…While there is no typical sailor, airman, soldier or Marine, it is possible to describe the average young American who carries a weapon into battle.
He’s a volunteer, 19.6 years old, making him about six months older than his grandfather was when drafted to serve in World War II and Korea or his father was when conscripted for Vietnam. He isn’t old enough to buy a beer, and if he were back home in the Unites States we’d call him a boy. But because he’s in uniform and fighting a war, we call him a soldier, sailor, airman, or Marine.
This young man in uniform was probably a team sports athlete in high school and graduated somewhere in the middle of the pack, making him better educated than any prior generation in our military. Unlike many of his peers, he’s never drawn an unemployment check and he doesn’t ever want to.
He had a job in high school in order to buy a car that was already about ten years old. He bought the car to take his high school sweet-heart out on dates, and when he left for a war halfway around the world, she promised to wait for him.
Unfortunately, unless they were married before his departure – about 15-25 percent of those who live near their military bases are – she is likely to be dating another guy by the time this war veteran returns home. When our trooper does get back, he’ll call her new beau a “wimp.” And she’ll know he’s right.
About three times a week , he grabs a few minutes to write home. When the mailbag arrives by helicopter, he’s hoping to get a letter from his girl and his mom, though he’ll never admit to the latter. If his girl or his mom sends him a care package with disposable razors, shaving cream, toothpaste, M&Ms, beef jerky, toilet paper, and baby wipes, he’ll share them with his whole squad and be a hero for a day.
He has a short haircut and tight muscles, and wears a four-pound Kevlar helmet and a eighteen-pound flak jacket to work. He can march all day in one-hundred degree heat with a sixty-pound pack on his back. This young man in uniform knows how to use every weapon in his unit and can field strip and reassemble his own weapon in less than a minute – in the dark.
Over here he’s gone weeks without bathing but he cleans his weapon every day.
His rifle company gunny (gunnery sergeant in the Marines or sergeant first class in the Army) has been in combat before. Yet this is the first time he and his lieutenant have been shot at. Under fire he obeys orders instantly. But if asked, he’ll always have an opinion on how to do something better. Often he’ll be right.
He’s been taught chemistry, physics, and ballistics, and can navigate with a map and compass but prefers the GPS he bought at the base exchange. When he catches a break, which isn’t often, he reads paperback books; he loves thrillers.
Before joining the military he couldn’t be bludgeoned into picking up his room, doing his laundry, or washing the dishes, but now he’s remarkably self-sufficient. He prepares his own meals, washes and mends his own clothes, digs his own foxhole and latrine, and keeps his feet dry and his canteens full.
The kid who once wouldn’t share a candy bar with his little brother will now offer his last drop of water to a wounded comrade, give his only ration to a hungry child, and split his ammo with a mate in a firefight. He’s been trained to use his body like a weapon and his weapon as if it were part of his body – and uses either to take a life or save one, because that is his job. But he’s patient and compassionate too. He will offer his own food and water to enemy prisoners of war, and go out of his way to make certain that captured enemy wounded get medical help.
The youngster who used to stay in the sack until noon now exists on just three or four hours of sleep a day. When he comes home to the United States, he’ll be, on average, twelve pounds lighter than when he left.
By now he’s already had more responsibility and seen more suffering and death than most of his civilian contemporaries will see in their entire lifetimes.
He’s learned a whole new vernacular of foreign sounding words. It’s not Iraqi Arabic, but military shorthand. He uses words like “CONUS,” “h-hour,” “zulu time,” “incoming,” “snafu,” and “fubar” that means nothing to most civilians.
He’s been told that grown men don’t cry, but he has wept unashamedly in public over a fallen friend, because he knows heroes aren’t defined by the way they die but how they live. And though he can now take profanity to the level of an art form, it’s also likely that he has a Bible in his rucksack and isn’t afraid to be seen reading it.
He’s proud to be serving his country, reveres his commander in chief, and knows that he is respected in return. While he is modest about his own courage and military prowess, he’s absolutely certain that his is the toughest unit in the U.S. Armed Forces.
When he gets home, he won’t talk about the horror of war and probably won’t have post-traumatic stress disorder, but he will want more fresh milk, salads, and homemade cookies than anyone even thought possible. And when he goes to a ball game or some formal event, he’ll resent those who carelessly ignore the National Anthem when it’s played or don’t join in when the Pledge of Allegiance is recited. But he’ll put his hand over his heart, gaze at the American flag, and sing or recite them proudly and loudly.
We here at firebase116.org are proud of our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines. We know first hand about putting it all on the line so others may enjoy the same freedom all Americans enjoy. I hear Vietnam Veterans say it again and again, “We would do it again…in a heartbeat.”
Thank you Troops! You’re not alone. We stand WITH you!
AMERICA IS FREE – BECAUSE OF THE BRAVE!