This is a real “shoe on the other foot” moment for me.
My son – my only son - just got orders for Afghanistan.
He’ll be the third generation of my family committed to a foreign war. Stretching back to WWII one of us always seems to have been among those serving the nation during conflict. Except this time it’s the guy who once was small enough to sleep on my chest.
He’s developed into a fine young man. In fact, he has 4 sons of his own. They’re my pride and joy. We live a couple of miles from each other and I’ve been blessed to watch them grow up.
He’s not a full-time soldier. He’s a member of the National Guard. But he’s just as proud of his service as if he was on active duty. After serving previously, he left the Army to pursue a career and raise a family. But he found he missed the service. Funny how that works. I’m convinced it is either in your blood or it’s not. Heh … he comes from the proper bloodline I suppose. His grandfather served for 36 years. I did 28.
He stayed out for quite a few years establishing himself and raising his family. I frankly thought he was done with it. And I was fine with that. He’d served. To me, that’s all that counts.
But the draw was too much and a couple of years ago, he signed up with the Guard. He’s about to make E5 which will be good for his family when he goes to Afghanistan. He’s a couple weeks away from taking off for some pre-deployment training so he’s in a rush to get everything done that has to be done – the shots, the will, the power of attorney, the IDs, and the tough job of telling 4 little boys he’s going to be gone for a while.
They’re a little bewildered by this. The oldest son thinks he knows what is going on while the littlest just can’t quite wrap his head around it.
That’s where I come in. My job is clear for the next year. I can’t be their Dad, but I can sure be their Dad’s dad and their grandpa. We’re close. But I suspect we’ll be even closer when this year ends.
My son knows precisely what he is getting into. Although he didn’t agree with the decision to go into Iraq, he knew he might have to go there and he was willing to do it, if necessary. But he volunteered for Afghanistan.
I’m very proud of him, but I also worry. Unlike many moms and dads, I know what he’s facing. Been there. Done that. He’s a smart and savvy kid. He’ll figure it all out. But you’re never as prepared for the reality of a war zone as you think you might be. And war has a randomness and irrationality that ends up negating a lot of preparation and training. The cold and cruel nature of any conflict is the lack of any fairness. I know that. He’ll learn it.
My worry? Well, I know my son. He’s in a non-combat MOS right now that has a lot to do with his civilian skills. I try to take comfort in that even while knowing that in the sort of war we have in Afghanistan, that really doesn’t matter as much as it might in a more conventional conflict. While his chances of being in the sort of danger an infantryman faces daily are slim, that randomness and irrationality I talked about still exists.
But that’s not the crux of my worry - while he may have a non-combat MOS now, his secondary (primary from his active duty) is 19D. For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, that’s a cavalry scout. He was a good one. In fact, one of the best. While with the Blackhorse Regiment, he was a member of the winning platoon in the army-wide Cavalry Cup competition. And inside my heart of hearts - he won’t admit it, but I’d bet my house on it - I know that is really what he misses. I also know, if the opportunity ever presents itself to serve in his “secondary”, he will. Like I said – I know my son. Of course, this is something I’ll keep to myself.
Anyway, my wife and I look at the long year ahead with a mixture of pride and trepidation. We have 4 little boys to watch over, a young wife to care for and a son to worry about and support.
And we have the easy part.
He’ll be the third generation to do this. And I have to admit - like many parents and grandparents out there going through this very same thing today, I pray there won’t be a need for a fourth.