In my classroom, I sit toward the front, flanked by students on opposite sides of the room. Their thumbs move in a mindless text message symphony, waiting for class to start. Their hair and clothes are impeccable. As the instructor walks in and greets us, the two students don't look up to say hello. They instead respond with a deafening click-click-click-click. I almost feel like apologizing for them.
Are these the people I chose to surround myself with?
Every day that goes by is a day apart from the men of second platoon. I have replaced my battlefield peers with classrooms full of students that don't know the stories or even the names of each other. I haven't tried to make friends. Why bother? My friends are not in Austin. They're in Chicago, Brooklyn, Green Bay, San Diego. They're everywhere except here, carving out their own destinies. Our shared past becomes more of a distant memory as time goes on. In a month, we will have spent the same amount of time home as we did in combat. The last fifteen months have flown by like a fading dream. At least in war, time moved impossibly slow. You could really squeeze every minute out of a day.
Whether at work, school or home, I cannot go ten minutes without thinking of the men I came home with, or the men we brought back home. Like I've said before, every day is Memorial Day. Every day is Veterans Day. My entire being is seared by the tragedy and triumph of war, an invisible mark I wear at every waking moment. My life will be spent trying to sort out what happened out there in the desert, but today is a reflection on the men I served with, both living and dead. It's to pay respect to the uniform that millions of Americans have worn and will wear. When I'm in class and I inevitably begin to space out, I'll be thinking of Chevy and Jesse, their lives gone too soon. I'll be thinking of playing craps on the floor and poker on the table. I'll remember a time when stepping ankle deep into septic waste was barely the worst part of a day, and that first sip of cold water was always the best.
Ever seen college kids moon an attack helicopter? Didn't think so
These memories rushing back will not take place in a dimly lit bar outside Ft. Lewis or on a sweltering rooftop deep inside Diyala Province. They'll be within the confines of my own mind, tucked away in a classroom full of delicate, protected students that tend to forget we're still at war, that men are still not coming back home with their limbs and their lives intact. Veterans Day is not just for us, it's for everyone to remember, lest we forget the cost of war. Today I'll be thinking not just of the men I served with, but my family as well. My grandpa in the Korean War, my uncle in Vietnam and my father off the coast of Beirut and Grenada will all be on my mind.
If you're a veteran or a family member of one, please leave a comment telling a favorite story of yours.