25 April 2012

War...and Peace, Part 1

William Sherman was absolutely right when he said that war is hell. I know this first hand. No, I've never served in the U.S. Armed Forces, and I've never been on a battlefield except for various field trips I've taken over the course of my years studying the history of our great nation, but I can honestly say from personal experience that war is definitely hell.

I'm sure you're wondering how I can be so definitive about something I readily admit not experiencing first-hand, but I'm not talking about the kind of war you probably think I'm talking about. I'm not talking about the war with bullets flying to and fro as airplanes drop bombs over massive acres of land in order to take out as many enemies as they possibly can at once, all because the people being bombed believe in a different set of ideals than those doing the bombing. No, I'm not talking about that kind of war. Sherman was, however, and from stories I've been told by numerous sources who can say they've been in a war zone, I understand that Sherman was right.

War is hell.

But anyway, I digress.

The type of war I'm talking about is an emotional one. It's a war that I've personally gone through over the past one and a half years of my life, and I can tell you beyond a shadow of a doubt from my experience that war is absolutely hell. If you've ever encountered the pain and suffering that I've been through since last September, then you know exactly what I'm talking about. Otherwise, you're just going to have to take my word for it and believe me when I tell you that I know what I'm talking about, and the crap that I've been through over the past year and a half truly is an emotional war, and therefore - per General Sherman - it is hell.

In case you're not aware of this emotional malaise that I am referring to; in September 2010, my brother (my only brother, mind you) was diagnosed with cancer. At the time, I didn't know what to expect. I didn't know how sick he really was, or how far the cancer had spread, or if the cancer was even treatable. I didn't know how much time he would have left on this earth.

(That's the scary part - the unknown. It's hard enough to deal with trials when you have the information at hand, but it's a whole new level of difficult when you don't have a clue what's going to happen next.)

Looking back, I wish I would have known that he would only have as much time as he did, because when you know what time the clock is going to hit zero you tend to be more prepared than you are if you have no clue what's going to happen next. Of course, knowing the outcome is considered cheating, because none of us are allowed the privilege of knowing what's in store for us at any given time. But, it sure would be nice to have the capability to look at a specific point in the space-time continuum and know exactly when and where the end will take place, because having that competitive advantage against death would make things a lot easier for everyone involved, and honestly we could use every advantage over death that we can get.

But enough about me. This part of the story is supposed to be about my brother. After all, he's the reason I'm writing these words at this very moment. Although if I were to be truly honest with you, I'm doing this for myself as well, if for nothing more than to help me cope with the events that have unfolded since his diagnosis.

Notice I used the word cope. I used that word because it's really all I'm able to do at this point. I'm finally to the point where I can make it a few weeks without having a breakdown, and I've finally accomplished the feat of sleeping throughout the night more than one night in a row, but I'm still in the "coping" stage. To be completely honest I'll probably never get past that stage, because I don't think I'll ever fully accept that he's gone.

They say that time heals all wounds, and that might be true. But, I do know that if it is true, it's going to take a lot of time. We're talking the "coal turning into a diamond" realm of time here. And, that's okay. It's perfectly normal as far as I'm concerned, even though I'm not exactly what you would call an expert on "normal".

(Okay, I'm making this about myself again, so I'm going to move on and tell my brother's story. Well, part of it anyway. If I tried to tell his whole story I would have to write a novel.)

My brother was a member of the US Army who did three tours of duty in Iraq and one tour of duty in Afghanistan. He was a member of the Special Forces group out of Fort Campbell, KY for the first three tours of duty, but then he was re-assigned to Fort McCoy, WI when he was sent to Afghanistan. Of course, if life were fair (which we all know it's not), he would have never went to Afghanistan in the first place. He had served his initial contract which included the first three tours of duty, and when it was time for his contract to expire he chose not to re-enlist because he wanted to stay home and finish getting his Bachelor's Degree.

The Army had different plans for him. They called him back three years later, and told him he was being sent to Afghanistan. One of the benefits in joining the Army (at least for them) is that they can call a soldier back into duty at any time up to four years after their contract expires. (However, they can only give a returning soldier one set of orders, and they can't keep the soldier for more than one calendar year.) Since my brother was within his four year "probation period" (for lack of a better term), he was eligible to be called back to service, and he was instructed to report for duty for his last year of service which included a tour in Afghanistan for 6 months.

His mission was to provide intel support to a group from Alabama (there's a joke in there somewhere, I'm sure), but that's all I know about what he was called back to do. He wasn't allowed to talk about it, because it was highly classified information (at least that's what he always said). All I know is he went to Afghanistan with 14 or 15 other guys from Alabama, and he served about 9 months time. He never went into a lot of detail about any of his assignments, and I knew that it was because he wasn't allowed to talk about them so I never really pressed him for information. I do know, however, that his job wasn't to just sit at a computer desk all day like he led most of our family to believe. (Looking back on it, I know he did this because he didn't want anyone to worry about him every day. But - even though he didn't want us to - we still did.)

Even though he didn't talk about his job that much, I do know that his one claim to fame is that he was a part of the group that tracked and found Saddam Hussein. He claims that not only did he get to question Hussein face to face, but he also had the pleasure of defecating in Hussein's personal toilet. When we asked him why he did it, he simply answered "because no one else from here can say they have ever done that".

It's an answer that I expected him to give, because he's always had a dry sense of humor. That's one of the many things that was so great about him. He had the uncanny ability to have a room bursting in laughter while he maintained a straight face that could win a game of Texas Hold 'Em with a Ten High hand. That's just how he was. It was incredibly hard to know if and when he was telling the truth or just blowing smoke because he always kept a straight face, but this is one of those times where I believe he was telling the truth.

I can see him sitting there on Hussein's toilet right now, smirking because he knows that he's going to have a story to share for the rest of his life.

Unfortunately for everyone, the rest of his life was a very short period of time. Much shorter than any of us wanted it to be, and - if you ask me - much shorter than he deserved.

To be continued...

No comments

Post a Comment