Defining moments and dividing lines

[Originally posted at Vox Veterana on 02 AUG 07.]

Jeffreygenehk writes:

maybe sometime, if it`s not too personal, would you share a bit more of what you mean about your life being divided into pre and post afghanistan?


Before I do anything else--anything at all--something needs to be made perfectly clear. I am not a combat arms soldier. I`m not infantry. I`m not (heaven forbid) SF or anything of the like. I never kicked in doors. I never bled, aside from the nail I stepped on while building a b-hut internal wall. We didn`t do street patrols or checkpoints. I never patched up someone else who was bleeding. We never lost anyone on our team.

I did take fire--direct and indirect. I did return fire; I don`t know whether I hit anyone, but they were surely keeping their heads down. We did "find, know, and never lose the enemy," and once we did that, we radioed reports in and our combat arms guys made bad people into dead people--military alchemy. In that very real sense, I am responsible for the deaths of human beings. Don`t shed any tears for them, though--they started it.

In short, I had a relatively easy deployment to Afghanistan with a few very terrifying moments, a rather larger number of tense ones, and many months of tedious ones. "Normal" meant putting on my rifle (or later, SAW) as part of my uniform, going weeks without a shower (or shave or call home), digging holes in the shale only to discover during an enemy attack that they really weren`t deep enough after all...

You contrast this a little with my old normal life, where a bad day was one in which a server went down and I got a lot of annoying phone calls during my lunch break. Or perhaps a Chief Something Officer in the company needed something stupid on his computer, and it was my job to explain why that couldn`t happen. Or maybe some tickets didn`t get documented properly and I had to reinvent the wheel--the sort of thing that I`d definitely bring up in the next staff meeting.

At home, a car breakdown is a major catastrophe. You`re stuck on the road. Gotta call AAA, maybe get a ride from your family member. You`ve missed the dinner party.

In Afghanistan, my humvee became stuck in the mud. This would not have mattered so terribly much if it hadn` t been for the RPGs landing nearby and the rest of the convoy being fully engaged in a retrograde advance. I had enough time to contemplate trying to cross that mud on foot with my extra armor (turret gunners being required to wear full kit at that time and place) and SAW when a friendly Canadian LAV-III gave us a nudge and got us moving homeward again. Their turrets were all to the rear, providing cover fire.

[I love Canadians. They have great weapons, the will to fight, and they make excellent coffee.]

Earlier this week, I heard a sharp THWAP while I was on the highway. A rock put a pretty big chip in my windshield. The last time I heard a noise like that while driving... well. I took a picture.

Life on a deployment--if you can get away from the flagpole--is life turned up to 11. Everything you do matters--everything has real consequences. There are people out there who are trying their darndest to kill you. If they succeed, you won`t have to start the game over or regain the level or play the DVD over again--you`ll be dressed up nicely and you`ll have a nice ceremony and your family will get a flag and you`ll just be dead and that`s all. Live with that knowledge for 11 months--even a relatively easy 11 months like I had--and you`ll understand why life is divided into "before" and "after" with a disproportionately large dose of "during."

And in the meantime, look charitably upon those who have trouble making the jump.