Dulce et Decorum

[Written as the war as yet to kill me.]

My first brush with loss in the military was the F-16 student who g-LOC’d during training. G-force loss of consciousness occurs when a pilot endures sustained high gs, which drains blood from the brain and induces hypoxia. Without oxygen, the blackout followed.

I was a new lieutenant when it happened—when we stood up a personnel recovery operation in the vault. We tried to assess where the aircraft crashed and printed maps to assist the aircrew in their search. We hoped the pilot ejected. His callsign was Jinxx.

He didn’t. And so it goes.

When I was deployed to Iraq, a Black Hawk crashed on base one evening. They say it was caused by a brownout, when dust or sand restricts visibility. Twelve were wounded, one died; someone missed him. He was part of the Ohio Guard. Maybe it was during the worst dust storm of the decade, which was either in July or September, when the dust was so terrible the rockets fell more often than rain. Maybe the when matters less in the end.

The war killed others in Iraq—and then Afghanistan. Graveyard of Empires for a reason. The smaller bases were lit up frequently. More jets hit with golden BBs. So many ceremonies were held for the dead. So many flags were lowered and folded. We never spoke much of the dead, maybe because of some fear that we’d come to our senses eventually. It takes a certain drive, personality, and confidence. We were never so capable than while living in that moment, separated from everything, connected as one.

I remember Pedro, but Massive would follow—helicopters downed—more deaths would follow. You’d think we would have known what we got ourselves into, but we were young and invincible.

I think of this often. These things we do that some have sacrificed all to protect. And it is strange how these memories arrive, how mortality rests so easily on our shoulders. But we cannot afford to be squeamish or frightened—not when it matters. Especially when it matters. And we carry some guilt back from the wars. We don’t want to die; still, we remember those who do.

We don’t fight in the trenches like our grandfathers, and we don’t disappear in silence for months anymore. Letters are replaced by phone calls or emails. We are spoiled in a way, but in a way, this is worse. (We can’t always shut it off or temper our language. You should never have to know what we know.)

But the tragedies are similar. The losses are similar. Just wars with different names and faces. 

These violent years are behind me, mostly, but they’re difficult to shake—and maybe I shouldn’t be able to extract them or forget. They force me to remember what the price of our comforts can be.

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