By a tooth’s skin

I was in the restroom at the new brigade building. The winds were whipping by at 40 to 50 miles per hour–not an uncommon thing on the border of the plains, as I recall similar weather in my college years on the Ohio tundra. The torrents of air created strange whistlings through the cracks and joints of the building.

Our unit is a command element. When we’re at war, we have subordinate units placed under us. Now that we’re back, there are hundreds of leaders with nothing to lead, the subordinate units are gone. Our three tiers of command: company, battalion and brigade; are essentially the same people. Three sets of majors, lieutenant colonels, and captains; outnumbering and all in command of the same few soldiers.

At brigade, we hop to whatever new project the colonel yells for. This week, for me, was posters for the walls–nothing too major. At battalion and the company, just a scant few hundred feet away, there’s less and even less-than-less to do.

Which is why I was standing in the bathroom listening to the wind whistles on a Friday afternoon and why my company commander was washing up on his way out at two.

“Sargen Sal Mons,” he began in his thick accent. I wanted to say Puerto Rican, but I’ve been wrong about that sort of thing before…and I can’t say “Latino” or “Spanish” since that offends all manner of people (I’ve been wrong there too). So I’ll just say “thick.” “When are you going back?”

“To Iraq, sir?” I asked. I got this a lot. Remember back when I was trying to volunteer for a second year in Iraq and how that fell through? Well, there were still a lot of people who thought I was leaving. No big deal, I would let them know I wasn’t going back whenever I ran across someone who didn’ t know. “Oh, that fell through, sir. I’m staying here.”

“That’s a good thing. Those guys are getting shelled all the time. We got out just in time.” He said it in a relieved sort of way.

I’ve heard about the guilt that a lot of Vietnam guys felt when they got back–that they survived when their friends didn’t. What are you supposed to feel when you didn’t lose anyone–when you could have; and that you could easily have been the poor bastards that were over there now, as things get a lot worse, while guys in stateside bathrooms count their blessings before heading out on the weekend?

What are you supposed to feel when someone throws out a “better them than us” type of comment? Are you supposed to be glad? And what should you feel when someone who never left the safety of the wire says something like that to you?

“So you’re over here for good, eh?” he asked.

“Well, we’re waiting to see if division snatches me up when they get back,” I explained. “If so, then I’ll go back with them in a few months.”

“Let’s hope that doesn’t happen. Go out and find yourself some p*ssy. Have a good weekend.”

“You too, sir.”

If you can’t enjoy your time not in Iraq for the guilt of being stateside, then it’s not worth enduring the years there. But I still can’t escape the feeling that when my turn comes again, I’ll be the poor jerk some other guys are joking about while staring at the urinals. “Better him than us.”

So do you hope not to go back? Do you pray not to go back? Bringing God into it seems a little selfish, since someone will have to go. Why not me? No one else is stepping up.


About salemonz

Born in San Diego, Calif. Raised as a Navy Brat, I jumped ship and crossed over to the Army. Served as an enlisted journalist for a bunch of years, then helped the DoD figure out what the hell to do with social media. After the Army, now I drift down the river of life, trying not to be a jerk.

10 responses to “By a tooth’s skin”

  1. Felyne says :

    A few posts back you wrote about what makes ‘happy’.

    The same thing applies here. Do it because you want to do it, not because you think someone else wants you to, or you feel guilt that you should.

    I’m trying to decide if you’re having doubts about wanting to be in the Army or doubting yourself just because others dont want to be.

    At the end of the day, when you’re sitting in a rocking chair on your porch at 90 and looking back on your life, are you gonna say to yourself “Damn Josh salmons, you should have done things a whole lot different”?

  2. salmons says :

    I think all of us play the “if only I’d done this…” game.

    The thing is, it’s a no-win situation to start second guessing the choices we’ve made in life. We can learn from them, but droning on about having made them only makes us feel bad.

    So I guess regret is for suckers…all around. Every moment, good and bad, has made us who we are. We can’t change those things and even if we could, we’d be a different person. Who knows how we would have turned out.

    I guess I’m just always fearful of making the “wrong” choice and missing out on something. But even that doesn’t get me anywhere. If I’m too afriad to make a decision, then I’m not ready to live life.

    To the post, though. No one “wants” to go to Iraq…it’s just something we have to do. The question that I’m asking is: Is it selfish to wish not to go, knowing someone will have to go in my place?

  3. Felyne says :

    Hmm, I don’t do the ‘if only’ game, it’s mentally destructive. I figure I’m gonna make a lot of wrong choices in life, but I wouldn’t be living it if I didn’t. The hardest part was finding me (what made me happy and who I really was). Now I know the answer to that the decisions are all very easy. But damn I digress, you gotta slap me when I do that!

    Is it selfish to wish that? The easiest answer would be if you are a buddist, because it would simply be ‘yes’. 😀 Outside of that, I dont think its as easy as yes or no, and the closest answer I could suggest would be 42.

    But, if you REALLY want some form of validation from me, I say you wish away babe! You’ve signed up to go back even though you haven’t got a shirt full of medals for attendance and know how frustrating its going to be, and if you did that for others and not yourself, Im not sure what the complete opposite of selfish is, but *tag* you’re it.

    If there is a center of the universe called Selfish, you’re the planet farthest from it.

    Damn, could I write anymore words on this page! Sorry about that. So, to cut to the chase, chalk me up as a ‘NO’, not selfish.

    And you send anyone who says different over to me, Josh Salmons, I’ll sort them out for ya real quick. 😉 (Oooh tough kitty, rowl!) haha

  4. Felyne says :

    You’re gonna ban me from commenting soon, aren’t ya. I promise to keep comments shorter… promise!

  5. salmons says :

    Shoot, comment away 🙂 It livens up the blog!

  6. brogonzo says :

    Your company commander sounds like a swell guy.

    I don’t happen to have one at the moment. Odd.

    Anyway — great post. Your post-tour thoughts are as compelling as those you had while you were “over there.”

  7. salmons says :

    Heeeeeey, bro! How’s the “no commander” life? Haven’t seen you on in a bit!

  8. brogonzo says :

    Well, since HHC Garrison has around 13 soldiers in it, not having a commander hasn’t been a big deal. We lucked out and wound up with a really cool first sergeant, and he’s covering down on the day-to-day stuff and having the commander of PCF sign off on anything requiring an officer’s signature.

    It hasn’t been a problem so far. And I’m really just counting down to next summer.

  9. Fabian says :

    Great Blog! Great pictures! Great posts!

  10. salmons says :

    Fabian: Thanks, Fab! It’s a privilege to have you checking things out!

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