What is War? This is a question that has always evoked confrontational responses in our society. In addition, it has elicited a response from our veteran community that may very well range from explanations such as the diabolical schemes of totalitarian governments, to the pursuit of peace of sovereign nations. However, as a veteran of the recent conflicts in Afghanistan, I would like to offer an opinion of what I view as War and how it is significant in such a troubling time in our nation.
From day one on the yellow footprints, we are totally immersed in a culture that’s main objective is to train, fight, and liberate. However, none of us have any idea of what war is until we see it with our very eyes. The culture of recruit training is a simple philosophy, yet, underestimated by the enemies of freedom. We are removed from our previous identities and molded into the image the Marine Corps seeks to portray. This image has stood the test of time. We are known around the world as the fiercest fighting force on the planet, known to prevail against insurmountable odds repeatedly. The question here is how do we always seem to prevail? Quite simply, it is our definition of War that has carved names in history that would have remained unknown had it not been for their selfless acts of heroism.
I will never forget the most humbling experience as it occurred in recruit training that gave me an initial understanding of what war would soon be. In retrospect, I view this as a valuable lesson that many of our veterans have forgot when they return to the civilian world in pursuit of their own endeavors. The following depicts that lesson:
After a few weeks of initiation, humiliation and misery, we begin to foster the skills that will soon prepare us for war and the battle that ensues. The drill instructors remain relentless in their ongoing pursuit of failure among the recruits. However, we begin to realize the value of teamwork, collaboration and the use of small unit leadership in accomplishing what seem like daunting tasks. In such, the training becomes tolerable. We begin to function on one accord, relying on each other in all endeavors. We learn to place the mission above oneself, even in the face of death and defeat. Thus, an identity is born. A brotherhood emerges that will lay the foundation for success in the hardships that are soon to follow in war. In essence, we develop the ability to rely on one another and the belief that we fight for the greater good of our nation.
These lessons force us to emerge as selfless individuals who remain ever vigilant and dedicated to the accomplishment of the Corps mission, no matter what the cost. Despite the difficulties of training, none of these lessons seems relevant until one endures the hardships of war firsthand and realizes the true value in all we have prepared for. I will never forget my first experience of what war truly was.
It was a warm evening in Afghanistan in the blistering sun on Route Redskins only a few kilometers from the nearest coalition forces. However, heavy IED emplacements and enemy harassment delayed our platoon for a few days in pursuit of our objective. In fact, we sustained such significant logistical losses that we were advised to return to base to reset and prepare for the next mission. None of us were prepared for what would occur on the last evening on Route Redskins. A selected amount of our platoon was summoned for a short patrol that would allow us to link up with coalition forces that had the assets we would need in order to return to the base to resupply.
After the sun began to set on this last July evening and activity increased, suspicion began to arise. My fellow Marines were just about at the objective point when the unthinkable happened. An IED emplacement took the lives of two of our most coveted members and forced the rest of us to utilize the skills we learned to push through the despair. On that day, leaders were born, young boys became men and battle-hardened leaders cemented their legacy amongst their subordinates. In short, war, as we knew it, was an ongoing battle between emotional defeat and mission accomplishment, reinforced by the impact we made on the mission of American forces in the region. To this day, I have never had the privilege to befriend such awesome individuals, nor have I ever been so proud to be a part of any group. I was this group.
Fast-forward five years and I begin to realize just how valuable the lessons learned in recruit training that emerged on the battlefield have become. As all Veterans are aware, many of our brothers and sisters in arms have fallen victim to homelessness, poverty and despair. In addition, many have lost the battle to suicide. Therefore, it is imperative to remember the lessons taught from day one about war and teamwork. War, for many of us, has transformed into a new enemy, no longer concerned with IED emplacements and pop-shots. Instead, our present war is the war within ourselves, a war we are unprepared to combat. The reason for this is simple; we have always bore the brunt of war together, not individually. This brings me to an astounding conclusion to achieve success in the current battle: Teamwork.
Over the course of this writing, a few of our own have taken their own life in hopes to defeat this newfound enemy. Therefore, we should begin to act faster and more aggressively towards defeat of this new enemy. However, as the most seasoned veteran knows, this will only occur when all logistical assets are in place, all hands are on deck, and all efforts are geared towards this war. In that respect, I would like to end by issuing a challenge to my fellow warfighters: Reach out to a fellow vet and regain that comraderie you once knew. Even though we are spread thin and are forced to actively seek support, support is there. We must all realize that this new war is no different and we will only overcome this hurdle when all assets are attributed. Lastly, know that this war is justified, as were your previous wars, towards the cause of the greater good. In this case, it is preservation of America’s newest generation of warriors.