Brent's father was 19 when Brent was born, a month away from turning 20. His mother was 18. When we talk about this with people they comment about how young they were. And they were really young. And Ann was pretty much on her own because Jack was in Vietnam when Brent was born.
And when we mention that part people don't really bat an eye.
He was in Vietnam. He was at war. He was doing things that he only started to talk about almost 30 years after he left. But nobody comments about how young he was for that. Just how young he was to be a father.
It's crazy to me. And I talk about it a lot. Because I really feel like people don't get it. Unless you've served, or had family that served you don't understand how young our fighting force is. Brent was in the Navy for three years before he could legally get a drink after work. Now with age restrictions going up we say that our kids are old enough to go to war before they are old enough to buy cigarettes. Because you know, cigarettes can kill you.
When Brent's dad decided to go back in to the service Brent and I both were against it. See Jack had been drafted the first time. He served for 15 years and then got out to pursue a legal degree. He did his undergraduate work while he was in the service but really didn't have the time to get his law degree while holding down a full time position so he got out. Five years before retirement. As Jack and Ann hit their 50s and their end of working days suddenly seemed closer this seemed like a bad idea. So he joined the National Guard reserves. He would have to serve 10 years to count for the 5 he needed but one weekend a month, two weeks during the summer seemed easy enough.
Now the reason why Brent and I were against it is because Brent wasn't drafted for his time in the service. He was recruited. Because he was recruited we both trust recruiters as far as we could throw the Pentagon. They lie. So we both figured that whatever Jack had been told was most likely not true.
Now Jack was a lawyer so he assured us that he completely understood what he was getting in to. And he was a veteran of 15 years of service, he understood Uncle Sam. And so in the late 1990s he re-enlisted. And for a couple of years he did one weekend a month and two weeks during the summer marking his time toward retirement.
Because that was the late 1990s. Not the early 2000s. Not after 2001. When we entered in to two different wars at the same time and ran out of fighting forces. Too many people there for too long. We didn't have the troops to cover the area. So the National Guard reserves were made active duty Army. Jack had been drafted again. He served in Afghanistan and in Vietnam. It wasn't fair. Not even a little bit.
He sent back home emails to Christopher about his time and for a while we let him read them until we decided that Grampa's honesty was not exactly appropriate for his 12 year old grandson. So we tucked them away. Jack came home safely, for which we were extremely grateful. And then he made, what we thought, was a crazy decision, and stayed active duty. Seems he really liked being able to be a teacher and a mentor to the young men and women he served with. He didn't go back in as an officer, he took his old rank as senior enlisted and he was able to work with the newly enlisted and with the people they were training in Afghanistan and the work he was doing on the border. He was getting ready to deploy to Iraq when he had a massive heart attack and died. One of life's cruel jokes. Serving two tours in Vietnam and one in Afghanistan and dying on vacation?
That was ten years ago. We are still fighting the war he was involved in before he died. We are still sending kids over there to fight and to die. Sixteen years of war. Those young men and women he was working with are now the senior enlisted. His grandson that we kept the letters from because they were inappropriate for a kid his age has aged past where his grandfather was when he served in Vietnam. Within the next two years we will have kids registering for the draft (though we haven't used it since Vietnam but you know, just in case) who were born while we were at war, lived their whole lives while we were at war, and now can go fight in that war.
We don't think about it. We don't think about the war itself. We don't think about how it seems as though it will never end. We call it different things, we have training missions, we have smaller amounts of troops, we have surges when that doesn't work, we will keep a minimal amount of troops there for an undisclosed amount of time, on and on it goes. But we don't THINK about it. We let it wash over us as just more white noise in a world full of static. And we never think about the babies we send to fight.
We don't really look in the eyes of that graduating senior and think, Yep, you can go die now. Because that's the risk. That's the real and true risk. They can die. And if they don't they can live with the real possibility that other people died over what they did. It's a really heavy burden that we ask of these kids. And it deserves more than a hand shake and a "thank you for your service" when they get home. We are breaking them and then sending them back out into the world on their own.
I am grateful to the people who serve. Deeply and profoundly grateful. I understand how young they are. I understand how much we ask of them. I try my best to understand what they face when they come home. I would like to live in a world where they are rarely if ever sent. Where boots on the ground isn't tossed around so cavalierly. Where people don't think saying thank you, or buying a drink, or giving up an airplane seat is enough.Where wrapping yourself in a flag isn't what makes you a patriot, but actually giving a damn about these kids is. I would like to live in that world.
When Jack died we asked that in lieu of flowers donations were made in his name to the fund for returning soldiers VIA The American Legion Post #49. This Veteran's Day I ask that you do the same. Instead of a Facebook post, or a tweet, make a donation. Pull out your wallet and give something to the organizations that help our returning vets find their way back to us, body and soul. Thank them for their service with more than lip service.