This is how it really is
Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 6, 2003
The average age of the military man is 19 years. He is a short-haired, tight-muscled kid who, under normal circumstances is considered by society as half-man, half-boy. Not yet dry behind the ears, not old enough to buy a beer, but old enough to die for his country. He never really cared much for work and he would rather wax his own car than wash his father’s; but he has never collected unemployment either. He’s a recent high school graduate; he was probably an average student, pursued some form of sport activities, drives a 10-year-old car, and has a steady girlfriend that either broke up with him when he left, or swears to be waiting when he returns from half a world away. He listens to rock ‘n’ roll or hip-hop or rap or jazz or swing and 155mm Howitzers.
He is 10 or 15 pounds lighter now than when he was at home because he is working or fighting from before dawn to well after dusk. He has trouble spelling, thus letter writing is a pain for him, but he can field strip a rifle in 30 seconds and reassemble it in less time in the dark. He can recite to you the nomenclature of a machine gun or grenade launcher and use either one effectively if he must. He digs foxholes and latrines and can apply first aid like a professional. He can march until he is told to stop or stop until he is told to march. He obeys orders instantly and without hesitation, but he is not without spirit or individual dignity.
He is self-sufficient. He has two sets of fatigues: he washes one and wears the other. He keeps his canteens full and his feet dry. He sometimes forgets to brush his teeth, but never to clean his rifle. He can cook his own meals, mend his own clothes, and fix his own hurts. If you’re thirsty, he’ll share his water with you; if you are hungry, his food. He’ll even split his ammunition with you in the midst of battle when you run low. He has learned to use his hands like weapons and weapons like they were his hands. He can save your life – or take it, because that is his job.
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He will often do twice the work of a civilian, draw half the pay and still find ironic humor in it all. He has seen more suffering and death then he should have in his short lifetime. He has stood atop mountains of dead bodies, and helped to create them. He has wept in public, and in private for friends who have fallen in combat and is unashamed. He feels every note of the National Anthem vibrate through his body while at rigid attention, while tempering the burning desire to ‘square-away’ those around him who haven’t bothered to stand, remove their hat, or even stop talking. In an odd twist, day in and day out, far from home, he defends their right to be disrespectful.
Just as did his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather, he is paying the price for our freedom. Beardless or not, he is not a boy. He is the American Fighting Man that has kept this country free for over 200 years. He has asked nothing in return, except our friendship and understanding. Remember him, always, for he has earned our respect and admiration with his blood.
When in England at a fairly large conference, Colin Powell was asked by the Archbishop of Canterbury if our plans for Iraq were just an example of empire building by George Bush. He answered by saying that, &uot;Over the years, the United States has sent many of its fine young men and women into great peril to fight for freedom beyond our borders. The only amount of land we have ever asked for in return is enough to bury those that did not return. It became very quiet in the room.
When you hear reporters asking questions of military leaders you have to wonder whose side the reporters are on. Some explore every possible negative as though it is their opinion. And they invent episodes by slanting questions. I’m still not sure it was a good idea to plant reporters anywhere near the battlefront, or even miles behind it. Maybe not even in the same country. They get to thinking they are soldiers. But then I go back to when everyone was expected to tell the truth and usually did. I’d put some reporters in the same league as war-protesters. They don’t count because you can’t count on them.
Robert Pocklington is a resident of Suffolk and a regular News-Herald columnist.