Saturday, June 05, 2004

The Front Lines

June 5, 2004

What exactly does it mean to be on the front lines? Does it mean I have to be overwhelmed with combat patches – RANGER and SPECIAL FORCES on my upper left sleeve and AIRBORNE on my right? Do I need to be Air Assault qualified to be effective? Do I need to be a sharpshooter to show I can protect myself and my battle buddies? Am I less qualified to be here because I am not an infantry soldier? Am I doing less for my country because I am not intimately involved in the news that makes headlines on a daily basis?

As I was getting ready for ‘work’ this morning, I was watching CNN Headline News and on the screen was ‘Explosion in Baghdad – 5 U.S. Soldiers killed and 4 injured when a bomb ripped through their Humvee.’ My first reaction was to grimace as I realized the growing number of casualties. My second was the realization that the news I was hearing has something to do with my life, yet it feels so far removed from my life.

I struggle with the guilt of not being the person who is walking around with a limp or a lost limb. I struggle with the guilt that my uniform is less dirty than the next persons. I struggle with the guilt of not knowing what it is like to cradle my battle buddy in my arms as he breathes his final breath.

But what exactly am I feeling guilty for? Every day I get up and put on my uniform and serve my country. I carry around my M16 like it’s a purse and I sweat in the same body armor as everyone else. I complain about the heat and the months away from my life in the states – just as everyone else does. And we all count the days until we return.

Only a small percentage of the military is made up of infantry soldiers. The majority of the military is considered ‘support’ for them. I don’t know enough about previous wars to speculate what they were like, but in this war, the front line seems blurred. Jessica Lynch was a supply clerk who, I imagine, thought she would never see combat – never be on the front lines. But war is tricky and those front lines are often blurred. Her uniform wasn’t full of patches, but she became a casualty nonetheless. Her best friend, Lori, wasn’t considered a front line soldier, but she died in the heat of a battle.

Just as I struggle with not being personally affected through injury and death, I also struggle with the guilt of feeling afraid. We don’t often talk about it because we are embarrassed to admit it. But how can we not be afraid when we know soldiers are dying every day and it’s simply the unlucky hand they are dealt? Those we hear about on television or read about in the paper are more than likely supply, maintenance, or admin soldiers. A small percentage of us engage in combat on a daily basis. I am one who falls under the category of ‘support’ and I never expect to be in the middle of a firefight, but the reality is I just might one day – if I’m dealt that unlucky hand. And yes, I am afraid. I am not sufficiently trained in combat arms. I am basically trained.

There are no rules to this game. You can’t defend yourself against maniacs who are willing to kill themselves in order to kill you. You can’t anticipate when an attack might occur. You can’t spend your day looking over your shoulder for the enemy. And you can’t assume everyone you come in to contact with is the enemy. It’s a fine line to walk - an uncertain one. And it’s definitely blurred.

The majority of us don’t have blood stains on our uniform or shrapnel in our skin. But we’re still on the blurred front line and we all have the sweat on our brows and the tears on our cheeks to prove it. We don’t all have the same job, but we share the same uniform. Perhaps it’s strategic placement on the part of the military to put the U.S. ARMY patch on our left chest area - so that when we pledge our allegiance, our right hand presses our branch name closer to our hearts. Because ultimately, it’s our heart that helps us walk the blurred line in Iraq – not the number of patches we earn.

With Love,


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