So I got home today. As you can see from the video that I posted prior to writing this. I wrote this several months back as a kind of goodbye for this blog. But I don’t think I am going to be able to call it a day. I still have a lot to say and I still have a lot of living left to do. Not to mention I still have about 9 years or so to go in Ole’ Uncle Sam’s Mean Green Machine before I can retire so I think there will be plenty of stories worth telling. So this is the prelude to my final post. Or at least the final post that was written in the “suck”.
I’m going to keep writing, but for right now I have to scrub up everything I have written up until this point so that I can publish it on the net for all to see. God only knows how long that will take me.
But all this last year, every bit of shit that I went through, all the explosions, all the bullets, all the bullshit, all the insanity, all the stupidity, all the heartache, all the pain...led up to that moment when I stepped on the ground, looked out into a sea of bloodshot and tear glazed eyes, and found my family. There are no words to describe what its like to see your loved ones again after something like this so I won’t even try.
Suffice it to say...I kissed my mom today!
And everything after this is the post I wrote that would’ve been posted had I met my demise in Afghanistan...stay tuned, I’m not done just yet!
Don’t Rely On The Sword, Because Your Words Will Outlive Even Time...
If you are reading this and there isn’t a prelude above the title that means that I have been killed in Afghanistan, or died, who knows, I sure as hell don’t I haven’t died yet. But that is no matter.
I already gave the responsibility for posting this to my cousin Kenny. Hows that for a good relative? Hey pal, just in case I die, keep this saved on your computer so that we can tell all the people who read my blog that I am dead! Real good, Dan! Well at least I can use my name now because I am dead and as such anyone who wants to can get pissed about what I write, or they can try and steal my social security number and run up some credit card debt. I don’t care, because once again, if you are reading this I am dead.
So what do I want to tell all of you? I have no fucking idea! I mean these are kind of like words from the grave, right? Which is kind of creepy. But I digress.
Whatever this is, I guess it can only be a long, drawn out, exceedingly depressing goodbye. We sure had some fun, didn’t we. I started writing this blog, then shortly thereafter a lot of people started to read it, then I got into trouble, I took the whole thing private, now I’m dead, my cousin has made it all public again and you all get to read my final sayonara.
So why did I come here in the first place? Well Afghanistan was the war that I got, so I came. There is no other way of putting it. Had I been born in another generation, I would’ve gone to Vietnam, or Korea, or Europe, or the Pacific, or wherever. Its just part of who I am. I can’t stand the idea of anything big happening that I am not a part of.
I volunteered for this deployment. So that makes two times I am a dumb ass. First time, when I volunteered to join this man’s Army. Second time, when I volunteered for this deployment. Painful as it may be for me to admit, my intelligence level is obviously questionable.
Regardless of any of that, I came here, I did what the military told me to do, I served honorably but without distinction. I don’t know which really smart guy said it, but someone once said, “All that can be asked of a man is that he do his duty, no more, no less.” So I can check that one off my list of things to do. Better yet, someone set fire to that list of things to do, I’m dead there will be no more things to do. All I have to do now is lay there.
I have to say though, this has been a lot of fun for me. This blog has provided me with endless hours of entertainment, not to mention the ego boost of knowing that people actually liked reading my words. I know its true, they told me so. The only wish I really had was that I could’ve kept this whole thing public so that everyone could have enjoyed my take on what was going on here. However, military rules, and the rather sensitive ego’s of shit bag officers precluded me from doing that. But I got the last word, even if I had to email it in. So fuck them.
Now that I am dead, how do I want to be remembered? I don’t really care, I’m dead. But given the fact that I am writing this, which means at this particular Moment I am very much alive, this is how I would like to be thought of...
Remember me as I am. Don’t remember the idealized version of me. You know the one, where you go to a funeral and everyone spouts off about what a great person this was and blah, blah, blah. Even though a good half of the living people in the room despised the prick. I don’t want that. I want an honest remembrance.
Let’s be honest. I was profane. I was obnoxious. I was a bit of an asshole from time to time. I drank too much. I smoked WAY too much. (Ha, at least I didn’t die of cancer!) I was a little loose in my dealings with women. I could be selfish. I could be destructive. I could be downright mean at times. Lord knows, I have told a lie or two.
However, (now that I am done beating my dead ass up) I loved my family. I loved my friends. I loved my country. I loved my comrades in arms. I served my country. I took care of my family as best I could. I made my living as honestly as any man ever could. I never took anything that wasn’t mine. I made sacrifices for the good of my nation. I believed down to my last breath in the God of my parents. To my God, my country, my service, my family, my friends and to myself, I did my duty.
During my life I always believed that someday I was going to die, and when that happened I would have to stand face to face with God. And on that day I would have to answer for my life. I think I’ll be able to look God dead in the eye and say, “Yep, that was my life. I lived the best way that I knew how. I didn’t always do the right thing, but who does. I might have been a little rough around the edges, but the inside was always good. If you’ve got a place for me here, that’d be nice. But if you don’t you won’t hear anything out of me. I’ll take what I’ve got coming. I won’t make any apologies or excuses for the life I lived.”
Well now that we’ve gotten past the whole existential, heaven and hell portion of this, let’s get on to the rest of it.
The title of this reflects a line from an “O.A.R.” song entitled “James”. “Don’t rely on the sword, because your words will outlive even time.” I think that maybe that is part of the reason that I wrote this whole thing. Is it possible that in some small measure the words that I wrote here will outlive me? Yep, that’s already true because you are reading this and I am dead. So how does it feel to be talking to a dead guy? Anyone who has, or will read this noticed that I wrote every bit of this as if I were talking to someone. Its been a rather one sided conversation, but most conversations with me were one sided. That whole obnoxiousness thing again.
I learned a few things while I have been here. Most of them have been covered, in exhaustive detail, in previous posts, so lets not rehash all that shit. What is the most important thing that I learned here. That words are more powerful than the sword. Why? Because the use of the words is a precursor to the use of the sword. I am not talking about all this Islam vs. The west bullshit that is going on over here. I am talking so much bigger than that. Words have the ability to change the way people think. For better, and for worse. Words are the basis of religion, of government, of law, of society, or relationships, of civilization. Written or spoken, it doesn’t matter. Words are the difference between human beings and animals. Words are what allow us to further our lives and progress in our societies.
Unfortunately, they are also instruments of destruction. They can reduce ideas to nothing more than orders. They can reduce religious believers to terrorists. They can reduce the minds of people to nothing more than automatons. They can reduce a society to a dictatorship. They can reduce relationships to slavery. They can reduce laws to oppression. They can reduce governments to regimes. They can reduce societies to herds of cattle.
So all that being said, they can either reduce or uplift. Two directions only, ladies and gentlemen. Up or down. Black or white. Right or wrong.
This is what I have. These are my words. At times, I have not chosen my words carefully. For this I am sorry. I guess that is one of the few regrets that I have. I have used words that were specifically designed to injure people. I have used words before I gave them adequate forethought. I have written and said things while I was insanely angry. I have written and said things while incredibly depressed. I have written and said things while disillusioned. All these things cloud my reason and lessen my ability to think. This is the only real advice I could ever give anyone, don’t ever say or write anything when you cannot think clearly. Say what you like, write what you like, be as you are, but always think your way through whatever you are writing or saying. These words that you use, can injure, they can uplift, they can convey love, they can induce hate, they can do all these things. Regardless of what they do, they will outlast your life. Your words will echo long after you are dead. So consider them carefully.
So where does that leave us. You, well it leaves you wherever you are. Me, on the other hand, it leaves 6 feet under pushing up daisies. Actually in my case it leaves me burnt to a crisp in an urn on a mantle somewhere. You see it all amounts to a whole bunch of nothing when its all said and done. The only thing that is left is the words. Which, given that I have a word processing program that counts the number of words, is presently sitting at 169,541. God only knows where it will be when I am done. That’s a whole lot of bullshit. That’s a whole lot of words. And I am writing this on April 1, 2009. Seems kind of fitting that I would write my end to the blog and to my life right in the middle of all the fun and on April Fool’s Day no less.
What do I want you to think of this war? Quite frankly I couldn’t care less what you think of this war. I am not even sure what I think of this war. I have been part of endless missions, a whole shit ton of IED attacks, a handful of firefights, and a whole lot of suck. On the other side of the coin are all the good things I got to do here. I got to flip a kid enough money to feed his family for a month, but it only takes me about 45 minutes to make. I got to take care of a few dogs. I got to hand out a mountain of humanitarian aid. I got to see the look on the kids faces when you threw them candy, and pop, and what not. I may even have made a difference in this country. Then again I may not have made a difference. I don’t know. How could I, I am just one lonely soldier in this mountain of bullshit. But I still had hope. So maybe that is the only thing I could say about this war. Regardless of what happened, I never really lost hope. There is something good that we could do here. Whether we are actually doing that good thing is another matter entirely. Hopefully, someone will figure out what the good is, and then do it. Unfortunately, I don’t have any good advice for them. Except this, remember the words, there are only two directions, up and down. So choose them wisely.
What do I want you to think of me? Once again, don’t really care. But I do hope that at least of the few of the things that I have said over this past year or however long it may or may not have been, have been words that have affected you in some way. Good or bad, any effect is better than none. Like I said, I don’t really care what you think of me, I would much rather that you think.
If I were to give any piece of advice to new soldiers going to Afghanistan, it would be this. This is not like any war you have ever seen on any television screen or computer monitor. I guess the only thing you could call this is a low intensity conflict. The bad guys hit you with IED’s that they hide in the ground, they hit you from distant mountaintops, and they use the people and their needs against you. The chances of you ever seeing a high intensity firefight with a known enemy that you can see, are remote. You’ll get here, and your truck will explode and there will be no one around. You’ll get shot at, and you won’t see anything but far off muzzle flashes. You’ll take fire from a village and the culprit will melt into the local populace and you’ll never see him again. Mortar rounds will fall on your head at random, and by the time you figure out where they were coming from the shooters will already be gone, and that’s if they weren’t set on a timer. You’ll see a mirror flash in the mountains 2000 meters away, and then a bomb will go off right in the middle of the road and by the time you look up again, the guy with the mirror will be gone. That is what you are going to see here. There is no John Wayne hero shit going on in Afghanistan. The best you can hope for is that you can make a difference in some small measure in the lives of the Afghanis around you. The Army terms this “winning hearts and minds”. Well, then we have an awful lot of catching up to do, because we are way behind in this contest for their hearts and minds. There is no doubt that you, as a dog face soldier, are the one who is going to have to score the points to get us back in this game. I wish I could tell you that this war was going to be won easily, and American military superiority would carry the day. I wish that I could tell you that there is a simple solution to all of this mess, and the fact that our guns are bigger and there are more of them, would make this war simple. That is just not the case.
You are dealing with a culture that is different than anything you have ever seen before. Afghanistan isn’t even really a country if you ask me. Its a collection of warring tribes. Tribal and familial loyalties run deeper here than any love of country. Which makes everything all the more difficult. You cannot trust any of the government agencies or their personnel, but you will still have to work with, and in some cases for them. So watch your ass with that.
You will see some strange things here. I wish I could explain all of them to you, but that would ruin the fun of you coming over here. Suffice it to say that you will spend the first month or two wondering if you are still on earth.
The language barrier is another one. Learn as much Pashtu as you can, or if you are in one of the Dari areas learn as much of that as you can. Don’t worry, if you show a sincere interest in learning the terps will be happy to teach you. Remember what I said about words, and here, whether you like it or not, you have to use theirs.
Culture is another one. Their culture is completely different than ours. When you drive through villages the first thing you will notice is that apparently there are no women in Afghanistan. Patriarchal culture at its finest. You will learn things like not to touch any woman over the age of twelve because if you do, they will kill her for being contaminated by the infidels. You will also hear the prayer call 5 times a day, or whatever it is. Not to mention it will probably spook you a little when you hear the 1900 call, because it will be dark and its a little creepy. Just remember, walk softly. This is their land. These people, if properly treated, will help you. They will tell you where to find the Taliban. They will tell you where the IED’s are. They will assist you, if they believe you will help and protect them. Enough said on that.
Finally, try not to let the things that happen to you color your opinion of these people. They are not all Taliban or al Qaeda. I’m telling you right now, the first time you get blown up, you are going to want to slaughter each and every one of these motherfuckers. Well, first of all, if you don’t want to see the inside of a prison cell, don’t do that. Secondly, they aren’t all trying to kill you. In fact, most of them just want to live. Same as you, they just want to live, work, feed their kids, raise them, worship, and do what everyone else does. The part that sucks is that they live here, and they have to deal with these Taliban and al Qaeda fucks coming in here and screwing everything up. So don’t blame all for the actions of some.
However, and this will be hard to reconcile with what the Army feeds you, but there isn’t a thing in this country worth dying for. None of these people, none of these missions, none of it, is worth dying for. The only thing that warrants that kind of sacrifice is the soldier next to you. Your job is simple, get you and all your boys home. Preferably in one piece, but if that is not possible, breathing. That is the only thing you need to do. Don’t be one of these guys that wants to run into this country and slay the huns and save the world. It’s just not possible. Don’t chase your CAB either. Don’t go out looking for a fight, it’ll come to you eventually. If you can go home without your Combat Action Badge that means you accomplished the only real job you ever had and that was getting you and your boys home safely to your families.
Last piece of advice I will give is this. Whatever happens, regardless of how many times you blow up, regardless of how many firefights you get into, regardless of how many mortar rounds land right next to your piss tubes, don’t tell your Mom or family. Every time you call home make sure that everything is sunshine, puppy dogs and ice cream. Tell them you are in Bagram and nothing ever happens there. You can tell all the war stories you want when you get home, but this is hard enough on your mother and your family without you making it worse by telling them what a badass you are. That is a mistake that I made, and I will never forgive myself for making this whole ordeal harder on my family.
So hopefully that helps. Think about it.
Finally I would like to say thanks to all the people that have read my words. I picked up quite a few new friends along the way while this thing was still public. I can’t tell you how much you all mean to me. Just for the simple fact that you made sure that I knew that someone was hearing me. I told you many times that I used this blog as therapy. You have seen how many times my state of mind swung from one end of the spectrum to the other. Had I not been able to at least write about it, my head may very well have exploded. So thank you for keeping my head from exploding.
In any case, I am gone now. I lived as best I could, I served as best I could, and now I am dead. Don’t bother shedding any tears for me, death is a part of life. We all have to do it sooner or later, my time just came a bit sooner and was hustled along by my own choices. Choices for which I have no regrets. As Mr. Sinatra once said, “I did it my way.”
I sincerely hope that this war is won. Whatever that means. I sincerely hope that my words have helped, or made a difference in some way. I wish all the best for all of you who read this, to hell with anyone else. (Kidding)
And with that, I am done, but to my family I say...You’re going to be fine, you are all going to be just fine.
To everyone else I say...
Later, its been a blast.
And as always and forever,
I love you Mom...