Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Off the rails

I'm going to go way off topic tonight.  It's not that I don't have gaming stuff to talk about, I do, and it's awesome.  It's just that several things have come together lately that I need to talk about.  This will not be pretty and it will not be the usual.  It will, likely, not be interesting for most of you.

I'm a Marine.  I have been for 24 years now.  I've deployed many times, four times to combat.  I've been married for 14 years.  My wife was a Corpsman (medic) stationed with the Marines for most of her nine years in the navy.  We have two sons who are a wonder and a miracle to us.  Really.  Every day I'm amazed and enthralled.  They are my joy.

They were born through IVF, after many, many, many tries.  Our eldest (9) is special needs, he died in child birth and was brought back to us.  He had a twin who we lost.  It took us three years to realize that something was not "normal" about him.  We have spent all the time since helping him to understand that our normal is all that matters.  Our youngest (7) was conceived at the same time, they are twins in a scientific way, though not in a way that most people are prepared to understand.

I was in the invasion of Iraq in 2003.  I was back in Fallujah in 2004, that was interesting.  I served in Helmand in 2012, also interesting.  I sailed aboard an icebreaker in Antarctica for two years, right after my marriage.  My wife and I were married for six years before we got to spend more than six months together.  We didn't know if it would work out.  We weren't sure we knew how to live together.

Tonight I was drinking scotch with one of my best friends (there are three, my wife, this man, and a soldier who I have known since we were both young sergeants).  My friend's son, who I helped raise, killed himself while I was in Afghanistan.  It was the single most crushing event of my life and still has the power to bring tears to my eyes.  Both of us have received extensive training in how to spot these issues and deal with them.  We saw nothing.  No matter what is going on I always make time for my friend.  It's a duty but it is also part of the core of who I have become.  We stand by our own and we never leave a Marine behind.  We love each other in ways that I've never felt for those I've not served with.

Now we get to what set all this off.  On facebook tonight I saw a picture of a triple amputee.  He was holding his new son, and had lost his limbs in combat.  My first thought was of the woman who had stood by him as he lost those limbs.  She had made love to him, had gotten pregnant with his child and delivered that child into his arms.

I'm certainly not the man I was when my wife and I married.  I'm darker in some ways, more distant in some.  I would like to think that I'm deeper and more interesting.  I don't have the courage to ask her if she would agree.  Our marriage has become stronger over these years.  The bad has been very, very bad, but the good has been great. I am eternally in awe of the strength of the woman I married and I am so amazed that she has stood by me, and loved me, through all of what life has thrown at us.  No woman deserves the ride that she has gotten, but humanity survives because we can take the worst and stand back up and kick life in the nuts.

War is the most horrible and the most uplifting experience a person can experience.  It is not all bad; far from it.  It is the best and the worst of humanity.  It changes us in ways that cannot be explained to those who have not been there.  I did not want to become the man that I am today, but I would not change any of the experiences or choices that made me who I am.

War and wargaming are two different things.  I wish for my boys a long life of active gaming.  Many armies.  Many genres.  I want them to learn to glue and paint and game.  I want them to feel the exultation of leading their lead minions to triumph and to feel the sting of watching their hordes fall to the superior tactical acumen of someone then just met in a game shop.

I hope they never serve in a war.  I think all warriors dream that their war is the last.  That what they fought for is meaningful and that the horror is too horrific to be repeated.  We all know that humanity will never learn that lesson and that our sons, and daughters, will only learn the lesson the way we did, in person with a kick to the teeth.

Tonight I'm thinking of those who live with the warrior.  The wives and husbands.  The children.  They love us as we are.  Some only know us in our new, flawed, changed, uplifted, form.  Some knew us before and learn to love us anew.  Some of us survive our wars but can't survive our peace.  For my love, my children and my brothers, both here and those I've lost in war and peace; the price is worth the cost.  It is not the "cause" that we were asked to fight for.  It is the brotherhood we found.  We ask too much of you and you give it, because greatness is part of the human spirit.  

Semper Fidelis.

30 comments:

  1. Very moving post. Thanks for sharing.

    Aaron

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    1. Thank you Aaron. You're understanding has been a kindness.

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  2. I'm glad you wrote this as we need to hear these things from you, the soldiers who have gone to war. I've tried to imagine what it must be like to see the things you've seen, done the things you've done and then return to the "regular" world and I can't, not really. You're right of course, there will never be a time of peace in this world and I hope your boys become men during a more stable period.

    The sentence " Some of us survive our wars but can't survive our peace" was beautifully crafted.

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    1. Thank you Anne. You understand a lot more of it than you may think. It's often just about working through the problem in front of you and feeling a lot of alone while you do it.

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  3. Thanks for sharing, very touching.

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  4. I am in no way qualified to comment on this post, but your words were those of a man that I feel great respect for.

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  5. A very moving and thought provoking post Thank you for sharing

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    1. Thanks Loki. Provoking thought it always a good thing.

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  6. Amen. As a fellow serviceman of 20+ years in uniform and active service experience, I can only whole-heartedly agree with you. My wife and kids have earned my medals threefold at least.

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    1. Paul, we are amazingly lucky, those of us who have families that support us in our service.

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  7. Whilst I think wargamers have a better idea of the struggles of soldiers we have no real idea. My boss's husband is in our services and certainly has struggled with what he has to endure and is preparing to go back to Afghanistan again and it is a trial for all involved.

    Stay safe and thank you for the post, we need more like this to educate the rest of us

    Ian

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    1. For what it's worth, your boss may not ever say it, but she's going to be feeling it. Just showing up with a meal or helping with some chores brought my wife to tears where worrying about me didn't. It doesn't take a lot to make a difference, because it's the every day grind that wears you out.

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  8. My father was a frontline infantry sergeant in the Duke of Cormwall's in Tunisia and the Cornish Company in the Shropshires at Anzio in British 1st Inf Div. They gave him the Military Medal. He refused to wear it. He survived physically but it wrecked his life. Now they call it PTS and treat you. He was just demobbed and told to get on with life. He never wanted me to join the army. In my turn I didn't want my daughter to go. I didn't, she didn't.

    Modern industrial combat has become unendurable for many people. Politicians who think that sending in the troops is simply an extension of diplomacy or a PR exercise to rabble rouse want machine gunning, inmho.

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    1. My generation is lucky in some ways at least. We have a names for what ails us. We have people who want to help. I wouldn't trade my service for anything but I was lucky. I was older when I went to war. I was actually saner each time I got back then the time before. The invasion was the worst, psychologically, even though both Fallujah and Helmand were a lot more interesting from a military point of view. People are not, by and large, hostile to our service, they are just disinterested. I don't blame them. Their self absorption is part of what we are fighting for. I've come to understand my grandfathers a lot better in the last few years. Sadly they are both dead but my insights have helped my uncles and mother come to terms with some of their child hood.

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  9. I'm not sure how to comment to that, other than to say thank you for making me think!

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    1. I'm glad you found it thought provoking.

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  10. You provide much food for thought and reflection. As others have stated, this piece moved me too. Well crafted and thought provoking. A post I will return to again. I wish you the best.

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    1. Thank you Jonathan. I'm glad you found it meaningful.

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  11. Very well written. As someone who is medically disqualified from joining the military I always look up to those who have paid their dues the hard way. Our servicemen tend to get overlooked in society and don't receive the respect they deserve. I tend to surround myself with active and retired military friends. I love the comraderie they have and the random moments where they relive their life and tell you a story like it was yesterday. That 1000 yard stare is haunting and I cant even pretend to imagine the trials and tribulations our servicemen go through. It frustrates me as my whooe family fought in both world wars and most of them died in combat. I always wanted to serve, not for the thrill, the travel, or even the experience, but because of the feeling of fulfilling a duty to the country I became a naturalized citizen of.

    Anyways, I am glad to call you a friend Aaron. Honor those who have paid the ultimate sacrfice and may we all grow from the hardships in our life. Semper Fidelis.

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  12. One of the most moving pieces I have read on a blog in a long time. As the father of an IVF child my heart goes out to you and your wife for the challenge you had to endure. My wife and I were so so very lucky to be successful first time and I can only imaging how hard it must have been for you both to have had to find the strength to go back time and again until you were successful. I'm sure that you look back on that time and wonder were you found the strength, but I know from personal experience that the birth of your children will have made the pain and effort all worthwhile. Your long service career has no doubt put you in great danger and under great stress but I suspect that the IVF programme would be counted as one of your toughest chellenges and greatest achievements.

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    1. I remember sitting in the waiting room and resenting the people who already had a baby and who were coming in for a second one. I wanted a separate room so I wouldn't have to see them. It has worked out in the end but it was, as you said, very hard.

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  13. I read this post and have to say was very moved by it. I thought for some time how best to respond. I was concerned I may come across across, insincere, flippant, inappropriate... so I will simply say one word; Respect.

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    1. Thank you Scott. I'm glad you took the time to read it and respond.

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  14. Very moving, powerful and thought provoking.

    I've been thinking about "survive the peace" since realizing many of the legends of the Old West were Civil War vets who couldn't return to their old way of life. I think that has always been. I had a landlord who was a wildman with bad PTSD. When I stopped by his birthday party, I discovered his hard core biker buddies were also Vietnam vets. That was another moment when I thought about surviving the peace.

    I'm glad you not only survived but landed in a loving place with a wife and two sons. That's as good as any man can hope for!

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    1. Thank you Monty. One thing I've learned is that surviving is not a one time deal. For many it's something they have to work at every day. I feel very lucky to be where I am. Finding meaning in a "normal" life can be difficult. Finding peace can be even harder. There are times when the every day grind is an unbearable burden and you find yourself longing for the simplicity of war. I consider myself lucky not because I never feel this way but because it is so rare.

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