5 Things They Don't Tell You About Being In the U.S. Military

It's important to note, this article has two purposes: to make light of some things and allow me to vent. That's all. I'm sure it's shot through with political feelings that not everyone will agree with. If that's the case, I encourage you to go whatever website it is that only posts things you agree with 100%. Also, this post contains the most offensive phrase I have ever heard. 

5. Nothing can prepare you .  . . for all the singing

Basic Training, Boot Camp, or whatever the branch you join calls it, has more singing in it than a Broadway musical. The first two to three weeks you barely go to the field. Mostly it's classes about the how's and why's and history of your branch. You get three meals a day and every time you march to the chow hall, you will be singing your fool head off. It's the same five songs over and over and over again so it's like radio in the late nineties if they never got past Rag Time.

You know Do Wa Diddy? Thanks to the movie Stripes that's still a favorite. Some cadences have been sung since the 1940's. You know that song Candy Man by Christine Aguilera from 2007? They literally use this track as the sample: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sbhBxonligU

You know when you hear a song from your adolescence and all of the sudden your transported back summer 1998, when cartoons were cool, comic books featured Maximum things, from Carnage to Clonage and life was pretty chill?

After basic training, every time you hear a cadence, you think it's time to march to someplace where there is food.

"I wanna lead a life of Danger. I wanna be an English Major"

4. We're really good in a crisis. . . and that's about it

Basic training colors every aspect of military thinking. This an awesome and terrible thing.

It's awesome because now everyone thinks the same way and communication is ten times easier. It's terrible because the only way to get anything done is to portray it as though it's a life and death crisis.

Such attitudes makes it impossible to prioritize and it makes people look absolutely bat-shit insane. Think about it. If everyone is behaving as though everything is equally important, then nothing is important. If making sure your squad has enough ammunition for patrol is treated with the same degree of rigor as whether or not  today's power point has inoffensive clip art and a pleasing layout, and you're going to in the same amount of trouble if either one doesn't get done, how on earth do you decide what's important? Obviously you'll arm your squad right, but then if that goddamned stick figure guy shows up again, you could be removed as squad leader. 

Conversely, if you are in charge and treat the power points you need for a presentation on Thursday the same way you think you would act during a firefight with Nazi Al Qaeda Robots, things will be shitty for everyone. Acting like somebody's gonna bleed out unless a trooper TYPES THE SHIT OUT OF THAT SUPPLY REPORT will lead to someone seeing your behavior for what what it is and throwing a monkey wrench into the works by just not producing that day.

This makes a deployment doubly ridiculous because you have this unholy combination of actual life threatening situations like indirect fire, IEDs, convoys and helicopter rides an hour before a sandstorm coupled with the mundane stresses of paperwork and corporate meeting wank-fests.


3. But you get used to it. . . until the deployment ends

This is not to say everyone's going to come back with PTSD, but after moving at a pace of 6 and 1/2 days a week for 12 hours a day, having a normal 8 hour work day or even a 10 hour work day can feel like not enough time to get anything done.

That's just the beginning though. When you're deployed, water is free, food is free, housing is free. When you get back, especially if you're a reservist, you have to devote at least part of your time to acquiring at least two if not all three of those things.

Nothing quite says "Welcome to this old life that's now alien to you" like going grocery shopping. Say what you will about The Hurt Locker being inaccurate, the scene at the end of the movie in the grocery store was spot on.

I was actually concerned about that happening to me as I was browsing in the local Ridiculous Monument to The Ease of Western Life and for awhile I was doing okay. And then, Duran Duran's Ordinary World started playing over the store sound system. I mean, c'mon!  Of all that songs that might make me feel like the adventure was over, and I was suddenly this grizzled old combat vet, that comes up at random? The screenwriter to my life is totally fired.

Speaking of screen writing, screen plays and such. . .

2. No military fiction will ever be entertaining again

Anyone in who has been in an Explosive Ordnance Disposal unit will tell you that The Hurt Locker is a bunch of bullshit. Complaints vary from nobody that crazy would still be on active duty to no unit would see that much action during a rotation. Even as the argument was just made by me that the movie is "emotionally true," it will never be up to snuff.

In movies or TV shows, you will see sixteen things wrong with every actor portraying a soldier you see. There was an episode of Lie to Me where they go to Fort George G. Meade, Md., where they supposedly mobilize troops to get ready for the combat zone. Meade is not a mobilization station. That's the first a long series of "This is wrongs" that I saw during that episode, Tim Roth's in and out American accent not with standing.

This is twice as true for Call of Duty. I used to love Call of Duty and now I can't stand it. I can't stand the stark contrast between some of the most realistic graphics of any game and the astonishing behavior of the players. When I last played online a 10-year-old wannabe said "Your fucking father sucks faggot nigger cocks!!!"

Think about that phrase. I do not repeat it lightly, it is literally the most offensive thing I have ever heard in my life. Military conversation can be a little rough, with "mother fucker" spoken where commas would be printed, but The Phrase I'll Never Type Again was beyond any combination of words I could conceive of. It was shouted at me because me and bunch of military buddies won a fictional battle with actual team-work and strategy rather than everyone running around spraying and praying.

See, the military teaches you to be precise, because one failed mission will make the news faster than three hundred successful ones. This important because, probably due to media portrayals like the Hurt Locker and Call of Duty, people have this idea in their head that military deployments are like a million round boxing match with a heavy metal soundtrack. So, naturally they think all of our problem solving skills involving shooting, hitting or blowing things up, so they conclude. . . 

An UNMOUNTED MK14 topped off with the most OUT OF REGULATION HAIRCUT I HAVE EVER SEEN. The fact that Edward Norton turned into a giant green dude I'll buy, but there IS NO WAY you are going to tell me Brodsky wouldn't have been knife handed all the way to the over-priced barber on post buy the nearest sergeant major. 

1. People Think You Want to Fight about EVERYTHING, when you really don't

People have this idea in their heads that if a person is willing to fight for something as abstract as Freedom © or something more concrete like "The Safety of the People of Iraq" that you will also throw down over the most petty of bullshit.

It could something as mundane as whether or not the Yankees suck. Everyone has their opinion, and let's be honest it's quite common to hate the Yankees. Equally common is an irrational belief that the Yankees are somehow not Major League Baseball's answer to the Empire from Star Wars. I was pointing this out to a friend mine, half jokingly in between us exchanging anecdotes about the wacky, wacky times we had, I in Iraq and she in Afghanistan.

A Random Yankees fan, likely lured by the heady cocktail of trash talking George Steinbrenner and people talking about triple digit whether and close calls with explosions, just had to tell me I'm wrong and further more that the Orioles suck. Which is usually true, except that at the time the Yankees wee 4-6  and the Baltimore Orioles were 8-2 and making them second their regional conference and head and shoulders above every other team in the American League.

I explained all of this to the Yankee Zombie calmly, even as I'm well aware this is how it is every year, the O's start strong and can't make the play offs. This is why we love spring in Baltimore City and generally get bummed in July.* I fully expected him to just bring up this fact and then I say "touché" and we return to our drinks.

He asked if I wanted to step out side.

All the joy drained from me, ladies and gentlemen. I've never taken sports that seriously, and I certainly don't regard sports standings as a reason to fight. And I told this guy as much. My exact words were "No, I don't. I'm not going to fight you. I'm a professional. I don't fight people over factual numbers, and I certainly don't need to fight you to prove the Yankees are the worst thing to happen to baseball since the handlebar mustache went out of style."

Everyone in the immediate vicinity thought the remark was hysterical, in part because it broke the tension, and the guy was completely deflated. I believe it was Sun Tzu who said "The supreme art of war is winning by making your enemy look like tool box."
Yes, I want to use my tax payer funded training to fight some jackass who likes SPORTS TEAM! 

*The O's Are still doing well this season. 


State of Perpetual Star Wars

The Immoral Officer Corps

It's very hard to believe that anyone reaching a high enough point in Star Wars Imperial republic military would have any illusions about what they're doing. 

This begs the question however, WHAT is higher up in a galaxy level military?  

As an example, the U.S. Military has 38 4-star generals. Now, under them there are 818 other flag officers (Colonel [O-6] and above). Not all 919 of those officers would be necessary to fight a war of course, we only need a hand full of generals to run operations (ideally) in the Central Command Area of Operations. But on a galactic level?

Just how many commissions are we talking in the Imperial forces?

We can safely assumed that four star officers (Generals, Admirals, etc) are even more abundant even as the Imperial forces were clearly spread thin even before the Battle of Yavin. It's entirely possible that they also have 5-star officers who command planetary sections if warranted by population. 

(To be clear: population dictates the required power to control, which gives the number of personnel you need and the rank of the commander you require, assuming they are using the modified Sandhurst model of the United States Army.) 

This brings us to the Moffs, which I assume are some sort of hyrbid commander that both planetary and air/space forces answer to (aside: that qualification school has got to be a bitch for both sides of the house). I would imagine 1 Moff per solar system (as needed, of course if the population of a system is less than, 100 million, say, perhaps a 5 or even 4 star can handle it) I would have to guess that Grand Moffs are assigned not unlike senators in the U.S., by population and it's entirely possible they also handled all of those functions after Gr. Mf. Tarkin dissolved the galactic senate. 

It's quite safe to assume that any one in a position to see Darth Vader's leadership style probably has very few illusions about what the Empire is doing. 

In fact, a vast majority of the rebel pilots, from Bigs Darklighter to Han Solo trained at the Imperial academy before deciding that a life of rebellion or crime (respectively) was better than working for such an organization

How many storm troopers have had to clean up a corpse produced by one of Vader's childish tantrums and have actually thought "This is for the best?" 

It's generally agreed Vader doesn't actually have a rank, and is some sort of civilian/cleric that is only really answerable to the highest of Moffs or the Emperor himself. As has been said before, at the highest levels the Empire is a mess. It's entirely possible it's not much better at the lower levels, but a worse scenario still is that at the lower levels, they are extremely honorable and when they find out about the higher ups genocidal designs, love Wookies or not, they're resigning their commission. 

Yes, these are just a few people with a few pangs of guilt; and the sheer scale of the Empire all but ensures most imperial military members could get through an entire career without ever thinking anything was wrong, but that scale has it's downside. . . 

We Have Always Been At War With the Rebels

There is extensive evidence that the galaxy the Old Republic, the Empire and the New Republic have governed has been in a state of perpetual war since their respective inception. Further, the Jedi have been constantly battling with the Sith for longer than humans have been on Earth by some accounts. 

This is a holy war based on two different interpretations of what is effectively a religion that gives you super powers, meaning that soldiers with a real vested interest in this ongoing conflict are potentially ten times more damaging to civilians and infrastructure than your average infantryman, plasma weapons or not. 

Further, whole planets have been completely depopulated if out not right destroyed during the course of these conflicts, which has probably had dramatic and permanent effects on the galactic economy. I'll be generous and say 80% of the time it's the Sith who have done this damage, but at some point has no one stood up and said "Could assholes stop blowing up whole planets to prove that you're better than the Jedi?" 

To understand how bad this is, I must touch on the concept of Gross World Product. Earth produced $70.16 Trillion in 2011. Wookiepida states that galactic empire controlled something to the tune of 1 million populated planets at it's height. So let's say half of those have a GWP on par with Earth in 2011. That's Five hundred thousand planets producing 70.16 trillion dollars EVERY YEAR, with some even producing more and some producing less. Governments and militaries being what they are, they would have to come up with a way to spend all that tax revenue.

That is a massive scale, and this probably explains the Rebellion.

The Rebellion that blew up the Death Star during the Battle of Yavin was not an rag-tag bunch of insurgents making do with second hand weapons and improvised explosive devices that decided it was tired of an occupation. There was a Rebel fleet opposing the Empire, very likely from day one. Also very likely from day one, people were gathering intelligence on the Death Star, and the mere fact that it existed was enough to galvanize the rebellion to such an extent they decided blowing up the Death Star would be enough to cripple the Empire. 

We've touched on the sheer scale of the Empire, and probably why they feel that logistically they can blow up a planet. Imagine if the U.S. government decided it could feasibly destroy New Jersey and did so during the school year. Then all the students attending school in the surrounding states came home to find that their home is gone and hear rumors that United States Government did it. The Rebellion suddenly had an untold number of agents, already spread through out the galaxy; any native who was working or on vacation or traveling outside of Alderraan would surely find themselves morally conscripted into a war against the people who killed every living soul they knew

Imperial expansion, as we have surely learned on Earth since someone said "Let's have An Empire," if done incorrectly is extremely costly not just during initial invasion, but also the maintenance. If a planet is declared "Imperial territory" and they never see anything outside of a few screwballs in white armor patrolling the most populous city on the planet, it's a safe bet the first time an Imperial does something stupid that ends up on the news, the Rebellion has begun to build a new ally. In the case of Alderaan, any planet without a significant imperial presence is certainly going to experience issues if not become a Rebel stronghold.

The Galactic Graveyard of Empires

After the Battle of Yavin, the writing was very likely on the wall for a good number of imperial military members, imperial citizens, and those non-humans who have been suffering under the regime. 

The Rebellion either believed or said that there was merely 1 million people on the first Death Star. The Empire, spinning the loss as The Yavin Massacre, said the number was much higher, to the tune of 800 million. If 1 million, that's going to visibly ripple through the ranks. If nearly one billion? The empire was finished before the Rebels even got to Hoth. Even if the imperial military is at United States military WWII levels, a beefy 9% of the population, and a galaxy being a galaxy, we can figure on at least a Quadrillion, so you have a military of 900 Trillion. Loosing a billion all in one day? That's beyond damaging. That's like The United States Army loosing the Big Red One in an hour. A logistical nightmare to start with, but more than that, a crushing blow to morale. While such a loss could be galvanizing to anyone actually in the military, the civilian population would very likely be split right down the middle between hard-line pro and anti-war stances 

In a last ditch effort to prove that the Empire is not ten times worse than the slow moving bureaucracy it replaced when the Galactic Senate was dissolved, the imperials make an effort to hunt down the surviving rebels from the Battle of Yavin. This is at best, half as productive as fixing the problems that caused the rebellion in the first place, like a government built solely on a the lust for power of one man and human-centric practices that have pissed off everyone else from physically powerful Wookies to the technological Juggernauts, the Mon Calamari.

Once again, we come back to the scale, these are not towns or cities but rather:
 Now it's The Battle of The Entire Planet That We Happened to be Fighting Near. The Battle of Endor very likely left the Moon of Endor a barren waste after fire and metal rained from the sky. No matter who won that battle, or even that war, there is an entire planet laid to waste just as collateral damage. This is even worse than Alderaan, because this was not a targeted attack. This is just the side effect of two other sides clashing. Does anyone think that the Ewoks are going to be able to sue for restitution, assuming any of them survived? 

The essence of the issue raised by the Empire is that trying to enforce a standard of law, even if that law is "fuck the non-humans, give us money so we can ignore your human rights" trying to push that agenda beyond a single country is very difficult. Imposing it on a whole planet is probably 100 times more difficult. A Galaxy? An entire galaxy? There must a new word created specifically for that kind hubris. 

And So It Goes

Further reading the Star War novels doesn't paint a picture suggesting a peaceful galactic future where everyone is just happy the empire is dead. First, the remaining imperial forces had a Civil War of sorts that served only to strengthen the New Republic.  

After a straight decade of fighting within and without, all that was left was called the Imperial Remnant and that group eventually joined the The New Republic officially when a new an interesting enemy began pushing into their space from far beyond the known galaxy. These weird new foes were called the Yuuzhan Vong and devastated a galaxy already weak from fighting itself. 

Losses were great, casualties were sustained, and chances are neither side ever thought negotiating. 

Infinite on loop forever

CORRECTION: from @pozorvlak said...

Arithmetic error: 9% of 1 quadrillion is 90 trillion, of which a billion troops is about 0.001%. I can't imagine what effect it would have on morale to lose such a huge number, but tiny proportion, of troops in one go. But then I can't imagine what kind of command structure would work for a force of trillions of people


The Five Drunks You Meet In Heaven

The Bard: Always has a great story that makes drinking sound even more awesome than it already is. There is romance! Adventure! Humor! Drama! Most likely a card accident or two! You always show up in one of these stories and you tend to be awesome. This guy is the Jeff Chaucer in your Knight's Tale and everyone now knows you are truly a hero.

The Mixer: This person doesn't own a copy of the Old Mr. Boston, he or she practically is Old Mr./Mrs. Boston. You can throw out any old beverage, and not only can he make if the ingredients are there, if they're not he knows the substitutes by heart as well. Rusty nail? Gotcha! Harvey Wall Banger? Coming right up! Rocket Fuel? I need to use your refrigerator coils if you haven't got any dry ice! Sometimes they'll come armed with their own shaker, and usually bring their own bottle of something nice for later on that night.

The Pop-Culture Hero: The flip side to the Pop-Culture Half-Ass, this person knows all the best lines from all the best movies, and often has other people help them out, adding to the party atmosphere. Part member of Whose Line Is It Anyway, part Alex Trebek, this guy or girl can quote anything and remember everything no matter how much they've had and still preserve the original punch of whatever they're quoting.

The Hidden Talent: This person does something really, really, really well. They lack enough self-confidence to do it in front of people, though. They practice it endlessly, meticulously perfecting whatever is they do, and they never tell you about it. One day, at a party, they get a few beers in them, and it turns out they can juggle. Grapefruits, in fact. That are on fire. They do a fine job and not only is it a great surprise, it is genuinely entertaining.

The Bon Viviant They're glad to see you, and you're glad to see them. It's been too long since we last tipped a glass! They know everyone there and they're sure to introduce you at some point. Never rude or crass, impeccably dressed, witty and endlessly conversational. Never utters "fighting words" or anything of that nature, and can generally round up the other four drunks you meet in Heaven for a kick ass little shin-dig.


The Wildcard:They guy nobody really knows, but dude is completely awesome. Fits right in with everyone at the party, is well spoken and cordial even if this is everyone's first time meeting them, and every so often, can play the piano really well, breathing life into that old thing for the first time since granddad died.

The Five Drunks You Meet In Hell

Drinking is a social activity, as you know. Naturally, you meet new people when you drink, or when you meet with people so you can drink. Every so often you will meet a few drunks that you'd rather not.

In no particular order, the five drunks you meet in Hell.

The Clutz: Two drinks and this guy or girl goes from average human to Mr. Bean. Generally drops that third of fourth beverage and then needs a new one, and will probably make one or two people spill theirs as well.

The Homophobe: Give this guy (or sometimes even a girl) a beer and he will swear he is not gay, and not only is he not gay, he doesn't like homosexual men either. Lesbians are totally his thing, of course, but gay men are horrible monsters who are attempting to undermine democracy. With each drink he will declare on a more regular basis his undying loyalty to the Hetero Empire.

The Depressive: Everything sucks, everything is terrible and nobody loves or understands this person. They might even be a happy drunk to start, but will always get depressed and tell the world how awful it is.

The Pop Culture Half-Ass: This is that one who quotes Austin Powers, Dave Chapelle, or what have you, but it's always the least complicated one liners that you've heard every other PCHA quote over and over months ago in other bars and clubs. Generally wonders why you don't think they're funny.

The Toucher: This person gets a few drinks in them and is suddenly unaware of things like personal space. This could be as innocuous as the shoulder squeeze, but could be as obtrusive as a Boston Crab. Generally, the worst of the Touchers will probably give you the flu in addition to squeezing, crabbing or clutching.

The Bad Morning

You got up early because you had a bus to catch. This wasn't particularly easy, because your brain isn't happy with you. On some level you've been feeling anxiety lately, probably because your life is going better than you expected. Life is actually going according to the plan you came up with. But things aren't going so hot for a majority of people you know.

Something like 65% of your friends on facebook aren't having an easy time of things, and just over 50% of your twitter feed.

No good, you thought to yourself as fell asleep last night.

Your brain, being about a subtle as the Westboro Baptist Church at Arlington Cemetery, has felt the need to remind you that your life isn't that bad. In fact it used to pretty terrible by most measures, and perhaps you should put a little thanks giving in your step.

So every night this week your brain re-edited your child hood memories. One night, you were a juvenile infiltrator of a sweatshop factory that appeared to employ victims of Vatican indiscretions. Another night your middle school was run entirely by Cthulhu worshippers. Another time you were just unspeakably evil and killed several people with your bare hands, in grade school. That'll teach you, says the brain, It could always be worse.

This groggy feeling follows you onto to bus, where you just silently listen to guys you usually talk with more in the morning on the way to your mutual stop. You just nod your head and grunt in agreement with everything they're saying.

You leave the bus without saying goodbye, and you'll probably hear about that if you see them that afternoon or tomorrow morning.

Remembering you only have one extra pair of socks, you stop into the Rite Aid, knowing they stock them even if they are overpriced.

It's just past six a.m., so there's no crowd when you walk in, but the Beegees' "Night Fever" is playing, and you instantly feel as though you've partying all night despite going to bed at before seven last night.

The music make it hard for you to think. There's a buildup toward the chorus that fees like the song's going to some where, with a grinding guitar tense vocals and then . . . the chorus is just crap. Falling completely flat of the promise made by the guitar, dropping it all together in favor of some syrupy drum machine crap.

This used to be party music. This used the new hotness, you think. You find yourself wondering if you'll ever hear "Juke Joint Jezebel" in a Rite Aid at just past six in the morning.

Probably not you think, realizing that KMFDM never got so popular as to be played to death on the radio, so it won't hold that nostalgic comfort that most radio from the 60's and 70's does. You finally decide on a larger pair of ladies athletic socks, because who cares? You know damned well half of things that are marketed by gender are just that, marketed.

Who decided women's shirts button up a different side? Are more women left handed or something?

You pay for your socks, take a deep breath and go to work.

Thank god it's Friday.

Holy Roller

You used to be religious. It's true. You used to worship in some sort of house of God, but really it's fallen by the wayside.

I know what happened, and I'd like to enlighten you, as apparently you like forget how you came to be the person you are and instead focus on the flaws of others. It wasn't moving to D.C. or your job or your coworkers that twisted you. It was you.

The religion you were raised in taught you that God is punishment incarnate. God will punish the wicked, you were told.

And then. You broke your first rule. Nothing big. Nothing major. Just a little one. Perhaps you broke one of the big Ten by killing a fly or a frog or something that you don't really regard as worth preserving. Or perhaps you coveted. Maybe you made you made graven image. Perhaps you ate pork.

But after about a day of living in terror you realized, no punishment was coming. Unlike most sensible people you, being smart but still being naive, came to the following conclusion: God will not punish you.

This is what separates you from everyone else. Where most people concluded something like "God is not watching," to "God will punish in the next life" or perhaps even "There is no God," you came to another, far less reasonable conclusion: You are blessed above all.

This would have been fine, but for some reason that no one would call rational based on the criteria for your religion, you thought God was still going to punish everyone else for infractions from which you believed yourself to be exempt.

It was a few years before you realized that such silliness wasn't the case.

This wounded you deeply. You were special weren't you? God loved you so much that he'd let everything go, right? Everyone else has so much suffering coming that God should be heaping on them daily, right now, you would think. Why isn't God punishing everyone? Everyone is terrible awful and wrong, unlike you, the pristine, angelic person, that they should be screaming in agony at all times.

No. That didn't happen. You realized as everyone else more or less has, that you are no different from anyone else, and no one is being punished. Everyone is treated equally, and God is taking care of his own business. That business does not involve punishing all these people that you feel have broken your absurd moral code. Yes, you realized, God doesn't care about your petty bullshit.

And yet you still refuse to come to the rational conclusion. There is a still a God, but he's a big jerk and you don't need him anyway, you're going to see people suffer, somehow.

Now you profess hollow faith in some sort of false morality, some prophet from long ago said something and now your pretending that you care about it. What you're really doing is what those ancient prophets did: making up rules and making up punishment. You're looking for reasons to wound people because they haven't followed some strange standard that, while slightly informed by the teachings of long dead holy men, is mostly just you looking for reasons to be cruel.

You are what's wrong. You are the problem. You only care about yourself, and yet you claim it has something to do with God's will.

The worst part is realize that, like those ancient prophets, no one really takes you seriously and you've lashed out at everyone close to you for not following your obtuse rules. And well, you'll be completely alone soon enough. If God made you this way, then you are being punished for you sins, and if there is no God, you will sleep in this bed you made.

Strange Dreams on Distant Sands

I dream of Baltimore a lot.

It's not the Baltimore I remember, precisely. The architecture varies wildly. It's lit in gold and amber hues. Charles street slick with summer rain stretching street lights into stalactites. Everyone I know is there. They lean out the windows of row houses to wave as I walk. Steam rises off the street. They all miss me and tell me so. I see them face to face and tell them I'll be home soon. We'll all be home soon. I promise.

Pratt street bustles with every era. The fashion of every decade rub elbows with the soldiers coming home from The Great War, World War II, The Korea War, Vietnam and Baghdad, all at once. Trains and boats and planes spilling veterans onto the streets from Penn Station, The Inner Harbor and BWI. Warriors rushing into suits and slacks and bell bottoms, coating their warlike hearts in the familiar civilian skins and going on with life. Eating ice cream, going to college, having children, meeting family members familiar to them with their new unfamiliar minds writhing, ecstatic, overjoyed to be home, praying for the allies that remain-sometimes forever-in combat zones.

Remember, now that you're home, you have to pay for water.

Remembering. Ghostly legions forever gone. Living their lives for those who can't anymore. Moving on, moving forward, growing old, growing up, growing out. Moving away, moving in. Sergeants First Class, Chiefs and Senior Master Sergeants and Gunnery Sergeants retire, putting pins on their caps. VETERAN. SOLDIER. SURVIVOR. Hearing the cadence forever. The four beat, everywhere. All the time. Like a clock.

E-4s become Ephors, certain of change but not certain of how. Getting ready for the next war. Getting ready to put on the hard stripes. Getting ready to let the FNGs make just enough mistakes to learn.

Getting ready to have a child. Preparing to say goodbye to that child before they are even born, not forever, just enough to hurt. Just enough to want. Just enough to leave an empty space in a crayon drawing that goes on the fridge. Coming home again, getting back in the drawing on the fridge. Saving those drawings. Folding them up, putting them in a duffel. Keeping the yellowed paper behind armor and in front of their hearts, soaking with sweat and hope. Hope you remember me. Hope you are proud of me. Hope you get to meet me.

Patterns persist. People persist. Praying to new ancestors, the ones on The Wall in the City of Stone. The ones with the pins on their hats.