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.