Finally a question of some substance, however, one that will bring us all to the brink of either calling me a cheesy pathetic fool, or a romantic that has an overly developed sense of himself. Either way the intricacies of my job or profession will be brought to light. It was dark in the living room when my phone rang, it was dark outside as well. The movie on the television had barely captured my attention. Although not ready for the type of grilling I took on the phone, one particular question caught my attention, “what is the most important part of my job?” What an interesting way to phrase a general question about another’s occupation. I had expected, “what’s the most fascinating part of your job,” or even “why do you do what you do.” For both of those questions I have well rehearsed statements and stories, that would alleviate the others expectations, while keeping myself well within familiar grounds.
This question was different, without hesitation, I heard what I wanted to hear and started to answer a completely different question. I tried to tell her why I do what I do, what keeps me at my job, and not in the unemployment lines, or rather the freedom of release. That answer is simple and rehearsed… The people that I work with and the problem sets offered me, provide both the camaraderie as well as the necessary challenges to keep me. Both are true statements, but neither of them match what the question was asking. The most important aspect of my occupation, the one that resonates the most with me, is the aspect of responsibility. Not so much the duty, or the obligation to my country, for I have never been an Arthur Sullivan man. But, rather the sole responsibility for the welfare of others that have volunteered to throw their lives on the altar of our Imperial ambitions. It is the sons and daughters of the Untied States that I have been entrusted with through my commission. For those that have seen an officer stand and take his oath of office, you have seen what should be heralded as the most sacred and solemn pledge our nation has to offer.
It is this pledge and oath that truly separates us from mercenaries, (or contractors in today’s colloquial.) It is this oath that forces a young man to swear to another officer that he will do everything in his power to defend the constitution against all enemies. Though not stated in the actual oath, the men and women that are around you when you speak it, can hear the words that are not spoken. They hear, “From the last of my breath I will ensure that the mission is accomplished. That during this trial I am personally responsible for the well being and lives of the men under my command.” A young officer will hear these words, or a similar set, almost daily from the moment that he is commissioned to the moment that he takes command of his first platoon. There truly is no way to easily describe the pressure that he is under. These young man-boys are chastised for each mistake with the curse of, “what are you going to tell his parents?” It will be taken as far as watching young lieutenants write letters of condolences to fictitious soldiers that he has lost in training due to his errors. These letters are written, and are one of the hardest punishments you can imagine. Late at night in your hotel room, you sit there nursing a beer, knowing that the punishment is bull shit and that the letter isn’t real. Yet, by the time you get to the second sentence you can start to feel the emotions rise. The anger at the ones forcing you to do this does not subside but rather changes and you choke back the rising tide of emotions.
As for myself, this is the portion of my job that I take the most seriously. I would like to say that I have done everything I can to keep my subordinates out of harm’s way, that is just not the case. There were days that I was reckless, there were days that I volunteered us to do more and more dangerous acts. Yet, without hesitation, I would tell you that I did my best to prepare my team for these operations, and I took all precautions available after the acceptance of the mission. Having to write the second most difficult letters of my life, the first being the letter to my own parents, letters to the parents of my fallen. Of men that I was with when they died, when my choices pushed them forward into harm’s way. Where no amount of training could have protected them. My choices alone are judged and measured by the blood of not only our enemies but our friends, I have relived these choices a thousand times each night for years. This is the part that they don’t tell you on the recruiting posters, this is the part that they cannot train you for, nor prepare you for. It isn’t until you are sitting at a small, poorly lit desk, with your shaking hands on a key board, working on the opening of a letter that you never wanted to write.
In my previous posts on a much older blog site I wrote many times on the deaths of friends, small eulogies and tributes to images of men that will be forgotten with time. It is from these experiences that I tell you as a commissioned officer in the United States Army the most important and the only aspect that I treat with pure reverence, is that of the lives of my fellow soldiers on the battlefield. As a child in the eyes of those that I work with, as a man in the eyes of the world, I stood in front of a wooden stand with a rifle facing downward, behind a pair of boots. My eyes caught the reflection of the dog tags that hung from the pistol grip of an M4 carbine, and I know that though I was successful, for that moment I had failed. For that brief eternity my world narrowed to the name on the tag, I had failed. That the responsibility laid on me, no matter how unprepared or ill conditioned for the task was mine. For a man with no god, it is the one time I wished that I had a god. That I could wish for my friend something more that would make up for leaving his family and friends behind, that could make up for the suffering of his final moments.
A question was asked of me late at night on the phone by a woman that was testing my limits, trying to learn more about me, neither of us were prepared for the responses that would follow. The night was lost to my mind, as I let it race from one aspect to another of my job, before settling down upon the facts of what responsibility is. Of what having to grow up early means. It was in this moment, that I realized I had changed, that over the course of years, living times that others would say were best forgotten, I had aged. I have written that their memories will fade and that they will be forgotten, and yes it is true, and yes time will erase their names, but I will never forget. And the monument on the North corner of Fort Carson will forever carry their names and titles until the earth moves and I have gone to join them.