Michael is in the Army Reserve, living in Spokane but stationed out of Ft. Lewis outside of Seattle. He’s been on and off active duty for a few years, and after dodging the bullet for a while it looks like his turn has come up.
When he called me the other night to tell me, I got a sick feeling in my stomach. There are a lot of places I’d rather go than Iraq. The vacuum of space comes to mind. It’s not a friendly place. The media makes it look like everything over there is highly flammable, and it’s not like Americans are the most popular people in the region. My brother is stepping into that quagmire. He’ll be there for 18 months.
My brother and I have a complicated relationship. Want to hear about it? Do you have a couch I can lay on, Doc? For four years, I had my parents completely to myself, and when I no longer had their undivided attention I may have been a tad bit resentful. I lived up to my responsibilities as an older brother, blending sibling affection with periodic physical and mental abuse. The difference in age, personality, and opportunity has always made it hard to maintain a close relationship, and our lives have taken radically different paths.
Despite the challenges, I love the guy, and as different as we are we’re still blood. The prospect of him going to a war zone does not make me happy. Putting your life in danger to defend the self-serving, faulty politics of a failed presidency makes me furious. Michael’s always had a dark cloud over his head, and at first this seemed like yet another chance for life to give him a kick in the nuts. And that makes me sad.
But I’ve been thinking about it for the last few days, and despite my misgivings I’m focusing on the positive. Let’s set aside the physical danger and moral ambiguity of the situation for a moment. Michael was laid off a couple of weeks ago (he worked at a bank that was moving operations to Kentucky) and his prospects were looking grim. Now he’ll be earning combat pay for a year and a half and banking every penny to pay off his student loans. He’ll be given authority and training, and he’ll have a life-altering experience that few people get exposed to. In the role he described to me, he’s unlikely to (if not forbidden to) go out on patrols or wander around areas where most of the explosions and bad things are happening. He’ll come back a veteran and a war hero (ladies love a man in uniform, am I right?). And he’ll probably get some cool night-vision goggles, too.
Maybe I’m just making excuses to suppress my concern and anesthetize myself to the real dangers involved. But he’s stepping up and doing his duty, responding to a pledge he made and a lifestyle he chose. I’m proud of him for doing it. Sure, it would have been better if we were still fighting super-powers like Grenada and Panama instead of sitting on a powder keg of religious and sectarian strife. Duty and loyalty mean setting aside those concerns and making sacrifices. I made sacrifices when I became a father (hell, I’m still discovering new sacrifices every day) but I believe I’m a stronger, better person because it was my choice, and I’ll reap the rewards for the rest of my life. Michael’s sacrifice is greater, and I hope his reward is, too.
Good luck, man! And for the record, just because you’ll carry military-grade weaponry does not mean you won’t be getting a wedgie on your next leave….