In 2003 I was activated from as an Army Reservist for the initial invasion of Iraq. My unit did not go anywhere, we ended up staying stateside and running SRP sites, resetting equipment, etc.
For years I felt incredibly guilty about not being able to prove myself by serving in a war zone. I finished college, signed another contract, went to OCS, Infantry Basic Officer Leaders Course, Ranger School, Airborne School, the Army Marksmanship Squad Designated Marksmen and CQB train the trainer courses, the Anti Armor Leaders Course, and even Sniper Employment Officer. And finally, six years after my mobilization got to go to Iraq as a Platoon Leader.
And we had two rounds fired at us the whole time. Either I was doing something very right, or the enemy was simply not targeting us. Considering we were rolling in less than 16 man "platoons" I really hope that we were doing something right.
But that experience ended way too quickly, and I was sent back stateside to handle the most difficult job of my career to date, handling the Rear Detachment. I gained twenty pounds and caught pneumonia. Four and a half months of "deployed" time which was really three months of "combat leadership" was way less than I was willing to do. I didn't sign up to be a baby sitter, but that was the job I was given.
So after nine months of misery I headed off to the Captain's Career Course and volunteered to join a brigade already in eastern Afghanistan, right on the Af/Pak border. So I graduate, dropping thirteen pounds in five months and managing to tear the crap out of my left shoulder. I make it to my new unit, abuse my rank ruthlessly to speed through the inprocessing paperwork and SRP shuffle and less than a month from signing in am on a plane across the pond to join my unit.
And I get sent to the Special Troops Battalion to do staff time. No leadership position, not surrounded by Infantrymen, just replacing another unlucky Infantry Captain who did two years in the job I'm now filling before he got a shot at Company Command.
So kids, the sad truth is this, if you choose a life of service you don't get much of a choice as to how that service will play out. The hardest part about my particular military career is that, aside from a few AK rounds and a 1000 pound VBIED going off 100 meters away, ten year of wartime service has really been "go here, do this, do that, go there."
Some days I feel guilty that I'm still alive when others aren't. I don't ever want to see another toddler with a concerned look on his face while his 20 year old mother balls her eyes out. I don't want to have to give condolences to grieving family members. I'll do it if it is my duty, but that isn't what I had in mind when I signed on the dotted line. I don't want to say goodbye to another hero as his family debates when to take him off life support.
Still to this day I feel guilty that I haven't done enough. I've volunteered for everything that's come down the pipe, I've never turned down an assignment. I've pushed and pushed to get into the fight. And it has gotten me nowhere. A companies worth of Soldiers have died not 100 miles from me in the last eight weeks and I couldn't do a blessed thing to prevent it.
“The worst pain a man can suffer: to have insight into much and power over nothing”. Herodotus.
I'll continue to do my duty. I signed my name and entered into the contract of my own free will. To give anything less would be an affront to all that I hold dear. But I'll probably feel guilty for a while yet. In my head I know I'm not God and cannot hold power over who lives and who dies. But in my heart, I grieve that I couldn't save them.