I’m not sure how I managed to get picked for scout duty. I’m sure someone peeked at my records and saw I’d done the job before. This time, I would ride in front of the convoy in search of IEDs. Once an explosive or an indicator of an explosive was seen, I’d radio the convoy.
It was an important job. I drilled my soldiers like their lives depended on them having knowledge of all careers, I pushed them to study anything that could help them. Medical, communication, weapon assembly and disassembly, anything I had learned, I tried to pass to them.
“He’s pushing them too hard,” one of my colleagues said as I walked by. The other sergeants shook their heads in agreement. Maybe I was, but I didn’t want them to die because they weren’t prepared for the mission.
There’s a popular saying in the service: “The more you train in peace, the less you bleed in war.” I had found it to be true, so I passed it on to them.
Besides, these weren’t just soldiers to me, they were my family. A man protects those he loves. As we trained, I began to feel ill. I felt dizzy often, my head would ache without ceasing, and slivers of pain crept across my scalp.
I focused on work, and while I was worried only about my job, my marriage began to fall apart. It was subtle at first. Work kept me from home, and in between the time we had together, my wife and I wouldn’t communicate. For a while it was easier to not fight. We didn’t ignore each other straight away, we avoided clashing in front of our children.
Looking back, I never asked my wife if she was okay with another deployment. To me, it was the life of a soldier, and I suppose I took it for granted that she’d be okay with it. After all, she had mentioned that I could make more money as a private contractor. It seemed that she was okay with it.
But love can turn septic when it’s left unprotected. Slowly, our avoidance became indifference. I no longer slept in our bed. Everywhere I turned, it seemed that I had no place in the lives of my wife and children.
War was ruining us, and I was too stupid to realize it.
My wife bought a futon and set it up in the small room that became my bedroom. I began to volunteer at the USO until it closed. My headaches grew worse, my dizziness kept coming and going like vapors from a steaming kettle.
I self-medicated with alcohol and prescription pills. “It’s hard to feel pain if you stay drunk enough,” became my motto. Unlike most of my friends, I didn’t drink to have a good time. My consumption revolved around forgetting and pain avoidance. For some reason, hangovers and vomiting my guts out didn’t strike me as pain. Honestly, I have no idea why I drank, at the time it seemed like a necessary evil.
It didn’t help my situation at all. My wife didn’t find it attractive, I just wanted things to go back to normal, and I had no idea how to get there. If there was a map or book on how to fix it, I wouldn’t have read it. All I knew was that things were falling apart faster than I could try to fix it.
The weekends were toughest for me. After working all week, I just wanted to rest. There was no rest available. I tried to spend time with my children, but all I focused on was another deployment and the unresolved baggage of the past two. Throw in the mixture of a failing marriage, and the bitterness that came with it, and you have an emotional train wreck. In between all that drama, I had additional training I undertook. Then, there was the field training.
We spent weeks, no months, in the field training for our job. My relationship with my wife eroded like someone poured acid on it, but my soldiers and I grew closer. As with any job, you’re bound to have rivals. I had my share. We didn’t just compete squad vs. squad, NCOs battled for promotion. It’s an unwritten rule in the Army: If you want a promotion, you’ve got to be better than everyone else. There’s another unwritten rule: Politics are the name of the game. If you play it well enough, you don’t have to compete.
I had learned years ago; I refused to play politics to get promoted. Instead, I preferred to get promoted via my own merits. My work ethic was excellent, my PT score was decent, in everything I attempted to be the absolute at everything. Still, I could not break the ceiling on my next rank.
All because I wouldn’t play the game.