The most valuable armor a soldier can own isn’t government issue. It isn’t crafted in a metallurgical lab, or spun out of some advanced composite. It isn’t a tangible quantity; it can’t be measured or gauged. And it certainly can’t be bought… regardless of how much money you have. The armor I am speaking of is the arcane psychological plating that shields your psyche from the condensed misery of a warzone. It is something that hovers far below consciousness, silently intervening when the murderous environment attempts to leave its loathsome imprint on your being. It doesn’t help keep you alive, but what it does protect is as dear as life itself.
A few weeks back my armor took a hit… and it was pierced. The wound was bloodless, but that didn’t mean it was painless. One of the key lessons you learn as a soldier is discipline, and that discipline kept me focused on the mission at hand. But for a few days I inwardly recoiled and set about my day to day tasks with the rigid formality you might expect from an automaton. It was ironic that just as the sun flared in the sky like a supernova I felt like everything seemed a little dimmer.
There wasn’t any one thing that healed my secret wound and repaired my weathered armor, it was a combination of things. Or to be more specific it was a combination of people. The biggest single contributor was my loving wife, who has ever been my touchstone. Just hearing her voice over the crackling long distance line reminded me of the world I left behind. Of lazy afternoons that begrudgingly gave way to mild evenings. Of wonderful dinners spent around our dining table, and late breakfasts on our patio. In short, of all the little things that I slowly realized were the biggest things.
And then there were the soldiers. If you ask anyone in the Infantry why they stay in the military you will get the same answer time and again. To be with the Soldiers. One of the biggest lies you will ever hear is that Soldiers on the line are people who lack the ability to hold down another job, and lack the skills to survive in the “real” world. I’m not sure who started that particular falsehood, but I’d bet my paycheck it wasn’t someone who had spent time in the Infantry. Just being with the troops in “Killer” Company was a humbling experience that snapped the world back into its proper focus.
And then there were the letters from back home. One came with news that SGT Ferguson, who chances of survival were once considered remote, was back in California and well on his way down the long road to recovery. Another came full of comedy DVDs that had me laughing until my sides ached. And still another came from a 10 year old who asked if she could send her own stuffed animals here to Iraq for the destitute children around our FOB. In the face of so much support, and in the company of so many everyday hero’s it is hardly surprising I found myself renewed. This mission can be difficult, but it must be done. And I plan on doing my part… the best way that I can.