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This blog exists only as an archive. It is a journal that serves as a window into my life as a Marine combat veteran serving in Iraq and Afghanistan; it was written with no filter, no politics and no agenda. Please feel free to follow my journey from beginning to end. Welcome to my life.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Sendoff to Afghan

This past Friday I was invited to a BBQ by a friend of mine from the sniper community. It was a going away party for his unit, which is soon deploying to the same general area of Afghanistan that I operated in a year ago.

In all honesty, the event was pretty difficult for me to handle. This was a unit that I had the opportunity to join for the deployment but obviously opted not to. I don't regret that decision in the least, however, standing on the sidelines and watching these guys drink beers and talk about what they were about to do was hard. No matter what my situation in life from this point on, it will always be hard for me to watch guys prepare to go off and fight the same fight that I have trained for. I didn't know everyone that was there, and even after being introduced to every last one of them, I couldn't recite more than two names, but for the next seven months each one of their faces will be scanned into my memory, and every time that I check the papers on base, I'll scan the photos of our casualties, hoping that I don't recognize one.

There were a couple of things that made it particularly hard. The Marine that invited me is a good friend, but more importantly someone that I respect on a professional level as highly as anyone in the sniper community. He greeted me at the door with a huge grin, and when I asked him what the grin was all about, all he could get out was that he'd just found out he was going to be a father. This is a three time combat vet, a hero of the battle of Fallujah, who has been trying to have a child with his wife for about 3 years, of course fate decides to inform him his wife is expecting only days before he goes on his fourth deployment, to arguably the worst and most dangerous area in the world. Don't think he let it get him down though. Between having me recount stories of Taliban firefights to his teams and pounding Coors Light, he was sneaking away with his sloppy grin to pick his wife up with a hug. Knowing where he was going it was hard to watch. His wife, obviously not ignorant of what her husband was about to embark on, refused to let the obvious 800 lb gorilla sour the mood. I wondered where she got her strength.

Later in the evening he would corner me and tell me that I had been one of his favorite students. He said that last year he read about what myself and my platoon were doing in Afghanistan, and that he'd 'allowed himself to believe that we were having success because we learned something, anything from what he had taught us the year before'. Almost with embarrassment, he said that he convinced himself that we came home alive because he had the chance to impart his acquired knowledge from prior deployments to us. He asked, over and over again, for me to reenlist and go instruct at the school house. He told me that I had the ability to save lives, that I should go and pass on the knowledge and lessons I've learned.

I smiled and laughed a little, shrugged off the seriousness of the talk, and, with something nearing shame, swallowed the lump in my throat and told him, "Eh, I don't think so man, I think I'm going to get out."

I don't know what the next chapter of my life holds, but I do know that I'm ready to move on from the Marine Corps. I will never regret joining, and I will take the lessons I've learned with me wherever I go, but I know that there's something else out there for me to move on to (I just have no idea what it is yet). I'm sure I'll live with a lot of 'what-ifs', what if I had volunteered to go back to Afghanistan (the what ifs in this case are probably mostly negative), what if I had reenlisted to instruct at the school house, or what if I had made it a career. The only what if I wont have to wonder about is what if I'd gotten out after four years, with all my fingers and toes.

I wish these guys all the best. I pray they are as invincible as they claim, that they've been trained as well as I was. I pray that they tread lightly and never make that step that goes boom. I trust that they'll shoot straight and true, that they'll take the fight to the Taliban. I hope that they all come home, consciences clean. Almost everything in me worries for you, but a small part of me envies you. Good luck.

13 comments:

  1. Great writing, man, from the heart.

    Life is short and there are lots more great adventures ahead for you. You are the type of person who always makes the most of every opportunity given. When one chapter ends, another will begin.

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  2. I understand the envy. When I quit teaching public school(which I loved and hated) to raise my own children, it was a difficult descision - thinking of the kids out there that needed me to be a teacher. But the reward of raising my own children was far better. You will have lots of adventure, lots of opportunity and you will do great.

    Wives like your friend's wife are few and far between. Choose wisely.

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  3. Jake - you should put away any regrets or guilt you're feeling, and for good. Your service to the country is "above and beyond" and is, without question, more than enough. You've earned the right to do whatever you please and move on with your life.

    I'm sure whatever lays ahead for you, you will do it "full steam" ahead and be a great success.

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  4. There will be many of us praying for these guys right along with you, just like we have been praying for all of you since Day 1. I wish you success and happiness in whatever you choose to do with your life. You have certainly served your country with honor Our country is truly blessed to have such fine, upstanding young people like you and all the fine people serving today. I will offer up special prayers for your frien and his wife and baby. God bless you and all our military.

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  5. Jake I want to thank you for your dedication and service to our country, doing what few can and are willing to do. Hold your head high and know that you have served your country well and go live your life and always expect wonderful things of yourself because you know that after all you have been through, there is nothing in this world you can't do if you set your mind to it. My son is in Afghanistan and I am counting down the days till his return. He lost his best friend over there April 8th. I read your Feburary blog and cried when you told of losing your friend. What you guys have been through is more than most people will ever deal with in a lifetime. You don't have to stay in the Marine Corp to make a difference in peoples lives. God Bless.....Semper Fi...from a Marine Mom

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  6. It aint gonna be easy and it wont go away quickly. For some, if not most, it never really goes away.

    You'll feel that pull to go back and stand with your tribe every time you see/hear news that mentions them.

    Don't let it grief you down though. The pity pit is a nasty place for a Marine to end up in.

    Something that may help would be to keep blogging. Once you're out from under the UCMJ, blog when you want, about whatever you want in which ever manner you want.

    Writing things down helps get thoughts in order and can provide a pressure vent that keeps the boiler from blowing. Also, blogging consistently will help get you primed up for the book(s) you're gonna end up needing to write anyway. The best way to get good at writing is to write and write and write and... blogging counts in that, as long as you treat it as a training op.

    Another reason for you to keep blogging...

    There's too many head hunters out in the nasty civvie world that want USMC scalps for their lawfare belts. Those scumbags prey upon the general ignorance and inability of too many of our citizenry to think beyond the bottom of their own bellies or beyond the reach of their own gonads. Our Corps needs stalwarts on the shield wall who know what's what and can sift fact from fiction as well as provide context and perspective. The home front fight is still on.

    Pitching in and engaging targets of opportunity on the home front helps counter that (irrational) feeling that you sat down when you should have stood up.

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  7. Here's something that might help in getting your pirate hunting feet wet.

    http://www.somalicruises.com/

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  8. hey I'm joining up in a year after I finish a year at community and found your blog and just wanted to say thanks for blogging, man. Reading back about your experiences has been really helpful, informative, and motivating.

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  9. if you do get a chance and wouldn't mind questions my e-mail is nick.leslie13@gmail.com I don't know what happened up with my comment earlier

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  10. Have followed you for the past year or so....I love you dude....

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  11. Jake, I pray every day for those serving this Country in our Armed Forces....but when someone you know, or even just a face you recognize, is "over there" the prayers are more personal and more intense. My son just deployed with his Marine squad; to the same world hot spot as your Sniper friend. May they all return with (as you say) "all their fingers and toes" intact!

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  12. If I might make a suggestion...

    While you're dealing with your downtime from surgery, why don't you start writing up character sketches?

    Write about the characters you've known in the Corps. There's so many misconceptions and silly stereotypes about who and/or what sort of man becomes a USMC grunt, that some work that shows the actual reality could end up as a true eye opener for many of your readers.

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