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Counting the Costs of War

Nothing is more firmly burned into my mind than the images from hours upon hours spent counseling soldiers and listening to servicemen and servicewomen tell story after devastating story of their experiences over in the desert and how their lives are forever changed in countless ways in many cases for the worse.  Are these devastated lives and in some cases lost lives really worth the ends that they are so carelessly sacrificed for?

I am reminded of a young infantry soldier who came in my office one day and we were sitting and talking and he flashed back to a time when he was on patrol in Afghanistan and came across two Afghan men burying something in the sand off to one side of the road.  He told the story of how he preceded to discharge two rounds into each of them at close range and watched their lifeless bodies fall to the ground.  He went on to tell of how he would wake up in the middle of the night with cold sweats and see images of those Afghan men forever burned in his mind.

I recall another story of an intelligence soldier who was in my office and told a story of how he was out on patrol and was taking a break while his team pulled security. He had taken a knee, taken his ballistic helmet off, and laid his M-4 down, within an arm’s reach, to take a drink of water.  He continued on to tell of how a nomadic man came up and grabbed his M-4.  He told of how he without a single hesitation took out his bayonet and slit the man’s throat.  He hesitated as he spoke of how he witnessed the man in agony as he died.  He made specific emphasis about how the real life death of someone by means of a slit throat is nothing like it is portrayed in the movies.  This soldier too is devastated by images and nightmares of this man he watched die by his own hands.

How would it feel to have your son, daughter, brother, sister, father, mother, husband, wife or cousin sent to a far of land and come back with these sorts of experiences to show for it?  Would you be excited to send him or her out the door if you could foresee them going through this sort of devastation?  Do you think it is really worth it?  How about if it was a loved one of yours who was the person killed?  Would the sacrifice be worth it to you?

I remember doing a debriefing during a combat live-fire exercise, where all the soldiers were instructed to close their eyes for 30 minutes and think back to the field operation that had just taken place.  Following that time of silence the soldiers were given an opportunity to share any thoughts or images that had come to their mind.  There was one female quartermaster soldier who recounted of how she had been in a vehicle convoy in Afghanistan and how an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) had hit their convoy.  She continued on to tell how the explosion destroyed the vehicle in front of hers and claimed the lives of her company commander and his driver.  She spoke of how she can’t shake the thought that, it could have been her vehicle.   She wouldn’t have been around to tell that story or to watch her two children grow up had it been her.

These are just a few of the many servicemen and servicewomen’s life changing stories that I have heard during my hours of counseling.  There are literally hundreds of thousands of stories just like these told throughout the U.S. Military.  This sort of devastation affects all sorts of soldiers regardless of their jobs in the Military.  In light of this very small sample, but not insignificant, of experiences it becomes very apparent that these ends don’t come anywhere near equating to the collateral damage and devastation that was caused in achieving such meager ends.

Eric Pomeroy is a 7-year Army vet from Portland, Oregon.

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