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A Path with Heart—Afghanistan, part 11
Posted By Staff On August 19, 2009 @ 7:13 am In Online Exclusives | No Comments
By Specialist Thomas Bauschke
Good morning once again, dear reader, from sunny Can’t-tell-ya-where-I-am-istan: Where everyone means well, nobody smells bad, and the food—is to die for. These are the dog days of deployment for me. It’s now the end of May, and since the enemy attack on the 1st of this month, we have had little or no down time. The attack shook us up tremendously as our platoon sergeant was injured in the first minute. Although his wounds are healing and his physical therapy at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., for his torn right bicep is going well, we will not see Sergeant Craighead for another eight weeks or more, if ever.
The days seemed buried in a quagmire of endless paperwork, equipment inventories, missions and guard duty. Our platoon leader, Lieutenant Keogh, had been transferred to be A Company’s executive officer some weeks ago. His newly-arrived replacement, Lieutenant Nicorvo, will have big shoes to fill to join a platoon that had trained together for more than a year before deploying, and have arguably seen the most enemy action in the battalion in an area that has seen the most enemy contact in the brigade.
A former section sergeant, Ssg. Tetreault, returned to replace our platoon sergeant. Major personnel changes always bring much disarray and confusion with them as everyone settles in to their new positions and must learn to do so many things differently.
Amid all this chaos, I received a Dear John letter from my girlfriend. I was stunned. My shrapnel wound, though small, hadn’t even healed yet. The guys even noticed how quiet and temperamental I became. Now, I was additionally busied with contacting my buddies back in upstate New York to somehow get all my things out of her house, an issue she has made to linger. The last thing I wanted was to get back from deployment and have to go back to that house and have her and some guy help load up my stuff.
I am 43 years old, and getting dumped still seems to hurt every bit as much as it did in high school. Having someone to come back to made so much of the incredible inconveniences of deployment somehow bearable; not to mention the hope plans for our future brought me. Alas, my dating career reads like a rejected manuscript for a Harlequin romance novel with a recurring catastrophic ending. Some of my dumpings are legendary indeed. In 2002, I was dumped right before I took a canoe down the Mississippi River. That was a lovely send-off. Dec. 20 of the very same year, I was dumped by the next girlfriend.
I am furious this time, too. Sure, maybe she just got scared of the whole idea of war and the fear of my demise drove her off. Or, more likely, she simply met the next. Assuming this, I have asked her not to tell me and I have told my buddies in New York not to tell me. The mystery at least allows me a night’s sleep; all four hours of it. Maybe I should admit defeat and finally go gay; not merely Fabio gay, I mean full-blown Liberachi gay! Just kidding, dear reader; trying to cheer myself up. Everyone, please roll your eyes with me, “Laughter is the best medicine.”
At night, we wear night vision goggles on guard duty. The sky is filled with many more billions of brilliant stars when looked at through these goggles. The Milky Way Galaxy is truly magnificent to behold. The first time I saw this, I nearly came to tears. Now, I chance glances up at those stars, the very same stars that shine down on “the one who shall not be named,” and I dream of what could have been. At these many moments, I have to catch myself, turn my head back to the mountain, and remain focused on my job. The men I look for through those goggles are quite literally trying to kill me, and have very nearly missed once already.
Trust me when I tell you I am not the only soldier with relationship problems here. Girlfriends of deployed soldiers commonly find new boyfriends, and marriages end far more often than in civilian life. We call our replacements “Jody,” and even sing cadences with his name in them. How many soldiers do you imagine have been dumped during wars? I would venture to say they number in the millions.
The costs of war are staggering. Losses of life, destroyed property, corrupting lies of politics, broken homes and, yes, broken hearts are just the short list. Why does war seem so easy to start, but so damned hard to stop? When we are 2 years old, we gain the concept of “mine.” We fight over building blocks or stuffed animals, even when they obviously belong to others. From an early age, we fight for what we think is ours. Between this lingering confusion we call The War on Terror and my sordid personal life, I wonder if most of us ever really grows up at all.
To add to this month of months, I approached my date for the Sergeant’s Promotion Board. This is where I stand in front of a panel of a sergeant major and first sergeants and impress upon them that I am, in fact, ready for the responsibility of being a leader of soldiers. In between missions, long harrowing sleepless days and burning resentfully over my girlfriend, I study everything from Army regulations, manuals to weapons systems, leadership principals and, of course, The NCO Creed.
As it happened, my date has been postponed to July 1 instead of June 1. My God, was I relieved! I am torn. After the major enemy attack May 1, I feel intense loyalty to my platoon: 3rd Platoon, D Company. Promotion to sergeant would bring me a more than $500-a-month raise, but also probably means a transfer to a sergeant’s position somewhere else in the battalion. Going to the board conflicted, frazzled and barking at the sergeant major could only have led to disaster. Emotionally, I am spent after these long four weeks.
Finally, though, Memorial Day came upon us, and nearly passed us by; so much to do and so little sleep. My unit, 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, has been fortunate (knock on wood) and has had no one killed in action yet this deployment. A number of us will be pinned with purple hearts. Our Battalion Commander, Lt. Col. Frederick M. O’Donnell, came to our FOB and addressed us on Memorial Day. It occurred to me as he spoke that I’ve read the monthly numbers of killed and wounded for years, but for May 2009, I am among those counted. A humbling revelation, dear reader, that I am a statistic of war. And I am so very grateful for having lived to tell the tale.
Other nearby units have not been so fortunate. We, like you, had a moment of silence here in the dusty 106 degree sun of Kunar Province, Afghanistan. With all the hardships endured here, including long hours, relentless pressure, army food, no sleep and broken hearts, we must always take pause, be thankful for what we do have, realize that it could be much, much worse, and never forget those who make the ultimate sacrifice for us and our country.
I close with a prayer for the fallen:
May the Lord bless you and keep you.
May the Lord have mercy on you and shine his countenance upon you,
and may He give you His peace. Amen.
Next time: Our interpreters talk about Afghanistan.
From the Aug. 19-25, 2009 issue
Article printed from The Rock River Times: http://rockrivertimes.com
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