Thursday, June 26, 2008

Service

It has been over four years since I joined the Army. Three since I moved from Reserve to Active-Duty.

It's been a long, strange experience. Who knows why I joined? I had friends who were just coming back from the first phase of the war, and part of me felt guilt at having not shared their burden. I came from a long line of military, and so it only seemed natural that I should join. Sure, I didn't know if I was comfortable with the thing, but I went in anyway, thinking perhaps I might learn something.

I did learn something, I think. But I'm not sure what that is.

This last few years has been hard on my marriage. I've endured a lot of stress, a lot of fear, a lot of loneliness. I endured fifteen months in a warzone, returning thankfully intact to my wife, but with a lot of feelings that I still don't understand. For years, I've been thanked by strangers for my service, but after hearing it so many times I'm no longer sure what that means.

Thank me for what? For leaving my family behind? For punishing myself daily with fear and anger, praying every day that another mission wouldn't come up, that another bridge wouldn't go down If I had felt like I had actually done something, it might have mattered. But I don't. I languished for fifteen months, told I was doing good things, only to find that nothing changed. Nothing good came of what I did over there. Nothing ever improved, nobody's life was made better. Instead, things only got worse. With every month I was down there, the mortar and small-arms attacks only got worse. Our motor pool was shelled with increasing frequency and accuracy. It might have made a difference, but even when I WASN'T on mission, the reality of my situation was inescapable. I neglected myself and my marriage for fifteen months, and for what? Nothing. A bridge goes down, another comes up, only to be destroyed a week later.

A lot of soldiers turn to their faiths in times of war. So did I. But again, for what? I'm a Buddhist, have been since I was fifteen. My command in life is to end suffering. So it was with me. I was a builder of bridges. I was supposed to heal the wounds. But I healed nothing. Instead, my faith became ever harder to hold on to, and when I DID find time to practice I did so in solitude. Such alone-time is more precious than water in that place. You cannot know the price I paid for it.

Ease suffering, first your own and then that of others. This is the directive of my faith. But how did I do that? Every time I went up in the guard tower, went out on mission, went to the MHE yard for haji-watch, the same thing. The same dirty, battered, gaunt people, begging me for food, for clean water, for hygiene supplies, trying to sell me any damned thing they could get their hands on. Meanwhile, all over Iraq, every dumpster, every latrine, every DFAC emblazoned with the logo of a company whose contractors make $90,000 a year, tax free. People grow rich, I grow comfortable on fat combat-pay bonuses, while outside the gate the people I'm supposed to be helping are starving and dying. See the lines of Iraqi women outside the gate, some sick, others waiting to be allowed in to where their husbands or children lay mangled in an Air Force Tactical Hospital. I pat down their neighbors and search them for contraband, me with my M-16 at amber, blind to their sufferings.

I have the power to aid a man with parcel of food of my MRE, with a drink from my water bottle, or even from the comfort of an American cigarette, and still my command chain tells me to stand by and do nothing. I always knew that service meant sacrifice, but I never thought I'd have to sacrifice my faith, my ideals for that.

And again, I did this not for 12 months, but for fifteen.

I got angry--of course I got angry. I began to question the wisdom of what I was doing there. I began to hate my situation, began to hate the place I was fighting to save. I began to doubt the wisdom of my service, and I said as much. I spoke up--I objected to the war, on this blog, because I knew I couldn't do it openly in the line of duty. And for what? As soon as I opened my mouth, I was shunned, reviled. I received death threats, threats to my career. It got so bad that I feared I might be compromised. Instead of thanking me for my service now, I had people telling me I deserved to die, deserved to suffer for my "treason." Suddenly, my service no longer mattered. I was just an enemy. To hear these things, all while news about the war disappeared from the networks, and after a THREE-MONTH-EXTENSION no less, made me feel like I was forgotten by the American people. I felt alone. I felt abandoned. I felt like nothing was going to get better.

I sacrificed my safety, my health, my sanity, my spirituality, and almost my family, and for what? To be told I wasn't welcome. Just like Vietnam, I found myself spat upon by portions of the American public. But this time, it's wasn't some long-haired protester. No, no... it was the very people cheerleading the war.

What is the point?

I'm getting out now, and I'm glad. I'm so tired, and I have so many pent-up emotions left to deal with. I feel like I strained myself to the breaking point, and still feel guilt that I didn't do enough. My friends are still over there, some have died. More will die. And all the while, nothing back in the States changes. We're still just a soap-opera and horse-race. We don't actually mean anything to anyone who matters.

And now I have to come back home, struggling with the emotions I carry, and when I return I know that people will see my IVAW T-shirt, my beard, my shaggy hair, and they will think me worse than someone who didn't serve at all. They will think me a traitor, an enemy to my country.

I sacrificed all I had, and for what? For this?

Keep it, I say. I don't want it anymore. I'm not going back. I never thought that anyone could make me regret serving my country. But I do. I wish I'd never signed up.

I wish I could take this all back.

10 Comments:

Blogger Chris said...

The absolute worst contributor to this war has been that of the American public. Their big fat crocodile tears and their big fat gas guzzling SUVs with their 2 dollars worth of compassion in the form of a yellow magnet slapped on the back. Their inability to see the reality. Our country is being dismantled by oil men, and good selfless americans are playing "ducks in a row" so they can justify it.

1:35 PM  
Blogger tinalouise said...

Milo, thank you for your truth, your candor and your humanity. You wonder at why you spoke up when the consequences were harsh and the gain seemed nil - you spoke up for so many who haven't the voice to, for those afraid to - you spoke up for those of us who needed you to.

You and the others who went to war, did so for reasons based on the information that was given to you - that information was wrong. Our governments (I am in the UK) deliberately dragged us into this conflict with manipulated information and propoganda.

You act now with honour and bravery by speaking out. You serve your soul's purpose by acting honestly in response to what you can now see - what you have done, where you have been, have brought you here to voice what needs to be voiced.

Again Milo ...thank you.

Namaste,
Tina Louise
Arms Against War

1:23 AM  
Blogger MsMichelle said...

Milo,
I Thank You for not giving up and for hanging in there through the most difficult of times. This war can't be won and those who say it can have alterior motives over there. I appoligise to you for your suffering for your pain and for the hurt it has caused your family. We are all proud of you (for what?) For speaking for what is right and not letting others keep you silent. Those who protest the wars now know what it is like to see people suffer and die for nothing they protest because they don't want our young men and woman to end up like them with both external and internal scars that don't heal. Your voice can help others and most likely has.
Many Blessings
Michelle
USNR

2:51 AM  
Blogger MsMichelle said...

Milo
Thank You for having a voice and for opening up so others can really see into the heart of a serviceman during this horrible time of war. What you have seen and experienced there are no words to heal. I appoligize for your suffering and for what you have gone through to your family for the pain they have endured. THIS is what the American public and government owes you all. People mock those who protest the wars but those people know and have been through it and know what damage it does to the soul of our men and woman and they don't want to see them needlessly suffer for nothing fighting a Holy War in a country that would be better off with out us there. Again thank you for your blog and Thank You for your voice.

Michelle
USNR

3:01 AM  
Blogger brushfire said...

I too thank you for your honesty. It takes real courage to speak truth in the face of such powerful pressure to conform. I'm truly sorry for the negativity you have experienced. You have made a difference in the world with what you (and your wife) have shared.

2:21 AM  
Blogger Aprillini said...

Your blog makes my stomach hurt. Of course you have pent up emotions. I trust that over time you will sort them out. At first we thanked you for your service and all that you sacrificed at home and abroad. Now we thank you, as other responders here have noted - for your voice, your honesty, your informed thoughts. These are a gift to us, your humbler followers and admirers.

If you don't feel that your military service has helped the Iraqis, maybe you can apply your fine mind to figuring out other ways you could be of use. If not, find another positive mission in life, and do not endlessly rehash this difficult time you have been through. Move on, move on. Shalom.

7:43 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

My son is serving in Khost. He's on a FOB and I stumbled on your blog by my obsession to find information on his location, his area, his journey because he would never tell me.. I'm just his mother, safe at home waiting and feeling selfish because I am scared. Feeling selfish because my war is fighting the thoughts about what could happen to my son, 13 miles from Pakistan. Hating not having control, trying not to cry at work, in front of my other children and angry that I cannot be stronger when my son calls that I cry when I hear his voice and am angry that the government that I voted for did this to my family.

Maybe he tells me everything is fine each time to protect me but my own thoughts and imagination are worse than anything I could see. See I have, I've found photos of my son on Yahoo, Rueters, Associated Press.. in the red zone.. in the heat.. outside the wire... I would like to think your contributions and his are enough.. but others need to contribute..
Vote, pray, give, guide, humble themselves, shoot, kill, heal, whatever it is.... what ever needs done a that moment. I apologize, I speak from my heart. I too have changed since my son has left to "secure and develop" this other country that has a culture and behaviors that I can't seem to put my mind around. I always thought I was a peaceful, God-fearing person but now I find myself praying that they die... that the Taliban and insurgents are killed. They have mothers.. They have a life.. but I too have begun to hate this country we are so darn set on securing... rebuilding... while our lives are put on hold, minds are destroyed and my obsession keeps me in a chair by my window with my fingers on a lap top.. late into the night... waiting. For a new Google alert about a country where my beloved son resides for 15 months wearing a Ranger patch that he so proudly earned.

I can only say how very thankful I am for you and the others who have gone before you and who followed after you. You did enough son, you gave enough and you deserve to have some rest now. I will say to you what I would like to say to my son... whatever you had to do.. Whatever you did that stays in your mind.. whatever you saw... felt... experienced... I pray that you know I value your decisions.. your actions.. your courage your human-ness to feel the way you do when you wrote this... I am at war with myself. I am at war fighting indifference with my fellow Americans.

My dear soldier.. I am grateful.. I am a stranger but this war has made you my family at the same time because you are my son's brother... in arms.. and mine in heart...

I am proud of you son.
You are not a traitor.. you are the country's son.

I'm a little emotional tonight..
I apologize... but I will defend you now... what you did.. what you did not do.. makes no difference to me.. because you were willing to do what you did.. for me..a woman and a mother.. so that I can write this to you, sitting on my chair.. in my window.. free to do so... because you had courage to do something for those you didn't know.. your beard.. your shaggy hair... are outward things.. the heart can't be seen. Only God sees the heart.. and His word says Well done good and faithful servant. Like he did his soldiers who were not afraid to kill, spy, destroy so that others could live.

Thank you.
A soldier's mother

4:25 AM  
Blogger Hayden said...

Such grief fills my heart right now. any words I can add seem so small, so futile. it was the wrong war from the beginning, maybe all wars are the wrong wars. I am one who admired and thanked you for your sacrifice although I never wanted you or any other mother's child there. I thank you for your noble willingness to serve, not for waging the war you were sent to fight. It always was a war best not fought.

Once you'd signed up all that was left was to hope you come through with your soul intact. This, I think, has happened. Your anger and willingness to insist on speaking the truth are proof.

how do we end this war, how do we stop the next from happening? your anger and willingness to speak truth may help. Your spiritual path may show you another way. ending war is the only cause I care to fight for, and the struggle is too important to ignore. For you - it is too late, but how do we keep the others from joining in? How do we stop the insanity?

11:34 PM  
Blogger Army Sergeant said...

Just remember when you go that you're not alone. You don't have to do this alone. The rest of us are there for you. When you need to talk, when you need to yell. No matter what.

I have faith that you will make it-and you'll do well.

2:03 PM  
Blogger Bill Stankus said...

Don''t confuse American people with the U.S. government. And don't lump everyone in the same pile.

We do have a representational government - the problem is who are the ones being represented. Special interests and lobbyists are the ones prowling the hall of government - not iconic individuals - not moms and dads - not those wanting magnitudes of change. As long as there is wide spread citizen indifference the Bush and Cheney's of the world will make selfish policies for their kind, profit and power are the values they seek.

What you are thinking and feeling are personal issues and when measured against an impersonal force - what you are - loses almost every time.

I am of the Vietnam generation and I refused to participate in that god awful mess - I've lived through so many bad presidents - LBJ, Nixon, Reagan, Bush 1 and Bush 2 - yet I still have hope we can arise from the decades of blood and waste and become a better people.

Evil and corruption will always be there, the Bush and Cheney types also will be part of the picture.

Why have faith? Because the history of humans is filed with violence and madness - yet we slowly have evolved and bettered ourselves. More slowly than desired, especially by youth - but we are ever so slightly improving.

An example - in 1960 the U.S was a segregated society - separate water fountains and toilets and eateries for people of color. White ruled supreme. Now were are color diversified and, while still not perfect, we are integrated.

Advise: Relax some. Don't identify with all the human errors and bad judgments. Realize this: All a person can really do is live their own life. Live it in harmony and find joy in all the small and large things that give meaning to your life.

12:30 AM  

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