I am the average mid-career soldier. I’m in my late twenties or early thirties. I’ve served three, four, maybe more tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. I have a spouse that I may or may not be with anymore. I’ve got children who I wish I could spend more time with and who I wish didn’t view me with suspicion every time I come home from overseas. I probably have a degree of some type at this point. I do okay financially. I provide what’s needed, but like most, I wish I had a little less debt.
I’ve seen my share of carnage. I’ve lost friends. I’ve kept up with the death toll from the first one all the way to five thousand and up, even though it’s no longer news. I’ve seen the steady climb in suicides among my brothers and sisters in arms. I’ve observed the dip in morale as the years passed. I’ve rolled my eyes with the rest when our leadership searches for reasons and preventions while ignoring the root cause.
I strongly believed in what I was doing at one point. Now that belief has faded, if it is still there at all. More than likely I keep driving on simply as a means of self-preservation and out of a love for the ones with me that most will never understand. All the while I try to remember if there were any other countries besides the United States that I promised to defend when I raised my right hand.
I’ve felt hope when a promise was made to pull out of Iraq; disappointment when the negotiations to keep us there began; relief when a compromise could not be reached; betrayal when we were told that we would just be moved to other bases in the region. I’ve shuddered when mention of the year 2024 was made for Afghanistan and shaken my head in despair when I heard the calls for Syria and Iran.
I’ve thought about moving on when my contract is up. I still may. I’m definitely scared though. Unemployment is high. It’s even higher among veterans. There’s no guarantee that my skills will translate to civilian employment. I could stay another ten years and try to retire at twenty. To do so is likely a guarantee that I will spend another three to four years away from my family and in harm’s way. Now they are telling me that I may have to accept cuts in the benefits I was promised when I agreed to go risk my life protecting freedom while military contractors and huge corporations are handed billions like tic-tacs.
I keep up with the political process more than the average citizen. For me it could mean life or death. I know the current administration offers me no relief. They’ve said as much themselves. The potential rivals for the 2012 Presidential Election offer no change. They all seem to want the perpetual state of war to continue. They claim that I am making citizens at home safer. I laugh. I’ve seen the rockets fired from PVC pipes held up by scissor jacks and the roadside bombs made from artillery rounds covered in concrete. I’ve talked to the poor dirt-farmers setting them up and know that they are as likely to show up in the U.S. as Elvis is to show up in Kandahar.
Still, I trudge on. I see one glimmer of hope. Real hope this time. It’s just a glimmer though. My brothers and sisters see it too. I reach into my meager wallet to provide what I can to make that glimmer just a little brighter. Just a little more noticeable to the rest of the country. Even as the men behind the curtain tell me that the glimmer is not actually there and that I should focus on the lights that they are providing, I focus on the glimmer. I gave up some of my free speech when I signed on the dotted line, but I do what I can to get the word out that there is hope. I try to make more people see the glimmer through the artificial lights being shined in my face.
Regardless of the outcome next year, I’ll serve my country with pride. I’m tired, I’m hurting, and I miss my family. Although the chances are that my future will be much harder than it should be and certainly harder than I would like, I put it out of my head and continue mission for now. The citizens of this great country have a voice with their vote, and obeying that citizen vote and civilian order is a staple of what makes a soldier. It is what I am expected to do.
Still, I hope.