Late last year, after eight months of service halfway around the world, I decided to take stock of myself: I had not been monitoring my stock portfolios and investments closely. I was not current on the machinations of the faltering economy or what the health-care debate meant for my insurance. I had never heard of the finalists on any of the reality shows.
Was I unenlightened and out of touch with reality? Perhaps, by a conventional definition of being connected, informed and up-to-date, I was woefully ignorant.
I was deployed in Afghanistan, and that combat sabbatical taught a completely different regimen of vital knowledge. I have learned:
- Although all Americans are born equal, all boots are not.
- Afghan food, although prepared in a way that would make a state health inspector faint, is tasty. And...
- The Afghan people are a giving, warmhearted group.
- The Afghan people deserve better than they have gotten the past 300 years.
- The M240B machine gun is a wonderful weapon and never jams.
- The Afghans are tough as nails and extremely resourceful.
- Mortar and rocket explosions are much louder at night. So is machine-gun fire.
- American soldiers are here by choice. They want to make a difference for Afghans and provide security for the folks back home.
- This war is necessary and worthwhile.
- When you are cut off, out of fuel, water and food, it feels even worse than it sounds.
- There is no risk too great or mission too dangerous for the U.S. soldier if the goal is to retrieve a missing comrade.
- Narcolepsy is rampant in the military. No place is too uncomfortable to sleep.
- When a roadside bomb explodes, even if you know it is coming, you still jump.
- When I look at my right sleeve and see the 101st Airborne combat patch and the subdued American flag, I am stirred with pride.
- The first thing you say in a firefight is: "What the hell was that?" This is quickly followed by: "Where the hell did it come from?"
- You never know how beautiful a sunrise is until you don't know if you'll live to see it.
- I am always incredulous when the bullets stop whizzing past and no one is hit.
- American FRACU (Flame Retardant Army Combat Uniform) uniforms fade to dingy, mottled beige and are made of papier-mache.
- Life for Afghans is an inexact science.
- The MRAP is a fabulous, mine-resistant vehicle. It gives its life willingly so our soldiers do not have to give theirs.
- Normally hard as tungsten and cold as sleet, a soldier will cry at a memorial service for fallen brethren.
- The Afghans laugh at us behind our backs, too.
[Special thanks to Maj. J. Mark Jackson, US Army Reserve, who wrote this amazing piece for the Washington Post. He served in Afghanistan from April to December 2009.]
Subscribe in a reader
(c)Herding Turtles, Inc. 2009 - 2010