My newest book Civilianized is released today. This quote felt appropriate for the release of a new book; a quote that I’m sure every writer needs to remind themselves of.
This quote summarizes any veteran with PTSD. It’s easier to remember your friend who died in a mortar attack–the smell of their blood, the feeling of them in your arms, their look on their faces, the sound of their dying breaths–than it is for a person to remember their high school sweetheart, or a good time camping with friends.
This is one of the reasons I think veterans suffer from PTSD. Because it’s easier to remember the bad. There are no scars for happiness, but there are scars from mortar attacks and firefights–physically and mentally.
On a day like today, Election Day, it’s important to remember that we are the United States of America. We may not always agree on things, but no matter who wins today, we need to do out best to find ways to work together.
The worst day of our lives is only 24 hours. The worst hour of our lives is only 60 minutes. The worst minute of our life is only 60 seconds. We’ve all been there before and we’ve all made it to the other side–never forget that.
This quote, by the poet Alden Nowlan, really hit me at the right moment in my life. Recently, I had been reminiscing about my time in the military, particularly Iraq, and I felt this quote captured something that I had been trying to piece together for many years…
When I had first deployed to Iraq, I was only twenty years old. At that point, I had gone to college for a year, had been through army basic training and AIT–which included dozens of intense surgeries, and even delivering a baby or two–but even with all that, I went to war as an adolescent.
All of my commanders and NCOIC’s were older than me, by many years, and as I watched several of them struggle through being leaders and commanding troops, I constantly found myself pointing out their imperfections. I couldn’t believe, to put it bluntly, how shitty some of these people seemed–as leaders, soldiers, and just, humans in general.
Now, granted, some of my hate and frustration with my leadership was warranted–one sergeant major, two first sergeants, and a company commander were relieved of duty after all (and even all that was a bit of an understatement)–but it’s only now, years later, that I realized I had been viewing much of my leadership through adolescent eyes that expected “adults,” and older people to have all the answers.
I know now that “adults” don’t have all the answers, and never did, and that I was foolish to expect them to in the first place.
As I’ve traversed through the ages that many of my leaders were in Iraq, I find it chilling to think of the responsibility that many of my fellow soldiers had at such young ages. One leader, for example, was only twenty-seven when he was in charge of the section I worked in. To me, at that time, twenty-seven might as well have been forty, but as I’ve turned twenty seven myself–and then left it behind–I shuttered to think of having such responsibility when still at such a young age.
Now, at the age of thirty, I have my own responsibilities, full-time employment, a wife and daughter to look after, a mortgage to pay, etc. But my responsibilities now are nothing compared to the responsibilities that a leader faces during war–and many of them were younger than I am now.
Perhaps there’s no perfect age to be a leader at war; after all, age doesn’t always equal intelligence, or ethics…
But, I guess what I’m trying to say is that I now realize how foolish it was of me to expect these “adults,” to be perfect people, perfect soldiers, and perfect leaders. Some of them were shitty leaders, don’t get me wrong, but I realize now that many of them were just doing the best they could in a shitty situation. Maybe it’s taken all these years for me to reach adulthood and forgive them (forgive, but not forget, many of those bastards are beyond any grace). But I guess that’s where I’m at and I think this quote by Nowlan summarized it up nicely.
Another quote from Staff Sergeant Old School that’s spot on. I was never in a rifle platoon, but I did serve in the U.S. army and work in a medical unit in Iraq. And I can tell you from first hand experience, that even in war, I never laughed harder than with some of my army buddies. You’re working 24hour shifts, going weeks without down-time, you’re starving, tired, pissed-off, and yet you still somehow find yourself able to laugh with your friends–even if it is about how tired, starving, and pissed off you all are.
We must ask ourselves these questions: Will death welcome us, or will we welcome death? Will death scare us, or will death be scared of us? I know what I’d chose, what about you?
[This Bukowski quote/phrase was originally shown to me as a poem (however, the quote feature did not allow me to break it down by stanza); I will include the original formatting of the poem below.]
We are here
at the odds
and live our lives
so well that
to take us.
It’s simple mathematics: there’s more good than evil in this world.
In one way or another I’ve said this quote to myself thousands of times throughout the years. I think every soldier has a similar quote they repeat to themselves.
The military is tough, there’s no question about it. From basic training, to war, and then coming home. But the best thing it is that when struggles do arrive, as soldiers, we know deep down that we’ve been there before, and have survived. We’ve struggled, we’ve gone days without sleep, days without food, left our families behind, endured physical and mental trials, and we survived it all.
For me, one time I always repeat the Iliad quote is when I’m sick.
If I get a bad head cold, I’m one of the biggest babies ever. All I want to do is curl up in bed, watch reruns of The Price is Right, drink honey tea, and just wait out the cold with a blanket over my head. This though, as an adult, is not an option. After allowing myself to wallow in pity for a few minutes, I repeat some form of the above quote, and then remind myself of a story.
Way back in 2005 I was a young soldier; I was living in barracks at the time–during my AIT training–and a few of us came down with the flu. It was awful, we were puking, dehydrated, and had that disgusting lethargic feeling. And the worst part: there was nothing we could do about it. We still had PT every morning at 4:00am, and then had 8-12 hours of schooling, etc. Sick call didn’t open until 6:00am and we couldn’t miss any classes because our training was incredibly difficult (we had two tests a week and if you scored anything under a 79 you were on academic probation (under 75 was failing)). One morning after a hard run during PT, two of us blacked out from dehydration. Once we came to, we didn’t go to sick call, we just drank a bottle of water and went back to our training. By the time the weekend rolled around, and we were finally able to go to sick call, two of us had 103 temps and one had a 104 temp.
It was the sickest I had ever been in my life (a week later strept throat was going through the barracks and a bunch of us got that too!). But I toughed it out. And now, whenever I get sick and just want to curl up in bed, I remind myself how sick I was then, and how much I still was able to accomplish when at my worst.
We’ve all had tough times and life and have survived them. If you’re going through a tough time, just remind yourself “I’ve been here before, I’ve survived, and I will again.”
Every person who has ever served (and those who wished they did) will understand this quote from Buzzell’s book (which he actually attributes to as an old Chinese saying). No one wants to be left wondering “What could’ve been.” The good thing though, is that the age of enlistment has been bumped up to 39yrs. So if any of you guys or gals are still wishing to serve, head on down to your local recruiting office!