Tuesday, January 29, 2008


How do you go from being a high school drop-out to being a soldier? How do you go from drinking on the job at a factory to leading a platoon? How do you go from gang-banger to hero?

My best friend is a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army. As I'm a liberal raised by pacifists, married to another liberal raised by pacifists, this friendship has been an interesting and educational experience for me. Her husband, also a good friend, just returned from 14 months in Iraq.

I spent 11 years of my childhood living near Fort Riley, Kansas, "Home of the Big Red One," First Infantry Division. Instead of, "Yo mama so fat" jokes, kids in my schools said, "Yo mama wear combat boots." Often, this was true.

People talk about flashbulb memory in conjunction with events like the assassination of JFK or MLK, Jr. My first and clearest experience with the phenomenon was while washing dishes one evening as a teenager. It was cold, winter, and my parents were out running. I had the small, black-and-white TV on for company and I heard President George H.W. Bush declare war on Iraq. "Damn," my father said later when he returned from his run, half-frozen, and I repeated the news.

War has always effected me politically, of course, but somehow it never touched me personally. I wore slogan support bracelets - Desert Shield, Desert Storm - but I didn't stay up at night, worrying about loved ones and imagining what their lives were like over in that desert. I recommend that everyone get close to someone who experiences war on a personal level.

In the meantime, here's a snippet of what Basic Training is like. Note the recruit who didn't realize that we are at war, the spelling and grammar in the letters home, the complaints about maturity and discipline. Note how different they look at their graduation ceremony. Think of going from child to warrior in 9 weeks.


Rob Monroe said...

I remember that night, too, but a bit differently. We had been expecting it, worrying that it would happen sooner rather than later. It was my brothers birthday, and our mom was not home to celebrate it. She was in Saudi Arabia.

I've blocked a lot about that time in my life out. We never talk about it either. (I've blocked a lot of a lot of my life out.)

I agree - do what you can to support the people being effected.

I can't bring myself to watch the video. Sorry.

brooke said...

this is one of the many gifts that i've been given since moving to utah. a liberal pacifist like yourself moving to a state like this, and living in one of the more conservative communities -- being at christmas celebrations with friends of mine and talking to a brother-in-law who was over in iraq. a peace activist and a solider. this has happened a few times for me here - all of a sudden talking to someone who's been there. i can't say i'm esp. close to any of these folks, but just being able to talk to them has been a gift. sort of the epitome of peace in many ways. :)

Sarahlynn said...

Rob, my kneejerk reaction is to say, "I understand," but of course I don't. How could I? Let me say, instead: I can only try to imagine, and there's no need to apologize for anything you feel - or don't feel - about the current Iraq war or the previous one.

Brooke, I like that, thinking of the experience as a "gift." It really is. It's invaluable to get behind the rhetoric and into the reality of the situation (as much as possible, from half a world away).