It always seems the men who die in combat are the ones you think least deserve it.
Shortly after we lost one man, far away from our area, we lost another in a common security mission in the middle of our valley. As a way of keeping the enemy from attacking voting areas, supply units, or local forces, our platoons would set themselves up in known ambush areas..and wait. On one, I was in the back seat of a truck, and we had been there a while. I had to pee.
The typical way to take care of that problem was to pee in a Gatorade bottle. But, since I didn't like Gatorade, I didn't have a bottle. Even if I had, I still wouldn't have done it. There is too much chance of missing the target and getting urine on the truck, yourself, or your gear. After all, you are sitting down with all this stuff all over your body. I would say, "pissing in a bottle is against my religion," and I would normally just get out and pee on the side of the vehicle away from the expected enemy fire.
So, as usual, I said, "I'm getting out of the truck." The sergeant in charge of the truck replied, "I don't think that's a good idea, sir. You know this is f***-ing bad guy land." I just replied, "Cover me," unlatched the "combat lock", and opened the door. I only pushed it open about 6 inches, when...
WHOOMP! WHOOMP! WHOOMP! Three RPG's hit around our four-vehicle array in rapid succession. I pulled the door back and latched it as bullets began to hit us and the gunner returned fire. I calmly announced, "I think I can wait until we get to the COP (combat outpost)." The driver and gunner cackled as the sergeant barked orders to them. Another day, another dance with death that I was able to walk away from.
An RPG doesn't just explode, though. It is a "shaped charge", which, upon impact, produces a narrow stream of heated, liquid metal that usually penetrates what it hits. While the shrapnel from the grenade itself is dangerous, that shaped charge is the real threat. Ten days after our last KIA, an RPG penetrated a truck on one of those missions, and the shaped charge went into the back seat area, past one man, through the fire extinguisher, through body armor, and through the forward observer seated in the back. He was killed instantly. The other men in the vehicle were essentially unharmed.
He was a popular, thoughtful man, who kept his buddies' spirits up and often kept them scratching their heads. He liked to play the guitar and wrote a hilarious Christmas song that lives on in video form. When I visited his COP, he always would sit outside and have a smoke with me, and ruminate on things unknowable. He was officially Catholic, unofficially Buddhist, and a completely lovable guy. Our conversations often ended with me saying, "I honestly have no idea what you mean," and we would both laugh.
There were a few complete dirtbags on that COP. There were guys who couldn't be trusted to do the right thing, guys who sexually harassed other guys, guys who weren't respectful to anyone. There was a guy who faked his award records, a guy who tried to destroy the tape of the intentional, unlawful discharge of his weapon, and a guy who "allegedly" sold his night vision goggles to an Afghan.
Yet, it wasn't any of them who died there. That group of warriors lost a father figure mechanic, a kind soon-to-be dad, and our musical philosopher.
I had to literally stop for a moment and wipe away my tears as I wrote that.
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.
A time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
A time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
A time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,Y
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
A time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
A time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
A time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace. (from Ecclesiastes, Chapter 3)
All this is true, and we rarely know when our time, or another's time, has come. It is too easy to mourn, to weep, to regret, to wonder "why them," and not us.
Yet, that is not now our time. Now is the time to celebrate the men they were, and for us to be the men they would have had us become. Now is the time to dance with our daughters, to wrestle with our sons, to love with our wives, to ride with our brothers. Now is the time to proclaim that though death comes, unbidden, that life is always worth living.
For God does not slumber, nor sleep, but gives gifts beyond measure, for our blessing and for his glory. Let us never forget those who gave so that we could receive - and look to the One who gave more than we ever could, so that we could be called the sons of God.