“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming, “Wow! What a Ride!”
– Hunter S. Thompson
So, here we all are. It’s 2015 and the war’s are over, for the most part. For the last decade or so, we have been completely consumed with fighting America’s battles. We, the warrior class, have become accustom to the constant deployments. It was almost a comforting feeling. You knew what your future held. Work up, deployment, leave, work up, deployment, leave, etc. Repeat the cycle until you’re out or you’re dead. Either way, you knew what the fuck was up. But now, things are different. There are no more deployments. IF you decide to stay in, you’re fighting the good fight trying to get yourself or your boys to schools or good training. The same schools that just a few years ago, you couldn’t get guys to sign up for. Remember that?!?! When the OpTempo was so high that guys were turning down schools because of the need to have some time to relax? Man, were those the days. Now, there has been a total paradigm shift. The budget has tightened and old daddy war-bucks’ coffers are now empty. But what brought us all to this point? How did we go from fun loving kids to a group of grown men who thrive on the brotherhood of war and the adrenaline of combat?
We aren’t the first men to walk this path. This is the path of the warrior. It has been traveled countless times by those members of our class, the warrior class, who came before us. It began for us when we were kids. None of us were born with the ability to put on kit and a ruck, grab a blaster, and get to work. Through our experiences and interests at kids, we began to recognize that we were attracted to this culture. This culture that can only be described as one of violence. When we were kids, we watched characters like Sgt. John Stryker in the prolific Sands of Iwo Jima, read comics about Captain America, and begged our parents for the newest G.I. Joe. Something about these things, perhaps the romantic portrayal of combat or maybe seeing these prolific characters in service to their brothers and this country intrigued us. We didn’t know why or even that it was happening. There was just something in us that was drawn that direction.
Then, as we got older, we become a bit more aware that we were headed in a certain direction. It wasn’t completely clear, but we start thinking about what we are going to do with our lives. There was also the realization that some of us were ok with violence, maybe even pretty damn good at it. It’s tough to find a pipe hitter out there that didn’t play some kind of contact sport, martial art, or just grew up as a scrapper. It’s almost an unspoken understanding that in this line of work, you have a propensity for violence. So what do we do? Go to college? Learn a trade? Deliver pizza at home and smoke weed while living in mom and dad’s basement? No, not likely. We knew there was a war going on somewhere. We knew that we needed to be part of it. We made that commitment to enlist or take a commission (if you were afraid of doing actual work). The trigger was pulled (pun intended) and you signed your name on the dotted line. The feelings of fear, excitement, anxiety, mystery, adventure, and satisfaction all hit at the same time.
Then began the formal assimilation into the warrior culture and the warrior’s path began to show itself clearly. Through training and psychological conditioning, we joined a small group of people who exists for one purpose, to go to combat. The lessons we are taught are simple ones. For thousands of years, the fundamentals of a combat mindset have been the same. Kill the enemy and to look out for your brothers. Do everything in training as though you were going to combat tomorrow. Eat, sleep, live, and breathe warfare. Do these things, and maybe, JUST MAYBE, you’ll be fortunate enough to be one of the few glorious warriors to be chosen to make the ultimate sacrifice. The Valkyrie will swoop down and take you to Valhalla where you dine in The Great Hall with the great warriors of history. This is what the warrior class has been taught since the beginning of time. The only way to die well is to die gloriously in combat. I mean hell, the GREAT ACHILLES unequivocally knew that he would choose glory in death over a long life. The allure of combat is irresistible. Combat where young warriors train to go and dream to experience.
Combat is, to all of us, the crux of the warrior’s path. It is what a warrior has worked his entire life in preparation for. Every man has questions about himself that can only be answered in combat. That is what sets you and me apart from every human on the planet that has not experienced what we have. We were fortunate to find, what we all believed, to be our purpose in life. That which men spend their entire lives seeking, the meaning of life. We found it at 18 or 19 years old, and it was AWESOME. We knew our purpose on this earth and we could do it over, and over, and over again with no end in sight. Yea, we enjoyed our breaks every few months, but then we knew it would be “once more into the breach”.
These experiences are what makes a combat veteran special and causes that deep, burning anger when you see a stolen valor turd or hear some douche tell a bull shit story about his “combat experience”. The thrill of the fight and the constant flow of adrenaline feed us. They change our baseline to super human levels. The need to maintain this feeling is insatiable. Once you get a taste, you can’t live without it…right? Well, at some time the deployments stop; you can’t be “in the fight” anymore. It’s like being a professional football player that gets to play in the Super Bowl every time you step on the field. Then, it’s over. No more. The whole purpose of our existence is taken from us. At first, we are ok with it. No more being gone. Time to rest and be a normal dude. Good, right? Maybe. This is where we, as veterans, start to run into serious issues. Anger, loneliness, depression, fear, despair, loathing, and a multitude of other feelings seem to surround us in nearly everything we do. Relationships end, because the people we love don’t understand why we want to go back. They can’t fathom why we would rather be shooting shitheads in the face and not going grocery shopping or listening to stories about how work was or what’s on TV.
Many guys feel that they have reached the end of their path after combat. Life begins to feel like a prison and we are all just doing time. A friend once told me that he sees it like this. “America birthed a bunch of War Babies, and now they want to abort them.” We are consumed with the feeling that since we have spent so many years in the preparation for battle, without it life has no purpose. American society is tired of war, and with it the warrior. They have no purpose. Their LIVES have no purpose. We feel like the clear path we were walking came to a sudden end and with that, so must their lives. During our time in the warrior culture, we have been told that we were supposed to die on the battlefield. The warrior culture only talks about that end. There is no real dialogue about what a warrior class is supposed to do when the last bomb has been dropped, the last round fired, the last battle fought. What is the next step? What now? Where do we go, as a community, from here?
That, we will reflect on next time. Until then, stay safe, stay alive, and prepare for the next fight…whatever that may be. Don’t quit.
Never above you, never below you, ALWAYS beside you!