that the NCO’s of the Battalion were trained and ready to serve their men. I can remember the day before we deployed to Iraq I called all of the NCO’s of the Battalion together. From the Team Leaders all the way up through the First Sergeants. I shared some thoughts about leadership and keys that will get up through the next year. The final thought was simple. Love your men. When you love them you will serve them. Know that you will not be able to shelter them or put a bullet proof force field around them, but every decision you make, every move that take, you need to put them ahead of yourself. That bond of trust and love made us successful. It was not easy and not without pain and decent, but the NCO’s of my Battalion understood that no matter the mission, the circumstances, or the decision, we would take care of our soldiers.
It’s weird to look a man in the eye and wish him well as he is about to leave the safety of the FOB and enter bad guy country. Could that the last time you see him? I had many close friends that I served with, men that at one time or another we developed friendships and bonds that proved painful on days that we knew would be bad. One such soldier was Scott Shobert. Scott and I served for years together, he always being in a subordinate role. Squad leader when I was a First Sergeant etc. Scott later became a Sergeant Major also and is now retired. One evening Shobert was taking his Platoon out on a patrol to set an ambush along a know route that the insurgents used to move supplies. They also knew that this route was used by US forces to move supplies in and out of Baghdad. On this particular evening there was a weird feeling flowing through the camp and the platoon seems a bit antsy. I talked with Scott before they mounted up. He had his platoon doing Pre Combat checks and he turned to me and smiled. “We’ll be alright Sergeant Major” he said. “I know” I said. As he jumped into the back of the 5 ton, the last man to load, I reached up and shock his hand. That weird feeling that I may not see him again. It was that moment that I really got it. That feeling of brotherhood. The Battalion Commander walked up and said that he wanted someone from HQ to have eyes on the ambush that night, there was a container with US equipment broke down in the area and it was pretty high on the priority list that we care for it.
I told the Commander that I would go. My driver and I got ready and followed the Patrol out and joined them. The rest of the company moved into that area later in the night and the ambush was set. As we lay there in tall grass overlooking the ambush site, I could hear the nervous energy coming from the men of the support by fire position. Chewing gum like it was the last piece on earth savoring each and every chew. One soldier looked at and asked what the hell I was doing there. I told him that I was there to make sure he didn’t do anything stupid. He smiled at me and said “yes mom”.. we let out a quiet chuckle.
What happened the rest of that night doesn’t really matter and surely does not need to be shared in this context. The point is that is what I miss. So I suppose Junger is right. We do miss it.
On the other hand. This Memorial Day, I think about all the men that I served with, especially those that rest eternally in the Great Assembly area.
I fly a Blue Star Banner in my window at my house. This is the same Blue Star Banner that my wife flew for me. Now it serves my neighborhood as a reminder that my Son is serving and will one day answer the call. Today, he is developing that bond that I know so well. Today, my son is a part of the Brotherhood of Infantrymen, like me that know what it means to look left and right and commit to never, ever letting that man down. That is something that does not exist here. There are people in our neighborhood that do not know what the banner means, they don’t understand why my flag fly’s proud in the front yard. They will never know. They say “Thank you for your service”, but for the most part do it because they are supposed to now a days.
There is a woman in our community that flies a Gold Star Banner at her home. Her husband was one of my Soldiers.
This Memorial day, I think of him. Staff Sergeant Brad Lindsey. Killed in Action.
I can honestly tell you that I never want to trade my Blue Star for a Gold one… but this day.. above all others we Honor those that bear the burden of that Gold Star and remember the Soldier that the Star represents.
This Memorial Day Weekend stop for 10 minutes and remember. It is impossible in America today not to be effected by the loss of a Soldier. In every community, in every Town, City, and State of our Country we have felt the sting of the loss of a Soldier.
The only day of my Army career that I ever shed a tear was at the funeral of Lindsey. His loss hurt me deep. He was a good man, he was a great husband and father. He was my radio operator when I was a First Sergeant and proved himself a good Soldier.
Take time and thank them, Honor them, talk to the living, and pray for dead. Most of all Love them.
Have a Great Scouting Day!
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