This blog is really not what it looks like, another diatribe. The time and effort to make one of these little dandies is a delicate, sometimes bloody, heartbreaking affair.
The evidence of my labors are small glimpses into my life at a certain time and place. Sometimes there is pride, every so often humility, occasional sadness and always, yes, every single time, lots of laughter and love- the secret ingredients to any worthwhile endeavor.
Sometimes I share a personal story, more often a boring historical fact or two (insert the yawn). I try to make them entertaining. Like any storyteller worth his salt I want to make you come back for more, sometimes the magic works and sometimes it doesn’t.
So this is the essential part of this email. Me, my arms drenched up to the elbows with flour, eggs and sugar of words, my apron smeared with the icing of self-expression, quickly rying.
I am busy trying to make a cake with the thoughts running through my head. Hope this one stands up to the heat of you guys reading it.
Almost a year ago, I had a rare and bona fide flashback. I was perched in a comfortable chair, in my living room, killing a horde of Taliban bad guys on my favorite video game, “Medal of Honor: Afghanistan.”
The bad guys were chattering in Pashtun, my imaginary combat buddy and I made our desperate, last stand as our ammo ran out. We were holding them off…. then it hit me!
July 2008, Helmand Province, Afghanistan
My buddy Jerry and I are sitting on two shipping crates that act as hasty chairs. We are cleaning our weapons and Jerry says, “What is the one thing you always wanted to be, but never did?”
I answer without thinking, “A writer. Someone who writes things that makes a difference.”
He looked at me, he didn’t understand. “A writer?” he asked, an expression of mystification, screwing up his face.
A minute passed, then he said, “You know, I could see that. Maybe you could write about this place. What we did here, what it was like and why we were here,” he says, “I would like to read that.”
At that time, far from home in a strange land, surviving was a chore. “When we get home…” seemed so far away and distant like the moon or the sun.
On a deployment each day is an eternity. Weeks and months pass with the speed of a slow moving ship on an endless ocean. Slowly, infinitely churning out time. One day, inexplicably, it ends and you’re home, (imagine snapping fingers) just like that.
Now the time has come to do the unthinkable and impossible- to try become a writer. The past and present are interlocking puzzle pieces. Two times that are woven into one.
I would spend a few more years in a series of dead-end jobs. I made several questionable decisions that reads like a cliché of the messed-up, returning veteran- drinking, dating strippers, and disappearing for days on end, worrying friends and family.
My calling was to be a writer. I loved parts of being a soldier, but I never had the temperament for it, not like writing- which I love!
Truth be told, I always felt like an actor cast in the wrong part.
If I had a dollar for every time I thought, “I shouldn’t be here. I need to get out of here as soon as possible,” I could take everyone I know out for a great steak dinner.
My father was a soldier. All the men I admired growing up were military men. It seemed like the logical thing to do. I grew up poor. There was no money for college.
I hated soldiering, but I loved and admired the men and women I served with.
One story sums it best.
August 2001- Fort Polk, LA- Geronimo Drop Zone
I am a 25 year old infantry platoon leader in a tough as nails, Spartan, airborne infantry unit. We are about to make a parachute jump.
I am kitted up. I am wearing a 25 pound parachute, 60 pounds of extra stuff – a radio, ammo, food water and camping gear. Under the crushing load I waddle like a toddler to the dropped ramp of a waiting airplane.
My face is scrunched up in pain and misery. My privates are pushed to my stomach, the shoulder straps are cinched tight, each step is excruciating. Some of the guys are hooping and hollering in excitement, they are eating this up.
I think, “I shouldn’t be here. God, I hate jumping.” One of buddies, a lieutenant in my sister platoon, see me and says, “Dom, you look miserable.” I answer that I am.
Over the roar of the plane’s idling engines he asks, “If you hate jumping so much, what the heck are you doing in an airborne unit?”
I answer without thinking, “I hate jumping, but I love the soldiers in this unit. Brave men, who are the best friends I ever had.” He smiles and punches me in the shoulder, and says, “Helluva of a way to make a living.”
Being a soldier taught me who I really was. I know things about myself, most people never know about themselves. I have seen into the bottom of myself and seen what is swimming there, like a fish flashing on a clear, mountain lake.
I have seen myself at my best and at my very worst. Twice in my life I thought, “This is where Dominic ends,” only to keep on living. I was ready, both times, to see my maker.
I have gone to funerals for half a dozen men I loved like brothers. I was with them at the high points of their lives- crazy fun nights, marriages, and births of children. I held a close friend while he died in my arms.
I did my best to comfort the families of those men who died. I cried with them, in shame and honesty, wishing I could trade places with their husbands, sons or brothers.
I have felt so afraid that I was chilled with fear on a hot summer day in the blazing desert. I have been warmed by the soft touch of love in the some of the coldest places on earth.
The intensity of war is a life experience all in one minute. I have laughed, cried, been in pain and joy all in the same 60 seconds. It seemed like an instant, it seemed like forever.
As a soldier, you know yourself. You touch the foundation of your humanity. When your job involves trying to keep your men alive while killing other men, you must deal with the idea of forever.
I lived times, some would say are best forgotten and never talked about. I would know nothing of the human condition or myself if I hadn’t been a soldier. For that gift I am eternally grateful. Now I am a writer.