This is a rather personal post. Over the course of my career I’ve been lucky to have few deaths of men under my command. I’ve had to deal with a number of my former Soldiers being killed in action, or through accident, or by their own hand, after I’d passed on the torch of command to another.
I miss them. Each and every single one of them. The ones who shot themselves, either intentionally or accidentally, the ones who died by IED blast, the ones who died by mortar fire. I miss the ones who lived to, through the gunshot and shrapnel wounds. The ones who were denied their CIBs, and the ones who were awarded their CIBs or CABs for actions that barely qualified.
But….you don’t have time to grieve. Not properly anyway. So you put all that into a box, compartmentalize it away so that you can deal with the task at hand and protect the men you lead now. Because the men you lead now deserve your very best, and you can’t give that to them if you are grieving for the dead and the maimed.
A few days ago I was running a half marathon (another poor life choice in a long string of poor life choices I assure you) and the second half of the ten mile section was lined with pictures of the fallen, and Old Glory being held by volunteers as far as the eye could see. As I ran past, I read the name, and date, associated with every face. And I began to cry, and was thankful that the sweat hid the tears.
For the first time in my career, I have a job where there is time to reflect, time to unpack the rucksack a little. Not some temporary “take a knee” professional education school where all your off time is spent studying, but an actual job where the hours are set, travel is not to a combat zone (*mostly, there are caveats to that one), and time off is viewed as a good thing for people who have spent their entire careers working long days and spending long periods away from home. Suffice to say I find that portion rather unnerving from time to time, as I feel like something bad should be happening, some last minute craziness needs to come down and derail my life and plans with clockwork regularity. Rather disturbing when it doesn’t.
So now, I’m learning how to grieve. Not in a bottle, as I’ve never been much of a drinker. Not as a victim, because no one victimized me as I am the product of my own choices and actions. But as someone who recognizes that with the passing of the men who served alongside me that the world is diminished. And somehow grief is proof they mattered.