Departure, Return and Loss; Part 1 of 3
The ordinary American life of a teenage boy will have him graduate high school, leave his parents home and become responsible for his own life almost simultaneously. That magical age of 18; the year you can buy cigarettes, explore porn shops and strip clubs, purchase your first gun and experience any number of exotic new things. You will also be able to vote, buy and sell property, marry and lastly, join the US military.
The life of a 18 year old is exciting, full of wonder and undoubtedly equally full of stupid mistakes, most of them avoidable.
For the typical teenage boy (now rebranded as a man) his path will lead him to a crossroads of sorts. He’s left high school behind. Now he is expected to start his own life away from his parents. He may enroll in college, join the work force at an entry level job, head off to learn a trade, or just stay at home and play video games all night as his parents rest for their next work day.
Some choose a branch of service, and enlist.
“At 18 years old you need to have a plan, one which will shape the outcome of the rest of your life.” Our 18-year old has no doubt heard this before, and often. He is expected to honor the title of adult, and conduct himself as one (this is a frightening concept for most anyone, especially the basement dweller who leeches off his parents). It’s the nervous excitement of the college freshman, looking forward to his first frat party and possible loss of virginity. It also means waking up before sunrise for the young man headed off to build a house, open a shop or punch in at the factory. This is a transitional and tentative period, where one leaves boyhood to enter manhood. It too often comes with little guidance, without the advice of parents. Most parents love their children, and set them up for success in ways they thought best. Others have looked forward to the day of their son’s departure almost as much has he has. That diploma from Smalltown High is the boy’s ticket out of their boring, one-stop-light town. It is the emotional release from the facsimile or facade of a healthy family, or perhaps even his long-dreamed escape from a toxic and abusive home.
He is a man now, and will live his life as he sees fit.
Those young men who leave for the military will be initially treated more like they boys they still are than the men they consider themselves to be. They will be forced to learn discipline, responsibility, and personal accountability. They are given a new family they will learn to love under the guise of being a part of a team. This team is often primarily made up of other young men hailing from the same place, living in the same moment as themselves. They will spend their first year or so learning their job, being pushed around the country as they are strained physically, mentally and emotionally. Looking at their phones, they will watch their hometown boyhood friends enjoy college parties, spring break adventures and seemingly perfect, happy lives. They will do this as they prepare to fall asleep on the cold hard ground in the rain. The young man will check his Facebook page to see what his high school crush is now up to as he prepares to head out for a 20 mile march with a heavy rucksack, or he’ll do it in the clamor and strange loneliness of a squad bay. He, like the other young men, will watch from afar as their distant friends have fun, travel on exotic vacations, fall in love, get married, have babies, and bitch about not having enough money to buy the newest video game. He will both envy and hate the friends he left behind.
The young man knows his friends won’t be waking up at zero dark thirty like he will. They won’t get yelled at all day by their supervisor as he will. They won’t sleep in the mud tonight, as he will..yet as he falls asleep, exhausted and missing the life that could have been, something special and unique happens. He is finally becoming a man.
Home on leave, he will see these friends. They will comment about him in ways both positive and negative. How he has changed! They will insult his dignity and compliment his resolve. He will listen as they tell stories about hooking up with chicks at the beach and how much beer they drank at the most recent party. He will try to relate, using unreliable words and slang from an argot the friends have only heard in movies. He will eventually return to his base, feeling slightly alien and somehow distant from the very place and people he had just been so looking forward to seeing.
Around the Smoke Pit the first day back to the unit, he will see a familiar sadness and contemplation on the faces of others that share his position in service – they also have recently returned from leave. They feel as he does. Leaders will tell them to pull their heads out of their asses,and get back to work. Large metal shipping boxes are loaded with gear, packs are shoved into tractor trailers, and cars are put into storage. The young men draw their rifles from the armory and leave on chartered buses to an awaiting airplane. The young man and his fellows board the aircraft and fly thousands of miles to kill enemy. For months they have trained, suffered and endured numerous hardships to prepare for this trip. Their speculation, anxiety and nervousness has reached its pinnacle as the airplane touches down in a dusty, foreign world.
Six months or a year later, the man returns home. His boots are worn out, and there is a blood stain on his shirt that will not wash out. His sunlight-bleached trousers have the faintest suggestion of a camouflage pattern barely visible amongst the tears, filth and oil stains that have taken its place. He was ordered to wear his best uniform for the flight home, and this is it. His rifle, once new and jet black, is now scratched and worn in a way that civilians spend money to have replicated with paint. There are thousands of dollars in his bank account, which he would gladly trade to be walking off the plane with all of his best friends. The relief of returning home is nothing compared to the heartache of knowing he will never see some of them again. It is unsettling to him, as he believes that he will see them forever, every night when he closes his eyes to sleep. The love and loss, the laughter and tears that where shared with these men. The memory of sharing their last day on earth with him weighs heavier than any pack, their loss indescribably greater than any other. On the bus ride back to his base, he hears a song on the radio that he has never heard before. Looking out of the window, he sees more green and color then he had remembered.
He feels alien and distant to the place he has looked so forward returning to, and this weighs on his mind as well.
He is home, but is he happy or hollow?
Visit Breach-Bang-Clear tomorrow for Part 2 of : Departure, Return and Loss.
Mad Duo, Breach-Bang& CLEAR!
Emergency: Activate firefly, deploy green (or brown) star cluster, get your wank sock out of your ruck and stand by ’til we come get you.
Mad Duo Nate About the Author: Nathan “Mad Duo Nate” is a former USMC Sergeant who recently transitioned to being a nasty civilian. He lives largely on nicotine, whiskey and hate and can be frequently found orating Kipling poems to frightened hipsters. A graduate of the Camp Lejeune School for Wayward Boys, he was a Marine NCO, Infantry Platoon Sergeant and Scout Sniper team leader. He is a fully qualified American Jedi, handsome badass and world-renowned field barista. He has numerous deployments to the Middle East and Africa and is something of an idiot savant when it comes finger-fucking stuff to make it work better. Nate only chain smokes when he’s drinking and only drinks every day. We reckon he is probably best described as a sociopathic philosopher with vestigial cutthroat (though poetic) tendencies. Thus far Murr’s writing has appeared in such places as here on Breach-Bang-Clear, on Military.com, in field shitters and portajohns on at least 3 continents, in RECOIL Magazine and of course Penthouse letters. (Grunts: vestigial)