I was able to see the movie Act of Valor this weekend I was never a Navy Seal, I was a Sergeant First Class in the US ARMY! But I must say I have SO much respect for those guys! On the way out of the theater I overheard a couple talking as they walked down the stair to the exit. I guy said to the girl he was with “I don’t get it?” She must have done a tour of duty, ‘cause her reply to him was “You just wouldn’t understand!” I quickly chuckled and proceeded to my car.
After viewing this awesome movie & hearing that quick conversation. I could not but help to reflect on my ten years of service as a Engineer Sergeants a “SAPPER”. And my fellow soldiers, sailor and airmen I had the honor to train, work & fight alongside. I was driven to write these following words in reflection of it:
When there were no more wars to occupy a soldier’s tyme. When bombs ceased their descent and bullets no longer flew by faster than you could blink. When a foxhole was a thing of the past, and you no longer had to crouch down and hope to God you didn’t get hit. What happened when you went back home, and faced your friends and family? What did you say to them? How could you explain what you did and had to do? They’d never understand. They had never seen war and its individual horrors. They hadn’t heard the things you heard, felt what you felt, or saw what we saw when we were there, on the battlefield.
They could never understand!*
I personally never really know how to respond to those when they ask me about my tyme of in the service? Even with multiple tours under my belt, and having the privilege to have train across the world, words like boring, chaotic, harsh, exciting, gratifying, depressing and just about every other descriptor you might expect come to mind. Truth is, deployments can be such a rollercoaster that no one word can really capture the full extent of what it feels like, but of course, I usually throw a few of them out there to satisfy their curiosity.
The only word, or feeling, I’ve found that remains constant, is “loneliness.” Now, most people don’t want to hear that because it isn’t what combat is supposed to be like, and most veterans don’t want to say that because either it’s too revealing or entirely unexciting to the listener. It seems to me that the loneliness that springs from combat results from the separation of pre- and post-combat experiences.
Looking back, I can recall the first onset of that loneliness. When I was accepted to the U.S. ARMY, my life began to change. I certainly felt some excitement and anxiety as I started down this brave new path, but I also felt a deep regret that, in many respects, my life would never again be as carefree. I sacrificed wild college years for hard and tedious study, so that I could better serve my nation. Although I’ve kept close contact with my friends, I know that they simply can’t relate to most of my military experiences. That lack of understanding separates you from the life that you led and the life you now lead. Once a soldier has completed their first cycle of (A.I.T. Advance Individual Training) it initiated that crevice of isolation that has turned into a gorge.
The first tyme I deployed I accepted the thought that I might not make it home. I understood the risks and I had very little trouble moving from the academic theory to the practical reality. I would either get smoked, or I wouldn’t. I had metaphorically put my name in a hat knowing that mine might be the next drawn. As a deployed soldier the tyme I spent training immersed in leadership examples (both good and bad) and rigorous academic study, seemed a waste. The brave, intelligent and disciplined soldier could end up dead just as quickly as a cowardly, foolish one. Facing your own mortality with such random, unforgiving swiftness gives you a unique perspective…and takes some tyme to accept. Yes, the Army does desensitize you. But it also forces you to see what’s most important. Family, Loyalty and the Lord. Because a soldier knows these three things will keep him going while in that foxhole.
A few years ago, I was handed the following saying of Tecumseh’s. Ironically this was part of the ending in the movie – I call it ‘A Teaching from Tecumseh’:
“So live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart. Trouble no one about their religion; respect others in their view, and demand that they respect yours. Love your life, perfect your life, and beautify all things in your life. Seek to make your life long and its purpose in the service of your people. Prepare a noble death song for the day when you go over the great divide. Always give a word or a sign of salute when meeting or passing a friend, even a stranger, when in a lonely place. Show respect to all people and grovel to none. When you arise in the morning give thanks for the food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies only in yourself. Abuse no one and nothing, for abuse turns the wise ones to fools and robs the spirit of its vision. When it comes your time to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with the fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song and die like a hero going home.”
In many ways I’ve never been closer spiritually to my family than when I’ve been away from them for extended periods, because those are the tymes I fully put them into the Lord’s hands. When we move out in the job that the Lord has called us to do, he will take care of us. With our sense of God’s strength within, you will be able to identify with the apostle Paul when he said, “We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed. . .” (2 Cor. 4:8-9).
Family and friends may try, but they will never really understand the “calling” of a soldier. And as that soldier, you can only accept that “a man never steps into the same river twice” and know that you’re not alone.
*Resource: Band of Brothers (TV mini-series 2001)