READING EYES |
November 08, 2006
READING PEOPLE'S EYES
Name: SGT Brandon White
Posting date: 11/8/06
Stationed in: Afghanistan
Milblog url: http://www.gwot.us
I sometimes will spend whole days simply reading people’s eyes, not saying a single word. You can learn a lot about a person just by looking them in their eyes. And I don’t mean looking them in the face. You can carry on an entire conversation with a person without actually looking into their eyes; indeed this is what most of us do. But when you actually lock eyes with someone, even for an instant, you see behind the mask, and get a glimpse into that person’s emotions, personality, fears and weaknesses.
The other day, after returning from a stand-off (still ongoing), I wanted to get a real sense of how everyone was feeling after being in a combat zone for five months. The string of BS that I receive when I ask some of my troops how they’re doing simply doesn’t cut it sometimes. I walk up to a Private First Class who is enjoying a cigarette out on the steps to our building. I pull out my own pack and light one up. "So, how ya doin' man?" I ask coolly, staring off into the distance, exhaling the smoke from the first puff. He starts going on about "It’s all good, S’arnt" and "Can’t wait to go on leave, S'arnt". I am hearing his words, and looking for his eyes to betray them. He doesn't notice me looking: He is staring at one of our FOB's dogs.
"That stand-off could turn into a full-out battle at any moment," I say, baiting him with my words. I think I detect a reflexive jerk on his face. That’s when I catch his eyes, only for a moment, and I see everything that I need to see, fear and the look of being lost, as he babbles on about warlords and wiping them out with his AT-4 rocket launcher.
I've seen the same look in many Joes, both here and in Iraq, a look of despair entwined with resolve and determination at the same time. "What happens next?" with a side of "I will be going home." I am only about three or four years older than this man, but feel at least a decade older. Indeed, many here thought that I was early-to-mid-30's until I revealed my true age. It has been the same everywhere I go, ever since returning from that other battleground, Iraq. The 18-year-old's smile and baby face I had when I first joined the Army have been replaced by a resolute, hardened stare, one which actually unnerves some people, and a face that is showing wear from the desert elements.
I take a final draw on the cigarette before placing it in our butt-can. I walk from the steps to our tactical operations center, where I find my commander on the radio, giving some sort of report to higher. When I enter the room we immediately catch each other's eyes. I am surprised, actually. He is in his early 40’s, and men that age are usually the ones that hide their eyes from you, as if knowing that their soul is revealed through their eyes, feeling guilty for 40 years of mistakes.
I find it harder to read the eyes of a person the older he or she gets, but I was able to recognize the helplessness and fear in this man’s eyes. I contemplate why he would be feeling scared and helpless as I pretend to scan the radio operator’s logbook. I have no doubt that he is under enormous pressure. Any combat commander is under loads of stress. The fear is not for his own life, but for the lives of his troops, the lives of these young guys whom he is responsible for. The helplessness would be from simply not knowing what to do about our current situation with the warlords and any number of other things which, as a commander, he is expected to know. I walked out of the operations center with a little more respect for the man, even though I hadn’t uttered a word to him.
I come back into my room and look into the mirror. After staring at my own eyes for a good 30 seconds I give up, unable to draw any conclusions.
“In every child who is born, no matter what circumstances, and of no matter what parents, the potentiality of the human race is born again: and in him, too, once more, and of each of us, our terrific responsibility toward human life; toward the utmost idea of goodness, of the horror of terror, and of God.”