Combat is simple, honest and most of all relaxing. Nothing is easier than combat, one mission and one task, accomplish the mission and keep your guys safe. Working out in the gym, eating in the dining facility and watching tons of movies and television series. Combat is the easiest life imaginable. I miss combat, I miss my chu I miss my buddies and I miss the great sleep I got while I was in combat. All of this might seem like it doesn’t belong together, but in fact it does. When I was first exposed to battle, I was quickly overwhelmed and manic, scared and guarded. When the first enemy rocket was fired at our FOB, I was scared to death, quickly rushing to the bunker outside, to seek shelter and security from the pending indirect fire attack. About a month in and I couldn’t care less, when the alarms sounded I would just roll over in bed and try to go back to sleep. It wasn’t that I was welcoming death, I was just more worried about getting enough sleep than wanting to deal with the possibility of being blown up.
Combat quickly shapes a man, it builds positive and negative attributes in each person. These traits, once instilled rarely ever leave. They are built on survival and teamwork. Combat quickly identifies what is truly important and what is not. If you are exposed to enough combat, you will be calmer than any surfer, an attitude of who cares no one is dying is often expressed and believed. This casual relaxed persona can be turned on and off rather rapidly, when constant moments of highs and lows are happening for months on end. A person quickly learns that energy only needs to be injected when it gets real.
After years of combat with high intensity training intermixed during times in garrison, an attitude of who cares begins to take hold, and is only dropped for real threats. This attitude is good when teamwork is required, or when a buddy needs help, cut and paste and plagiarism are rampant. Although this attitude can be limiting, the general public is not aware of the combat ideology, filling out forms, talking to outsiders (civilians) and trying to stick to proper etiquette and standardization prove to be taxing. You start thinking to yourself, “Holy crap, this isn’t a big deal, just give me the damn answer so I can move on with my life”! Everywhere you go, whether it is college, a job, or even something as simple as annual registration for your car. All of these people just seem to be standing in your way, being difficult and not providing instructions as to what exactly you need to do. It gets even harder when your buddies aren’t around to help or to vent your frustrations.
After years and decades of never really opening up to your family about what you’ve been doing all of these years in foreign lands, turning to family seems useless. It’s not that you don’t value them and love them, it’s just that you’ve gotten so used to not talking about anything with them (your way of protecting them) that opening up can be very hard and sometimes overly dramatic. Dramatic because once you turn on that faucet of experience, everything just comes spilling out and it can be very hard for both parties to communicate between each other and emotions run high. As men of battle, we know that emotions are to be expressed in their truest form only during memorial ceremonies, funerals and late at night, by ourselves, watching a war movie, thinking about what we have been through. It’s not that we feel sorry for ourselves, it’s just that we have depended on our beloved battle buddies for so long, that now we need to spell everything out for everyone.
It seems like we constantly need help and assistance, and after what seems like a lifetime of incredible achievement against catastrophic odds, now forms and protocol are the hardest obstacles to overcome. Forms and protocol, stuff that is man-made and practices that only stifle the odds of receiving assistance. But, once again, we need to muffle our frustrations and attempt to muscle through it, all of this just builds and builds, further damaging our delicate balance of appearing normal and stable. If any population is grounded and stable, it is the combat veteran community, but any groan of incompliance and our clean civilian counterparts, assume that only violence will ensue whenever there is a disgruntled “wounded warrior”. Therefore, an even calmer and steadier persona must be exhibited. All of these social norms and practices just make it that much harder to achieve real results, since honest communication is often required to succeed.
So, we lie, we cheat and we put our masks on, hoping to figure it out one day. Hoping that eventually we will reach a point of comfort and security, a resort of silence and harmony. As combat veterans, we go about our day, wearing the social face paint that helps us to blend into society and attempt a living. Smiling, pretending that we are happy or that we are ok with every new change that takes place. Allowing others to speak, and ensuring that we never appear to yell or talk over anyone. We know that we are out amongst the herbivores, they spook easily and we will only bring negative outcomes to ourselves and our families if we ever express our true knowledge. Aggression once prized and sought, now brings shame and life altering reactions. Now, the gray man comes out, easy going, quiet and malleable. The gray man is merely a hide, it is a ghillie suit, but it only works if you move with the herd and not against it.