GETTING IT OFF YOUR CHEST |
November 15, 2010
Name: Anthony McCloskey (Tadpole)
Returned from: Afghanistan
Sometimes coming home, and being home, is the hardest part of war. I am beginning to think that leaving the war may be more difficult than serving in it. While you are in theatre, things tend to be pretty cut-and-dried, pretty black and white. You know what your mission is, you know your orders and you execute. You don’t think about the “why” of it all, or whether or not what you are doing is right or wrong, because you don’t have the time, nor the luxury, to do so. You sure do think about it when you come home though.
When you come home, you will replay in your mind every significant event you experienced while you were in theatre, and a lot of insignificant ones as well. You’ll replay them over and over in your head and analyze them. You will think about your mistakes and lapses in judgement. You will think back and discover new mistakes, realizing that you could have, and should have, done something differently. You will wonder about the fate of the locals with whom you interacted.
Over and over again I find myself trapped in a battle zone version of “Groundhog Day." I frequently wish they would send me back, if only because I know it would silence this inner monologue that I dare not share with others, lest they not understand. How can you chat with a friend over coffee at Starbucks and expect them to fully comprehend the gut wrenching feeling you get every time you think about the time the .50 caliber machine gun you were manning jammed in the middle of a fire-fight and all you could think about was whether or not you’d maintenanced it correctly. Was it your fault that you and your buddies were about to die? Just because you had not used enough lubricant, or too much?
You’ll think back to other times, when you were under fire, and in the heat of returning fire, perhaps you fired on a civilian. Was that a gun they were holding or was it a broom? Did they point it at you? It all happened so quickly. You’ll be having these thoughts at the same time that those around you are thanking you for your service and commending you on your bravery. Would they think you so brave if they knew how scared you were? What if they knew that in the heat of battle, your only real concern and motivation in the moment was survival?
You will stand in ceremonies, and receive awards and accolades and you’ll salute bright flags as marching bands pass in a zzzz Fourth of July parade full of emotions and feelings you cannot put into words. Not pride -- but the feeling that you’re not where you belong. A tinge of guilt that while you stand here, back home in the states, one of your brothers-in-arms is getting his ass handed to him in the sand. You’ll hear your “superiors” drone on about how important such-and-such a report is, and how the command is switching to the new “e-leave” system, and you have to attend the training. By the way, did you go to that Equal Opportunity training? These are the things they think are important back home, working in garrison, in an office. These are the new priorities and it is maddening. You may begin to stop caring altogether. Things begin to feel pointless. Is this really it? The nice part of battle, and war is that it eventually ends, and you know it will. The hard part of peace, and returning to the real world, is that it doesn’t. You have to adjust. You have to talk to someone, find an outlet and get it off your chest, or you will be consumed by the demons.
Not a day goes by that I don’t spend far too much time either over-analyzing my actions in theatre, or simply replaying them in my mind. Real life seems like a distraction. How am I supposed to get upset because some young sailor didn’t crease his uniform properly when I have “real issues” on my mind? I get sick and disgusted with those around me. They describe mundane things as “important” or as an “emergency” and I want to spit at them. They don’t know the meaning of an emergency.
There are a lot of self-important people in uniform who have never spent a day on the ground in a war zone, who think they know what is important. It is my contention that they wouldn’t know their ass from a hole in the ground. Everyday I feel sick to my stomach knowing that the day will be filled with this mundane drudgery, which I must try to pretend concerns me at least a little.
A friend of mine with whom I served in Afghanistan e-mailed me the photo below. I don’t know who that soldier is, but when I saw the photo, I couldn’t help but think “right-on”. The image sums up many of my own feelings. How can one come to terms with unclear memories of such tumultuous, vague and uncertain situations?
All I know is that I did my best and I tried always to do the right thing. But I fear I will never escape the perpetual replaying of these situations in my head. I fear I’ll never come to peace with everything I’ve seen and done. And perhaps I shouldn’t -- but I do know, sometimes you’ve got to get it off your chest.