Wednesday, February 6, 2008

War is Hell

A Peek at What This Blog Contains.

At the risk of being thought less of, mocked, or ridiculed by peers or whoever reads this blog (which I suspect more and more that less and less people read it), I feel to tell a secret about divulge publicly something I have rarely, if ever, discussed with anyone outside of the special ops and SWAT community. (I suppose I take some comfort in the idea that no one is reading this, and it’s strictly my thoughts alone.) Here it goes:

Videos released to media show al Qaeda training young boys to kidnap civilians at gunpoint in Iraq. These small boys look about the same size as my son.

While I was on leave, I’m told some Marines shot and killed young boys with toy pistols that looked more realistic than the toy pistols in the U.S. They weren’t blamed. Apparently, the kids pointed their pseudo-weapons at the combat patrol.

Would I kill a kid? Would I kill a woman? Many female suicide bombers have begun terrorizing the area, you know. So, would I? Absolutely. Anyone who’s worked with me in a tactical capacity knows that I made that decision a long, long time ago. You can’t wait until the last moment to make difficult moral, ethical or psychological decisions like that. But I guarantee I’m the exception, not the rule when it comes to that.

Most people in the military don’t have the same experience or background that I do. As a reservist, there’s even a greater division. Think about it: I work with people who work at Walmart, General Electric and car dealerships—and those are the supervisors! There are teachers, construction workers, computer geeks, and even a cook from Hooters here. They’re seriously ‘weekend warriors’ and ‘citizen soldiers’, with an emphasis on citizen!

Believe me, I’ve felt like the odd-ball for far too long. I have often wished to be working with guys like me—people that speak my language, guys I understand and guys who understand me. Most importantly, men I’d trust with my life. It’s not like that for me in the conventional unit I’m currently serving in, which is one of the reasons I was so distressed early on and even lost my cool once or twice.

Although I’m a subject matter expert in my field and have been treated that way for many years, here my advice has been disregarded, my opinion unheard. I realize that confession isn’t the best thing to admit to anyone eager to investigate my job claims, but that’s the truth and I can’t lie about it. I suppose everyone’s experienced being underutilized or underemployed at times. And, to think I volunteered to go back active duty into the army after accepting my reserve commission in 2003. By the way, even as much as they were/are hurting for officers, they told me no reserve lieutenants could go regular army. Shocking, I know.

So now whatever knowledge, skills and abilities I may possess when it comes to terrorism, tactics and war, it has little application here in Iraq. Go figure! Suffice it to say, although I get along with others well here, there’s not a specialty job for me here. Being a former noncommissioned officer-turned commissioned officer, peers my age have a much higher rank than me. That makes me even more of an odd-ball. And yes, military rank is the proverbial Scarlett Letter and even though I’ll be a captain anytime now, I’ve learned officers don’t have as much authority or autonomy as I did as an NCO and its incredibly frustrating. But that’s another story altogether. Bottom line: I didn’t ask to come to this unit and I don’t plan to stay with when we get back home.

Anyway, continuing with the thought of killing kids or moms (I may say that nonchalantly, but I’ve had to practice at it), those unprepared—those who haven’t made that decision—may hesitate, and hesitation will get you (me) or others seriously injured or killed. Forget that. I’m going to win!

There’s nothing appealing about killing though. Hollywood makes killing seem fun. Violence in the media upsets me, to be honest. I don’t like it and I don’t watch rated-R movies or violent movies of other ratings. I guess that’s one of the reasons why my buddies have referred to me as such a paradox. They don’t think Mormons can be good Mormons (or Christians, for that matter) and at the same time be good at their police or military jobs, which invariably involve killing at some point, or training to do so. Yes, as members of the LDS church we can honorably serve in the military or in law enforcement and maintain and enjoy the same status, rights, privileges and blessings that come to any other member of our religion.

What can I say? I’m a bona fide, living, breathing, walking dichotomy.

At the risk of being thought less of, mocked, or ridiculed by peers or whoever reads this blog (which I suspect more and more that less and less people read it), I feel to tell a secret about divulge publicly something I have rarely, if ever, discussed with anyone outside of the special ops and SWAT community. (I suppose I take some comfort in the idea that no one is reading this, and it’s strictly my thoughts alone.) Here it goes:

I’ve trained for so long on how to kill, and do so very well, that I have been interested to see what it feels like. Phew! There, I said it. That may sound like I’m some sociopath or a demented psychopath. But that’s not the case, or if it is, I haven’t been clinically diagnosed. Seriously, though, I don’t want to ever kill, I’m not eager or bloodthirsty, but then on the other hand, I wonder what it would be like to justifiably kill and save another person from being killed. I’ve shot hostage takers in the face numerous times in training over the years.

I’ve been trained and have trained (even much more than the average tactical guy) on ending life, and I’ve never done it, which I know is good, of course. But with guys like me, with jobs like I’ve had, it’s like being on a baseball team and never playing a game. No one wants to sit on the bench the whole season and if they play, they want to hit a grand slam homerun or turn double plays.

Many of my friends have been in firefights. Some people have told me they wouldn’t pick anyone to do a ‘mission’ of any sort, unless they’ve been in at least five heavy firefights and have survived without having curled up in the fetal position or wet themselves. Although I’m confident I could react psychologically, tactically and physiologically adroit or well, I still haven’t been ‘tested.’

But with tests come trials.

Dave Grossman, one of the foremost authorities on the psychological impacts of killing in combat, showed that the combined total of U.S. soldiers in World War I, World War II, and the Korean War pulled from the front lines as a result of psychiatric casualties was higher than the total of soldiers killed in action. That’s quite revealing.

Someone once said a mind once expanded never gains its original dimension. Well, I cannot remove some of the things I know. Believe me, there have been times I have cried over what I know.

I’ve killed so often in training and in my head for over a decade that it’s like I’ve done it for real hundreds of times. I’ve dreamt about it. I’ve thought about it without meaning to at odd times. Lately, through self-introspection and pondering, I have wondered if, since the mind is the final power that invariably creates, condones or expels post traumatic stress, if those who use their mind to envision killing and their bodies to do it through realistic training, if they too can be susceptible to PTSD. If I were a betting man, I’d bet that people who have never killed can still have the capacity to suffer as if having killed based on what I’ve presented above. (I’ll have to ask Dr. Nancy Kobrin, a friend and expert on PTSD.)

In the end, though, war is hardly ever any good. The thrills and successes of having done a job well, like surviving and winning a firefight, can be quickly diminished when accidents or collateral damage occurs.

On October 26, a Humvee gunner followed the proper rules of engagement and fired a warning shot near a bus when it wouldn’t stop. The bullet ricocheted off the street and into the bus, striking and killing a 7-year-old Iraqi girl named Ayah. According to the terribly sad article, Marines on scene tried to offer aid, but the locals refused and took her to a nearby hospital where she died. Jamal Abu Khalid, Ayah’s father is quoted as saying, “I do not forget my daughter. Every time I see a bunch of kids playing outside I think of her.” (Geoff Ziezulewicz, Stars and Stripes, Mideast Ed. “Fallujah park created in girl’s memory”, February 6, 2008, 4.)

Don’t believe the Hollywood hype. Even if it seems like an accurate portrayal, you can never know until you’ve lived it yourself. And I wouldn’t wish that upon anyone because war is hell.

1 comment:

Cindi Martineau said...

I found your blog through a friend's blog and check in almost every day. I have really appreciated your view of things, especially as an independent voter, deciding where to cast my vote.
It's hard to read about the things you are living and seeing. I can't imagine being there. Thanks for being willing!
Sending up prayers for you and your family!