Friday, July 10, 2009

For Lesser Reasons

I was in Guard MOS [military occupational specialty] training when my mom called me one night, crying. When I asked what was going on, she told me that they’d just lost the house, and they were getting evicted in a matter of days. I had no idea there were any problems.

Even though the economy was faltering, my dad’s construction business’ profit margin was at its best only three months before the bank foreclosed on our house. For some reason, the economy was taking a little longer to catch up with us down there. But then the bottom completely fell out, leaving him, my mother, and my siblings without anywhere to live.

As mom cried on the phone, I asked her where they were going to live now, but she told me she had no idea. I told her I’d see what I could do.

I called around to a few Guard stations in the state, asking them all if there was a unit deploying to Iraq anytime soon. One, a military police unit, said they were. Well, then send me to MP school, I told them. I was volunteering for the tour.

I started checking real estate listings back home, and before long I found a decent, three bedroom house sitting on a fairly large piece of land. With a little work, I bought it, and now there are seven people living in it – all my family.

And that’s actually why I’m over here in Iraq. I volunteered for it because I needed a deployment to help pay for the house. I don’t think it’s a bad reason at all, but not as “good looking” as God, country and patriotism or something. But I have to do this. I may be only twenty years old right now, but I need to take care of my family.

I know a lot of people get over here and complain about how the Army is screwing them over or how morale is really bad, but I can’t complain. I needed this deployment. If it wasn’t for the war, the Army, and this tour, my entire family would be living on the streets right now. There’s just no way to make any money in my hometown. So, I’m thankful. Not exactly for the war, but for the opportunity to help out my family.

People have asked me if I’m going to make a career out of this, but I’m not going to. I’ve loved the time I’ve spent in, I’ve loved that this has helped my family, and I really love the Army, too. I’m proud as hell for serving. Everybody is, even if they get out. And that’s what I intend to do, for a lot of reasons.

Even though I volunteered for this, it takes a toll on you. I’m weary. I miss my family. I miss home. I’ve met somebody too, and it’s tough to maintain a relationship with her when I’m deployed all the time. But more than anything, I have a bigger dream. I want to do what dad did. He got married at 18 to his highschool sweetheart, bought a house, and started raising a family. They’re still married, too. That’s all I want do, and I really can’t if I’m deployed all the time. One of my buddies broke down the other day, and I asked him what was up. He told me it’s hard to watch his little girl grow up on a computer screen. So, I’ll be getting out. I want to find a wife, raise a family and then work to support them. That’s the American dream to me, and what I’m doing here is just helping to get me there.

Copyright © 2009, Ben Shaw, All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Smaller Victories

*Retold with permission

As for me, I have broken time, and a lot of years in between. I was a Marine grunt [infantryman] in the late 70s, but then I earned a college degree and came back as an officer. All told, I did eight years: four as a grunt, and four as a lieutenant. After that, I got out.

I was supposed to be at the barracks in Beirut when they were bombed, but there was a last-minute roster change and my best friend went instead, and he was killed. While most Americans may have forgotten about Beirut, I haven’t. I can’t. There were real people over there, and many of them were close friends. All my ghosts have names, and they still haunt me.

After I got out, I found myself doing acting for a time. Although it was certainly fun, it isn’t a steady enough paycheck when you’re married, so I also spent time as a school teacher, ran my own business, and did few other jobs as well.

In the first few days of September, 2001, my son was born, and I remember thinking then that this was the reason I’d been “spared” from Beirut. I was destined to be a father. And then 9-11 happened.

I had considered going into the Army earlier that year, but they’d told me I was too old to be a lieutenant, thought that wasn’t true. They were just too lazy to do all the paperwork that showed I was qualified. And after September 11th, everything changed. I told my wife that I needed to do my part for my country. I could serve, or I could go outside, rip the flag pole from the front lawn, and in a few years tell my son that I was a coward and didn’t want to go. I had to put my money where my mouth was; so I went back to the recruiters.

I was too old to be a lieutenant, they said again, but they’d take me as a sergeant. I didn’t particularly care at that point; I just needed to be in. So, after serving as a Marine Corps officer, I joined the Army nearly 17 years later as a sergeant. My service, I believe, was more important than the rank at which I was serving. Americans think that this is a 19-year olds’ war, but it’s not. There are a bunch of us old guys out here, and the funniest thing is that I’m still keeping up with them. They should be embarrassed. I turned fifty on this deployment.

Victory, to me, is an elusive term. Everybody defines it differently, and it’s easy to get caught up in the complication of big picture at the expense of the immediate. I’m not here to win the war; I’m here to serve my country. None of us can control the course of the war, so I can’t concern myself with it. But, I can certainly do my part to advocate my soldiers.

I’ll go home here soon with more than one victory. In a general sense, I know that the world is a better place without that dictator in power here. That’s obvious to me. But it’s the small scale triumphs hold greater value to me. I’ll go home to my wife and my son, in one piece and alive. I’ve done my part, and my son won’t have to spend his life wondering why his father didn’t serve his country. Nor will I feel I’ve stood idly by while my country went to war.

God willing, we’ll reach the end of this tour and I’ll take home the same 130 soldiers I deployed with several months ago. That will be victory enough for me. I don’t have control over this, I know, but I do have some influence. I thank God we’ve come this far without any losses, and I pray we make it the rest of the way. We don’t have long now.

And you know what else I consider a victory? On July 4th, the US swore in 237 new citizens to this country. They represented more than 50 nations, served honorably in the United States military, and there, in Saddam’s Al Faw Palace ballroom, they became Americans. Some of those boys are my soldiers, and I’m proud of them. This is an enormous victory to me, and I’m going to go home smiling. Jo Biden was there, and I like what he said about it: “That S.O.B. is rolling over in his grave right now.” Good. The world’s better off without him.

And there’s actually one more victory, for me and for the US as a whole. Those kids on MTV aren’t the next generation of heroes in this country, so we needn’t be afraid. It’s the men and women over here. It’s my soldiers. It’s this country’s newest citizens. It’s the people who, rather than sitting at home and complaining about things and wanting rights they’re not willing to defend, took an oath and fought for a country they believed in. They’re the next generation of leaders in America, and they’re going to do great things. How do I know this? Well, they’re already doing great things here. These young men and woman still love their country, and they’re still willing to fight for it. And that is perhaps the greatest victory of all.

Copyright © 2009, Ben Shaw, All Rights Reserved