It happens every time.
Well, not every time. But almost every time. You’re at a gathering of friends and theres always at least one person that finds out you’re ex-military and you can just see the question forming on their lips but a struggle of “do I ask???” And usually they can’t help themselves and ask.
“Did you have to kill anybody.” I sigh, because I fucking hate that question. It was one of the harsh realities I had to struggle with spiritually before I joined, knowing that scenario was going to present itself. You ask yourself day in and out what you think you will do in “that” scenario.
Before you are assigned to a Marine Corps unit as a Corpsman, you go through a 9 week course called Field Medical Training Battalion. It’s essentially a crash course in being a grunt. You familiarize yourself with the M4 and 9mm and 50 cal. You go through what’s called Military Operations on Urbanized Terrain. And it’s not a video game situation. Were armed up with paintball guns, and the instructors play the part of the locals/Taliban.
That’s one of the mindfucks about MOUT. Who is a civilian just trying to make schwarmas, and who wants to kill me? And heres another mind fuck—these mother fuckers don’t play fair. They will use “civilians” as explosive devices.
The kids will come up to the Marines on patrol asking for candy or whatnot but they’re really a lure to get you to drop your guard long enough for them to shoot you from a second story window. Look up then down then up again was the training mantra…. but MOUT was a humbling experience in just how quickly it could all be over. I remember one of my guys getting shot in the leg. I went to pull him behind a wall to kwik clot the wound and I didn’t get down low enough and took a paintball pellet to the neck. If it was real, I just died. I didn’t sleep that night.
So to truly answer your question you have to start back behind the wire.
You could be playing football and grilling hamburgers when your fire team is called to gear up. A fire team is a group of 5-7 that patrol together. It consists of either a Sgt or Corporal that’s the Fire Team leader.
You’ve got a doc, an EOD guy and the rest are gunners. So you’re playing football and talking shit about how Tony Romo would always break your heart and then the next moment you have to go put all your gear on and get ready to go complete a mission. As Doc that sucks even worse because you wear everything the Marines wear plus your med bag.
You’re responsible for making sure your whole fire team has certain things in certain places. Their tourniquet on the top right; kwik Clot in the right cargo pocket. Things like that.
Not knowing when your team is going to be called sucks, but knowing 12 hours ahead of time is worse. All that time waiting around to be under the stress of “is this the last thing Ill ever do?”
Some of my grunts thrived on the anticipation of getting to kill bad guys. That was part of the mission. And they had no moral qualms about it at all. They saw it as a very clearly black/white/them or me, no fuck that these people want to take me from my wife and kids and they can go fuck themselves. So in that aspect, the boys’ conscience is totally clear and the more people they shoot the better. I don’t think that makes us sociopaths. I think it makes us like Dexter [Dexter was a sociopath.]. Vigilante killers of people that need to die, minus the vigilante part.
I am a corpsman, so I am not wired that way. Every time we went out my prayer was 1 that I come back alive, and 2 that I bring everyone back with me, and 3 not to have to use either of my firearms.
On the shittiest day of my life we went out just like any other one. The mission was to go into town and give hep A and b, hep c , smallpox and anthrax vaccinations. My spot in line was last, giving hep a/b.
I don’t even know why there was a lull in the line. I think we had run out of smallpox spears or something, so I was looking around.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw it happening.
Dipshit wasn’t even trying to be subtle. So without thinking, safety goes off; I used my marine’s shoulder to balance my weapon on and I shot the fuck stick through his eye. Then I yelled “FIRE FIRE FIRE” which was the alarm for a bomb. EOD snatched the kid and worked their magic. My first trained response was to look for others because they are human hyenas and not averse to sacrificing one for the sake of the many.
At that point the field ex was terminated and it became about securing the town. No one was hurt, and that’s all I remember of the post action. We all came back across the wire and that was that [also terrifying that you have to feel like you’re in that much danger to feel comfortable in that much danger].
I can’t tangibly measure what my cortisol levels were. I know when I came back I was like “holyfuck holyfuck HOLYFUCK.” And I couldn’t get still. I couldn’t stop shaking.
I cried because now I knew I was capable of taking a life. Commander Baker, our on site Psychiatrist, talked to me for about two hours about innocuous stuff; the first Van Halen album; why the cowboys can’t win in December; why The White album should have only been one album of 14 songs. He gave me some Xanax, ambien and dilauded and sent me to a drug induced sleep. The next day they handed me my down chit, which meant I couldn’t go past the line for 6 days. So all I really had time to do was think.
And one of the things I thought about the most is that regardless of what we think over here, over there, we’re the heels and they’re the babyfaces. They are the heroes of their country trying to rid it of these arrogant westerners that think their culture is so superior to their own. They have families and dogs. And that family and dog hated me. I took someone’s dad, husband, favorite uncle, drinking buddy.
A day doesn’t pass where I don’t think about it at least once. And that’s part of why I drink like I do. Because when I’m sober it comes back to haunt me, and when I’m drunk I can let it go and forgive myself for doing what had to be done……………………………………
Otherwise, I wouldn’t have been here to see The Cubs win their first world series in a century; hear the first new Guns n’ Roses music in 17 years; to get to the point where I played 50 shows a year. And most importantly to be able to see my kid graduate high school, to make the very brave decision to come out as trans; to develop into this fabulous artist, to see my sister realize her dream of having a goat farm; to be able to help my mom through her post cancer recovery.
And to get to marry you.
And now im going to go cry.
Editor’s Note: I have been sitting on this for a while, because I thought I had something to say here. I don’t. It’s perfect on its own. I’m still crying.