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The New Guys

The Questing Cat in Iraq sends this piece about "the New Guys." I think it'll hit home with every vet out there:

The New Guys


The funny thing about life in the army is that it is a matter of time.  If you do anything long enough, hard enough, and with enough guidance, you will get the hang of it.  You may never be a genius when it comes to your chosen hobby, but you will be able to do it, practically unconscious.  The army is very like that.  You do the same battle drills, the same tasks, left face, right face, shave every morning.  It isn’t hard.


The trick is, though, a lot of it requires delayed gratification.  All the experience and skill that comes from constant drill requires CONSTANT DRILL, in many cases, in some of the worst conditions.  If I could enumerate the many boring classes I’ve taken and long hours rehashing the same info, it would make any boring seminar look not so bad.  And if I listed off the long string of abuses the army has visited on my body, it would make a day of manual labor look not so bad.


Now, of course I don’t live this all the time, or else what would be the point.  The thing is, this has happened to me in the process of years.  I’ve done real world missions and a combat tour, and now I’m working through my second.  I’ve grown into manhood in the army, and I’ve reached the point where I have rank that forces me to be responsible for others.  Others who are younger, less experienced, and a lot mouthier than me...

The new crop is not an unusual group.  Most soldiers tend to start off like them.  They are young High School kids who decided college wasn’t for them, that they wanted something different, that chicks would dig a snazzy uniform.  They are incredibly different, and yet all the same.  The paradox has a hard time being spelled out; sometimes I hardly believe it myself.  These kids all have the dream in their heart, but keep it quiet, because in the military it is a shameful thing to dream this.  The dream of being a hero.


Every young soldier wants to challenge himself in combat.  Face the enemy, get his kill.  Save his comrades and be thought well of.  They have unrealistic visions of heroism, dreams of coming through in the pinch.  In short, they are stupid.  Stupid as only a child can be, because their age in the army is less than an infant.  And no matter how quick they learn, only time, experience, and discipline will change it.  But they sweat read white and blue.


They take fascination in what an experienced soldier would mark as mundane.  They constantly blunder simple tasks that a senior soldier could handle with his eyes closed, as that soldier grits his teeth and tries to tell him how it’s done.  They talk a big game about how hard basic was, how well they shot on the range, and how they can’t wait to get out on mission.


They pout when they get stuck on guard duty instead of going out the wire, struggle to see out the window in the Chinook, and all want to be gunners on a HMMWV, dreaming that the shit will hit the fan and their accurate and deadly return fire will mow down AIF scum.  They wear their battle rattle like it was a suit they were wearing to the club, feeling cool and admiring how deadly they all look, then forget to put water in their camel backs.  They pose for pictures that go on myspace, but never write down the Medavac frequencies unless told to.  They all get up in the turret to pose for more pictures to send to their girlfriends, but then don’t check the oil.


Mostly though, with this, we who know just smile when they can’t see.  Then, we kill our humor, put on the pissed off mask worn for centuries by those who know better, then proceed to rip them a new asshole.  Deliver unto them, the pain we faced over years over military training, ensure that they suffer through all the same shit we did.  Their hurt expression and bitter looks show the lesson hit home, and that too is part of the game.


In the end, they too will learn the way of our world.  That you can dream of action, but the reality is never what you thought it would be.  That the training they had already is the only thing that will carry them through tomorrow.  That the details can’t wait until you are out on mission.  And until they do, I lose a little more sanity everyday.


We all do what we must, because in a life worth living, someone is counting on you.  Sometimes, it is those waiting at home, sometimes it is those miles away.  And sometimes it is a private who gets me chewed out because he was a dumb ass.  And glad to make a difference. 

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