Sunday, January 14, 2007

A Litte Extra Time

One thing that I did not expect was for our first week here at Ft Riley to be a short work week. The Regular Army, being a Federal agency, takes Federal holidays pretty seriously. So we've got a few days off. Of course, most of us on the team are stranded here with no vehicles, so we just stay around and try to relax. I've got a dvd player here, and the LT's got a laptop. We watch movies, he plays games on his computer, and we pass the time. Tuesday, it's game-on again.

Tuesday we will be issued our weapons. We will each receive a carbine and a pistol. They may even be brand new... although the pistols will probably not be. We were issued leg holsters for the pistols. Very Buck Rogers... or something. Three-point slings for the rifles. Tres chic.

The extra time extends an opportunity to examine one's navel, as well. The thought of where we are going is always in the back of my mind. I have done a lot of work to prepare my mind for where we are going, for what we are going to see, for what we are going to do. What will happen Tuesday is a relatively simple exercise that we have all been through dozens of times; receiving a strange weapon and making it our own. These two will be different.

They will be our battle weapons. They will most assuredly be fired in anger towards our enemies. I have considered my weapons in the past, and have mostly concluded that they would not be fired in anger by my hand.

These will. Hopefully not the pistol, for that is a very bad sign. The rifle, on the other hand, will. That is a simple statement, not a wish nor a desire. It is a function of it's being with me where I go. For a soldier, the weapon is a tool of the trade in a simple sense. Marines are taught that it is their reason to exist, as if they serve the rifle. That may serve the purpose of the Marine Corps, but I know that the weapon exists to go with me where I go, and to do what I need for it to do. It is only as useful as I make it. It is inert without me, a visual symbol of lethality, and nothing more.

Weapons are more than simple tools, though. No, I'm not talking about some kind of Freudian male organ thing... that's just silly; I'm talking about the actions that are associated with them. The application of deadly force is not to be taken lightly, but it must be more automatic in the situation that demands it. In other words, if you are to consider it, consider it well beforehand and come to your conclusions. When the moment comes, the time for careful thought is over. It is time to act. These thoughts must cover numerous permutations. One's morals and ethics must be established beforehand. The guys who acted out in Haditha were obviously lacking in this regard.

Some things are just feelings... I've had the feeling several times that I am not going to return from this thing with a pulse. That is only a stray thought, not a premonition. The same with gazing at the weapon that will be my constant companion in Afghanistan. There are thoughts that are just thoughts, nothing more, considering the unknown. I cannot tell the future precisely.

But the weapon will be an extension of my hand. It is not only a part of me, but it represents my ability to defend myself, to defend others, to render evil men inert. Without it, I am defenseless and nothing but a man in a silly hat with his pants tucked into his boots.

My weapon will be used most often as a marking tool (using tracers) for the machine guns and RPG teams, so that they can engage targets more efficiently. It is a matter of soldierly pride that I most often hit what I aim at. I am a very good shot with both the rifle and the pistol.

I have never shot anyone before. It is not something that I look forward to with anticipation. The feeling is more of a sense of sadness that I will most likely not be able to say that a year from now, and the weapon I am about to receive will be the instrument of that loss of innocence. I don't believe that it is a good thing to be able to say that you have shot someone. It may be necessary, and in fact I believe that it will be. I'd be surprised if it is not.

The weapon I receive on Tuesday will be all of these things and more to me. It will also be a dead weight to add to all of the other weight to carry, and the ammunition to feed it will add more. So, Tuesday I will meet my ball and chain for the next fifteen months.

Somewhere in Afghanistan, the soldiers with whom I will work, train, mentor and bond are there, and our lives will cross in ways that will change us all. Somewhere in Afghanistan and Pakistan there are men whose paths will cross mine in violent struggle. Some of us will not leave these encounters alive. They are there now, drinking chai, smoking cigarettes, living their lives, and I am here. In a couple of months I shall meet the former. The latter we will meet together over the course of the spring, summer, and fall.

None of us knows the other, and none of us can predict the myriad of events that will transpire this year. Those Afghans, good and bad, have no idea that I'm coming, and I have no idea who they are, but they are already there. They have families, mothers, some have wives and children. They are grown men who have lived childhoods, who have memories and dreams and worries and have lived there for decades. They are each the result of a life's work.

As am I. As are we all.

May my rifle and I be agents for the good of all of us.

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