It is November 11, and it’s the day Americans celebrate veterans of the United States military.
I want to recognize that fact, but in a slightly different way. My good wishes go out to combat veterans; veterans who have performed military duty while in harm’s way.
There is a special understanding of war that comes to these people. No matter what motivates one to join the armed services, combat changes that motivation. You might have a sense of patriotism, a desire for glory, or a need to prove yourself, but when the shooting starts, things change.
The first realization that comes is that you are being used. It might be your commanding officer looking for a promotion, or a politician brandishing power, but you find yourself to be a pawn in a bigger game than you first realized. Your life is at stake for someone else’s personal gain.
The second realization is that war is random. Your training only takes you so far. You also need a bit of luck. Some might attach a divine interpretation to this situation, but it comes down to a randomness that we just don’t understand. You end up taking on behaviors and accoutrements that preserve your luck, and you unabashedly use them.
The third realization is that you deal with it. Going on a mission with the knowledge that you might be dead within the next 24 hours is a type of torment most people don’t have to endure. You agonize over the ramifications of what you are doing: the toll on your loved ones; the integrity of your unit. You deal with the big question: Is it worth it?
And then you reconcile.
You do it because it is your duty. You have personal honor, and you will not give that up. You set your resolve and go.
For those of you who have lived these words, know that my thoughts are with you this Veteran's Day. You have my deepest respect, and I wish you Godspeed.