Friday, May 09, 2008

I Cannot Follow

Colby Buzzell has been called back.

Colby Buzzell, author of "My War," was perhaps one of the first well-known milbloggers. His writing is on a par with authors like Anthony Swofford, and I've always admired him enormously. Compared to him, I'm just a child playing with blocks.

Three years after leaving active service, Colby has been called back for another tour. This development is made possible by his obligation to what is called the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR). When a servicemember signs his enlistment contract, s/he is usually obligated to a tour of 3-4 years, minimum, to include an additional number of years in the IRR. Under this clause, the standard term of enlistment is pushed to eight years, and anyone who has served less time than that is subject to recall, pending "the needs of the Army." And so it is, another bright young man is forced to put his life on hold, all so he can put his life at risk again in a foreign land, in the name of a war that has accomplished absolutely nothing.

When I first read the article, I went and had a smoke, after which I poured myself a glass of wine. Though it wasn't me being called back, the revelation shook me. I felt myself in his place, felt the dread of seeing that letter in my mailbox, and had to remember that, even though I'm leaving, it will be years before I can stop looking over my shoulder.

No matter how much you give, no matter how much you endure, no matter how close to the breaking point you come, the Army always wants more. Never forget that.

I've wrestled with this ever since I decided to get out: I served my country with honor, served my time in a warzone, even though I was dubious about the morality of said service. I did my time, even tried to continue my service in a different MOS, and instead the Army gave me nothing. The Army wants nothing more from me, save a life of 24-hour operations, and lack of privacy, and no more brainpower than is required to hit a pin. Now, even as I prepare to leave this life, I'm haunted by the knowledge that, at any time, the Army might decide they want me back. In the end, by signing my name, I agreed that my life was not my own.

The Army was a life-changing experience for me. It gave me strength, and purpose, and memories galore. But it also strained me to my very wits' end. I endured days at a time with no sleep, with little food, wracked by the constant fear of a stray mortar shell, a buried IED, an incoming bullet. I endured loneliness, and fear, and forced my wife to endure more hardship than any spouse should have to accept. I served with honor, even as my countrymen back home left me to rot, and though I had lost all faith in the ability of war to secure peace, I served anyway. Now, my reward is to live the next four years in fear--fear that one day, I too will have to look into that mailbox; fear that I will have to deliver such news to Anne.

You can say I have no right to complain--after all, I signed the contract. Sure. Go ahead and say it. You'd be right. But you didn't live through it. You didn't see the tears on your wife's face. You didn't hear the the mortars and bullets, and see the starving people outside the fence. You didn't see the lines of Iraqi families being denied entry to the posts where their loved ones were being treated for injuries that we inflicted. You didn't see the kids' faces smeared with mud and streaked with flies, or the KBR contractors' shiny white SUVs. You didn't go seventy-odd hours without sleep. You didn't have to wait an hour in line for a phone, all to give your wife the good news that Hey, I won't be calling you for about a week. So when you tell me I have no right to complain, I will proudly tell you where to go--because I went where you refused, and therefore you have no right to tell me anything.

Do you understand? You have no right to tell me anything, again. Ever.

Colby, I pray for your safety. You don't know me, and you probably never will, but all the same you have my respect. I pray that you come back safe, and that your loved ones' suffer as little as possible. I admire you for having the courage to go back of your own free will. Still, I have to beg your forgiveness. You see, I'm afraid that I won't be joining you.

Where you are going, I cannot follow.


Blogger iamcoyote said...

Goddammit. That just sucks. Great post, too. No one really can know what it's like, even though you describe it so well. The living of life in a war zone can't be shown, and we can't really understand unless we see it ourselves. Sadly, most of the people in Iraq had no choice. Thanks for trying to help us see, Milo.

Stay safe, Colby!

8:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh dear, Milo. I hope you don't take a lot of flak for this piece. Reinstating the draft would definitely alter the course of the war, but honestly, even without it, we've been there five years. holy crap. It is wrong to be called back over and over after you think you have done your tour. De facto draft, that's what it is called.

Hey. I have connections in Canada.
PS You are an excellent writer. Make no apologies.

3:23 AM  
Blogger OZinWisconsin said...

Welcome back Milo.
This kind of crap allways takes me to the lyrics from 'Fortunate Son" by Credence Clearwater Revival.
Good luck with that fuckin' mailbox for the next 4.

4:47 AM  
Blogger Seven of Six said...

Milo, You have PTSD. Get treatment... hold your head high dude.

Write me, I'll tell you what I'm talking about in private.

7:18 PM  
Blogger Hayden said...

It's WRONG WRONG WRONG. Plain and simple, WRONG.

I'm so sorry you have to live with this. so very, very sorry. and still it can never be enough.

12:51 AM  
Blogger Long-time RN said...

Ugh, read the article Colby submitted to the San Francisco paper. Your life is not your own until the time referred to in the fine print has expired. We civilians cannot fully understand, but we can empathize, offer our thanks, and sincerely hope you are healing as well as experiencing peace.
Cathy B

3:35 AM  
Blogger Chris said...

You will be nothing if you leave the army, do you understand me? You're squat without us. To stray from the teet is FAILURE.

But hey, we'll give you twenty thousand dollars to re-enlist for another 6 years, Champ! DO IT FOR YOUR FAMILY!


10:35 AM  
Blogger David M said...

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 05/12/2008 News and Personal dispatches from the front lines.

10:07 PM  
Blogger Marty said...

A good place to get information regarding IRR is The Command TOC blog.

So glad you made it home.

5:52 AM  

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