Thought For the Day – Alden Nowlan (Growing up in War)

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.