Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The mission

I was reading this post at Main and Central and it got me thinking. Lurch nabbed part of a post from an active duty vet serving in Iraq:


Some law student emailed me while back with some questions, and after it was all said and done she told me she supported the troops. And I know a lot of people share that sentiment and it's all really warm and fuzzy and whatnot, but honestly, I just rather you run out, sign up and catch the early-bird charter to Kuwait and get your ass over here ASAP so one of us can go home. Maybe we can arrange something, you know, by ones and twos and so on, pretty sure we could get all us over-extended types outta here in no time.


It got me thinking about my motivations when I was in. Yes, I've seen combat, not the prolonged mess that was Vietnam and is Iraq but the short, intense skirmishes when the military is called upon to act in peacetime. Firefights with drug dealers and processors, coming under fire when inserting and extracting 'covert operatives' from hostile nations (still classified...probably; gotta check on that so I can tell you some stories), and of course the conflict in Grenada. In my case, we got to go home after the job was done. Not all of us, mind you. I lost a 6 mates during my 4 years with AFSOCOM (the old 23rd Air Force), but in general, after the mission, we got to go home to our loved ones until the next mission. And it's the mission that got me thinking. Actually, thinking about what I was thinking at the time.

The reason I volunteered (for SOCOM, not my initial enlistment; I enlisted in the Air Force to keep my ass out of jail) was for adventure and travel to strange exotic lands, and to sleep with strange exotic women. I was 17 and my brain was located somewhere south of my waist, but I digress. It's where I realized I was an adrenaline junkie; nothing beats jumping out of a C-130 from an altitude higher than Mt. Everest in the middle of the night and going more than half the distance before opening your chute. Nothing beats jumping out of a Blackhawk less than 50 ft. over the Gulf of Mexico, swimming miles to some dinky island, and then calling in an airstrike on some drug lord's secret shipping facility, and then blowing up and killing what the Navy pukes didn't get. Nothing beats extracting a 'covert operative' (who gave the signal he was in the clear) in a Communist country and then being opened up on by Soviet infantry just as the chopper flared for a landing. Yes, seriously, that's what I lived for when I was young. That and knowing there would be a woman and a bar waiting for me when I got back.

Did I ever think about the 'Big Picture'? No. Did I ever think, when we went to Grenada, that Reagan was doing it for political reasons, or any other reason than what we were told? No. It was the mission, period. I never paid any notice to the rightness or the wrongness of it. Orders came down, we trained up for the mission, accomplished it, and came home. On to the next. The thought of whether we were 'right' to do what we did never crossed my mind when I was in. The operative word, again, was home. Had I taken part in a protracted conflict, maybe I would have thought more about the morality of what I'd been told to do. I had to deal with the morality later on, and continue to do so.

I think about what these guys have had to do, under the stress of prolonged, repeated deployments [Note: My longest deployment or TDY was 90 days.], and wonder what I would do. Would I open my mouth? Would I complain about the injustice done, once the reason for the mission began to change? Would I have the chance to question right from wrong while dodging bullets?

When I was in, I knew what I was doing was right. There was the Soviet menace and my job to protect democracy from it. Black vs. White. Night vs. Day. Then. It's gotten a bit wide and gray over the years, with hindsight, hence the reason the young boy whose throat I cut when he discovered my hidey hole returns to me so often in my dreams. It wasn't black and white then and it certainly isn't now. There are guys coming back who've had to do far worse in a war, like Vietnam, with little justification from their leaders. You can kill to defend your way of life, as long as you can square it with yourself. When you begin to debate the 'rightness' of what you're doing, as you're doing it, your psyche can't help but suffer. Killing someone who would kill you is one thing. Killing someone who did nothing but be in the wrong place at the wrong time is something else to reconcile. I have doubts about those who can. It makes me wonder about bomber pilots.

This war is ruining a whole generation of young men and women to enrich people who give not a damn about them. It is illegal and immoral and anyone who supports it is devoid of any 'moral values' they claim to have. I wish I could let them share my dreams...just once.

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