I dug a hole with a Marine whose last name was so long that I will refer to him as Alphabet. Alphabet and I were training to be infantry Marines in February 2004. I liked Alphabet because the instructors had instructed us not to sleep but Alphabet slept anyway. Alphabet descended from Persia and was quick to let you know. He was supposed to be awake and providing conscious security behind his weapon as I dug a hole to prepare a defensive position for simulated enemy invasion. We had spent the day climbing up a mountain and I couldn’t blame Alphabet because there were no real enemy coming to storm the mountain so as I listened to his heavy breathing and watched his shoulders rise and sag I reminded myself that I was tired too so maybe if I let him get away with it, he might return the favor. The last time I saw Alphabet was on the last day I spent in Camp Fallujah, Iraq. Just like a war movie; he told me he could not wait to get out of this place. I concurred, that night he boarded a helicopter and Alphabet has been dead ever since.
I remember a Marine who had been shot in the head. I looked down even though I told myself not to, his eyes were rolled back and the sun broke through the hole in his empty skull, the sunlight making the thinner parts around the open wound glow orange, the first time sunlight had ever shone in his head. I remember a Marine about my age, he was overweight and one time walked himself to death on a forced march in Okinawa during a black flag day. A black flag is flown on base to let other Marines know that it is too hot to conduct strenuous training on account that walking in the heat with a combat load on has been known to raise a Marine’s core temperature which might have nowhere to go other than total meltdown on a day so hot. One of the Marines in my unit replied after hearing the news, “Fuck ‘em he should have hydrated.” March or die!
One night the squad leader of 1st squad asked if anyone wanted to go back to base to make a phone call for the first time in three weeks during a battle my unit had been told we would only spend four days in. Each Marine declined so the squad leader volunteered himself and a close friend. The next morning an order came down that we would not be allowed to throw hand grenades as we entered each house that was to be cleared during the day’s operation. This was a deviation of our standard operating procedure. Later that day the replacement for the squad leader that returned to base was killed and six of our Marines were wounded, at the end of the night that city block was destroyed by a massive airstrike, which packs more punch than a hand grenade but was only used after all enemy contact had ceased.
The first time I came across an enemy dead body was after I shot him to be funny. We could smell his potent stench from houses away but earlier in the day had been given the order to shoot all dead bodies so when I did to lighten the mood, my Lieutenant looked at me in disbelief and said, “Good Anderson, you want to be a smart ass and shoot very dead bodies? You can check it for intelligence.” I asked my old roommate for some gloves and he handed me a pair as I approached what used to be a very tall Arab man’s corpse lying in the doorway that led to a kitchen. At the time all I could see were his two legs sticking out from under a blanket that had been draped over him, covering above his knee caps. The blanket was soiled and stained black. It smelled like someone had left a refrigerator full of meat open in the hundred degree heat and I pulled the blanket back. It appeared that the intelligence the Lieutenant was searching for had flown out of the front of the large man’s face after he had been executed as I noticed that his hands were bound. There was not much of a face left; I remember sticky stinky black goop, scattered teeth and being amazed at the sight of a real life dead man, which would cease to amaze me later on as there were to be many more corpses to see. Down the street were thirty-one Syrian foreign fighters that would all be dead in a few hours, I think those Syrians killed the tall guy during a Fallujah house-jacking so we killed the Syrians and now they kill each other.
When I got out of the Marine Corps I would think about these things and how I wished I could see them again just to check on them and make sure they were real. Human misery was not something I had been exposed to growing up in suburban Southern California and part of it fascinated me and the other part horrified me the way a pre-adolescent poking a dead animal with a stick on a hot afternoon might feel after dinner with the folks. The army suicide statistics doubled within a month recently. I hate when people ask me why we are there because to tell the truth, I don’t care. It is not the trigger pullers job to care about why they are there, their job is to carry out the bidding of superiors who are trusted and act as the omnipotent sword of American policy. American civilians are the reason we are there, they are represented by elected representatives of their constituency. If the constituency puts enough pressure on their politician, policy sways with the majority demand. Why are we there? We are there because you don’t care, because our society is too lazy and detached to do anything about this problem which may be a dinner party conversation to many people I know but was and is a very real reality to me and those like me. Sometimes I wonder if the people of Afghanistan don't want the Taliban in charge, why we don't let their constituency throw the Taliban out and if Al Qaeda comes out from their crab shells in Yemen then why can’t we do what we have been doing in Yemen and kill those nasties from the sky? In the end this is what is going to happen anyway.
Sun goes down and up goes the statistics of some more suicides of honorable people offering sacrifice to a complacent society that can’t afford a warrior’s understanding much less a war. Up goes the statistics of active duty service dead, gunned down by people we are supposed to be training, but fuck you troop, you signed the contract. March or Die! Why? Don’t ask a vet, ask your congressman and tell he or she why you think war in Afghanistan is or is not the bees knees... because I would not hesitate to invade any country for any reason as long as it was alongside people I cared for, which is what my primary motivation to succeed in battle was, not to think about lazy people whose concept of foreign diplomacy is the television until the next commercial. Unless you record your television in which case you may fast forward through the content which does not interest you... in which case you stopped reading my writing paragraphs ago.