I want to share the answer to a question I ask myself regularly: “What keeps me up at night???” A year ago, I would have answered quite differently, but now as I write, I would say that what keeps me up at night is knowing there is always someone out there struggling with making a life-changing decision… a decision to take their own life. I lost track some time ago of the number of friends I’ve lost due to two types of combat - either combat against a militant-type enemy, or combat against the most elusive enemy...themselves.
“Everything in war is very simple, but the simplest thing is difficult”
Since being out of the military and navigating the somewhat refined, yet theatrical civilian world, many have asked me about combat… “What is combat like?” “Have you ever done this?” “Have you ever seen that?” “What is the most difficult thing about combat??” The questions are endless. First of all, I’m far from a battle-hardened warrior. I have walked in the shadow of so many more noble, courageous, and heroic warriors - fine young infantrymen, seasoned and skilled reconnaissance Marines, and elite special operators. My primary responsibility on the battlefield as an “officer” was to prepare the team for combat, resource them for operations, synchronize the fight, insulate them from screwy orders from higher staff (which occurred frequently…), and most importantly, get everyone back to their loved ones alive. I was far from the warrior who kicked in the door, tossed grenades, and pulled the trigger to take other’s lives on a daily basis.
I can tell you though, I am acquainted with combat and it is the most euphoric roller-coaster ride. You may be foot patrolling, mingling, and doing goodwill with the locals one second, then a second later, fighting for your life trapped in a coordinated insurgent ambush, seeing your mates shredded to pieces. A couple of hours later, you’re back behind the wire, on a Forward Operating Base with the day deleted from your mind, eating ice cream, watching the Yankees beat the Red Sox, and getting ready for bed, just to wake up the next day and face another entirely different combatant situation. And, at the end of that day, if it ends, another bowl of ice cream, or better, a slice of cold leftover pizza.
Fighters get desensitized to the Fight…. it becomes muscle memory…. instinctive to the point where it’s all they know… they study it, they bond with others that have the same affinity for it, they see and smell it everywhere. When it’s all over, there’s an emptiness… a void. For those who have never experienced what I am describing, it’s difficult to portray and grasp. The toughest phase of combat is when there isn’t any, when combat operations have ceased and now you’re “just there,” waiting to be called upon again to do your duty. When you have to return to “the world” and be part of garrison life, or, it’s time to transition back to civilian life….back to normalcy, or idiocracy as it’s so become these days. It’s this time that is most difficult to confront because, quite frankly, Fighters just aren’t good at not being in the Fight... and new enemies arise. Minds start developing new threats, like those palm groves near a road, overpasses in the desert , or even a littered box along a sidewalk.
What keeps me up at night is knowing there are folks out there doing combat with the most elusive enemy: … engaged in war with drugs or alcohol, anger, violence, hate, greed, abuse, or being unable to overcome a decision they made on the battlefield - a moral and ethical regret. This is the time when we need to be most VIGILANT and take care of one another.
As a reminder to myself and others, there is NO JUDGEMENT when it comes to this form of combat. We have all been there to varying degrees. There is no worse feeling than being at the bottom looking up, stuck in a corner, or caught in a crossfire with no one around to provide support. I’ve been there and it’s indeed an awful, lonely, and depriving feeling… the worst living imaginable Hell. Carl von Clausewitz, famed military theorist, once said, “Everything in war is very simple, but the simplest thing is difficult.” Now, the most difficult thing to do is just reaching out to a mate to chat… the simplest of tasks. We MUST take care of each other unconditionally, be open-minded to different views, truly understand suffering, and do whatever it takes to save each other - this to me is the ultimate sacrifice… the commitment to our preservation as human beings.
“It is worth remembering that the time of greatest gain in terms of wisdom and inner strength is often that of greatest difficulty”
My continuing request is to keep communication open and if you know someone that needs some rest, recovery, and conditioning, please contact me, or someone else, so we can align the crosshairs and get ready for the next battle. “Invictus - Remain Unconquerable!”