Thursday, April 17, 2008

Double Down

What is war?

War, at least in my limited experience, is supposed to be a protracted military engagement. Front lines, clear objectives, elaborate chessboards and games of terrain and resource. War, at least in my opinion, is supposed to be about something. It may be cruel, and stupid, and heartless, but at least there's supposed to be an end, right?

Right?

So what is this, then? Join the Army, lured in by the promise of jobs, decent pay, health care and money for college. Join for an ideal, for self-respect, to defend your country. Only, you get there, and nothing is as you thought it would be. Long hours, no privacy, and for what? Yeah, that nineteen-year-old high-school sweetheart of yours? Said she'd marry you, thought it was "so romantic" being the bride of a soldier on his way to war? Yeah. She's got no idea what she's in for.

Between field problems, CQ shifts, and late-night GI parties, she's never gonna see you. She's gonna be stuck, in a foreign country, doesn't know anybody, doesn't have anything to do but wait for her name to come up in the DOD civilian hiring system. It's all computerized, so expect her to wait half a year for that. And that's if she isn't already busy raising your kid, whom you never see. This is bad enough.

But you think it's bad now, wait until you get downrange. That goodbye, that late-night going-way waiting for the buses, dark and cold and freezing your ass off, standing by your ruck, weapon slung on your back. Her, leaning on you, trying not to cry. Wipe her tears from the shoulder of your Gore-Tex, form up for roll call, answer the first-sergeant when he shouts your name. Then say a final goodbye, get on the bus, and wave everything you know and love goodbye. Spend a little time looking around you, wondering, "Will some of these guys not make it back? Will I not make it back?"

If war was war, you might at least be able to put up with it. "All quiet on the Western front," and somesuch. But this war isn't. It's not war. It's something else. War, you deal with boredom, and loneliness, and fear, but there's an end to it. Sure, you deal with the mortars, and the bullets, and the constant thud of helicopters overhead late at it. But at least there's a purpose. At least there's a point. There's supposed to be an objective. Supposed to be.

This isn't war. It's something else. Every day, the same thing. Pray that a day passes by without a mission coming down, pray that today you get a shower and to sleep in your own bunk. Pray that you get to call your wife, pray you don't get those niggling doubts about where she is when she doesn't pick up the phone. Pray that the rumors you heard about getting extended were just bullshit. You've had a hard six months already, and you already have another six coming. Your R&R leave ended three weeks ago, you don't need another three months tacked onto your sentence.

Let me tell you why this isn't war: First, war is an actual fight. Sure, there's gunfire, and explosions, and sure, people die, but at least it's you against the other guy. There's soldiers with uniforms and tanks, not some pricks in shemaghs firing 155s out of a PVC tube in the back of a white Nissan pickup truck. There's a frontline, not merely "everything outside the wire." There's enemy soldiers, and civilians, and the guy who smiles and waves at you as he plows his fields today isn't going to be planting a daisy-chain tonight out on Tampa.

In war, you're working toward an end. If things go bad, you're supposed to revert back to your training. Over the trench, into the breach, don't you know. You're at least supposed to have an argument in your favor. Get off the first shot, get sent back to the rear, something, anything. But that doesn't work for an IED, does it? It doesn't work for that mortar landing on your trailer. It doesn't work for the rocket that slams into your maintenance bay, or your DFAC while you're trying to eat chow. It doesn't work for that stray bullet that comes arcing in over the HESCOs, coming to drill into your skull while you PMCS a forklift one Monday morning. The last sound you hear, the drone of a bullet just above you--the lucky one that misses, not the silent one that doesn't.

That's what this is about. War sucks, but you have solutions. Shoot first, go nuts, piss hot, something. No, this is a crap shoot. A fucking crap shoot. Vegas rules, baby, Daddy needs a seven and you ain't got it. Training only works here if you were gonna survive anyway. And that ain't no war, bro. That shit's called luck.

Which brings me to my second point. War has an end. War is supposed to end. That's the whole point, to secure peace, either by silencing their guns or killing so many they can't fight anymore. But there's no end to this. Even if you make it back, even if you get back to your wife again, to your family, to a hot shower and your old civilian wardrobe, back to beer and late nights at the bar and sex with your woman, it's all just temporary. Didn't you hear? Fifteen months on, twelve off, IF you're lucky. Don't count the field problems and CQ shifts. And then guess what, then you get to do it all over again. Back to the strip, back to the lights and the ladies. Only this strip is called Victory Loop, these lights are run on gas-powered generators, these ladies are the Air Force girls who check out your X-rays at the Tactical Hospital.

And guess what? It's gonna be that way for as long as you're in the Army, even after you're out. Even when you make it through the night with your shirt, you gotta go back. You always gotta go back. Vegas, baby, Vegas. Only you gotta remember: House always wins.

If it ain't your life, it'll be your mind, or your health, or your family. So ante up, boyo.

Roll the dice, motherfucker.

Roll the dice.

4 Comments:

Blogger Seven of Six said...

If it ain't your life, it'll be your mind, or your health, or your family. So ante up, boyo.

Fucking 'A' bubba!!

I tried to take the first. Slowly getting back the second. Hanging in there on the third. Moved on to the second wife and have a wonderful son.

Not quite 'snake eyes' but it feels like it at times!

2:50 PM  
Blogger iamcoyote said...

Sorry to take so long responding - I like to have time to read and savor your posts, rather than fling a pie and run like at TLC. As always, riveting, Milo! Nice style on this piece, rollicking, yet somber. Good show, big guy!

10:27 PM  
Blogger Anjha said...

Strong words Milo.

That's what this is about. War sucks, but you have solutions. Shoot first, go nuts, piss hot, something. No, this is a crap shoot. A fucking crap shoot. Vegas rules, baby, Daddy needs a seven and you ain't got it. Training only works here if you were gonna survive anyway. And that ain't no war, bro. That shit's called luck.

That one made me have to get up and walk away for a bit.

Thanks for keeping us posted.

Thought you might like this take:

http://tpmcafe.talkingpointsmemo.com/talk/2008/04/a-diamond-in-the-debate-rough.php

2:26 AM  
Blogger Long-time RN said...

Also have taken a few days to absorb this post. Continue to think of you and Anne as you work through the aftermath of the storm.

2:47 AM  

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