For Christmas, my husband and I went skiing in Montana. When we approached the lift ticket stand, we asked if there was a military discount. The young girl at the counter said, "Are you active?" We said, "No, but he's a combat veteran," and showed her his card. She said, "Sorry, this is just for active duty military." My claws were about to come out.
My husband fought in Iraqi Freedom in 2004 and 2005. He was among the first units sent out and one of the hardest hit. He was twenty and I was fourteen.
He only tells me bits and pieces of what happened over there and it's usually only after a long night of liquid courage. He doesn't freely open up the jar of unsaid stories. He tries to carry the weight of all he's done, all he didn't do, and all that people don't understand here at home.
I've never seen red. Never taken a life. Never experienced fear at such a pro-longed, heightened level. But I take on his pain more than he knows, right before I remember that it's not always my job to understand, but maybe just to pray it away.
His war arrives on the nights that he’s trying to reason with his past. It also arrives when the news comes on and doesn't report the extent of the threats we are receiving. It’s like a recurring bad dream that keeps visiting him… and me. I then become his sounding board, as if I am the news, uninformed America, and the enemy all at once. It has arrived in the form of addictions, back pain and deadly mindsets of fear before me. It comes when he looks in the mirror at a man who partially identifies with who he is and what he’s done and the other half remains a total stranger. Part stranger, because people can’t possibly understand why he does the things he does or says the things he says. Part stranger, because he doesn’t fully understand either.
I think that’s the real war.
Our men and women are put in inhumane conditions and expected to do horrific acts. Acts against what Sunday school taught us and what we learned to be in line with our values in the beginning. They are asked to take on this role because this is the protection that our government has put in place for our country. Someone has to do it. Their job is to keep us safe, above all else, and that is what they have done.
Once the war is over, they are left to cope with everything. With these ghosts, they have to live in their body, form/sustain relationships, make memories and have families. Upon return, those men and women who were put in combat still battle every day and their families fight for them in prayer until they are TRULY home inside.
I wrote this song six months right after I met my husband. I could see his war more than he knew. He has never stopped walking forward; whether big leaps or small, he steps on. He looks for the beauty in life and loves it because he knows he is blessed to be here. He is a kaleidoscope of emotions, but strong like a 2,000 year old oak tree. He has met God face to face in the darkest places and chooses to keep seeking Him every day, whether the pain is merely pinching or unbearable.
That's a soldier.