You may have heard that the only son of a family can't be sent to war. You heard wrong.
We went three months without a KIA. On the one hand, that sounds pretty amazing. Over 1200 fights in a year, and three months with no one killed? However, those three months stretched from mid-November to mid-February, and the winter wasn't "fighting season", so maybe it wasn't that impressive. Of course, my journal has over 30 gunfights that I "experienced" over that period, so maybe it didn't slow down. Regardless, it was a welcome respite from death, grief, memorials, and pushing down the pain.
We had the most "kinetic" AO in the country. We also all ran around in custom baseball hats, clearly against US Army rules. How did we manage to do that? Well, as our commander put it, "no one will ever do a surprise inspection or leadership visit out here. They will always tell us they are coming, to make sure we are ready for them when they land...because they are scared." He was right. (I'm still miffed at my wife for throwing that hat out. Who cares that it was raggedy?)
Even though our area was the "worst", other units had hard times as well. One adjacent unit foolishly allowed its soldiers to patrol in up-armored Humvees, which were easy targets for IEDs. (Our commander said we would patrol only in Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles. So, one of our companies only patrolled on foot for the first few months.) That unit lost five men in an instant when an IED vaporized one of those Humvees. It was a hard year for most.
Our guys always seemed to get into trouble when they went on operations supporting other units. In one, our detached platoon was on the *receiving end* of an Air Force bomb. On another, one of our sergeants received a Silver Star for valor helping the attached unit out of a rough spot.
And, eventually, our luck ran out. A platoon left one of our combat outposts to help another unit, well out of our normal area of operations. We got the call - one of our boys wasn't coming home.
He wasn't just an only son. He was an only child, a son who planned to return home to help out with, and eventually take over, his family's ranch. The men in his unit made a trip out to see his family - while nothing could truly heal the wound in his parents' hearts, the selfless acts of those simple soldiers has always been an example to me of how we are supposed to go above and beyond for those who mean the most to us, blood or not.
Can you imagine doing that for your civilian co-worker's family? Sure, you may have a best friend, but this was more than that. These men weren't bonded by a shared childhood, a shared interest, or a shared religion. They were bonded by the way they lived their lives and their dedication to each other. While all of them may not have believed in God, they believed in something just as real. But when the bullets stop flying, when we go our own way, that sense of reality is maddeningly hard for men to find.
Today, some will give up finding it forever. And yet, He, the one who is reality itself, is closer than you may think.