Military Service, War and Death

In case you have been isolated from all communications, you have probably heard about the helicopter crash in Afghanistan that took 38 lives on 06 August 2011 (ISAF press release).  There were 8 Afghan nationals onboard, while the remainder were US special operations forces, mostly from the US Navy SEALs.  This was one of the largest single day losses for the US military and the largest single day loss of special operations forces.  More SOF operators were killed last Saturday than were killed during Operation Redwing (see my blog post on Marcus Luttrell's book Lone Survivor).  This is a painful event.  So far, it has not directly affected me.  I am a huge fan of the SOF community, but I only know a few that have worked in it.  I did not know these warriors personally.  Still, it is becoming indirectly painful, as I am seeing what happens to friends and comrades when 20-30 people they knew suddenly die.  I won't even begin to speculate what this event or the continuing press coverage is doing to the families of the deceased. I only hope what I am writing does not add to their misery.

At times like this, I reflect on my choice to serve, and the choices made by others who have made the ultimate sacrifice.  I still have no regrets.  I joined the military precisely because I felt called to serve my country in war.  Others are called to serve in other, less violent and more constructive ways, but I have always heard the siren call of Mars (Ares), Valkyries, and the Morrigan.  I don't think anyone joins seeking violent death (I didn't).  Most would probably choose to die at a ridiculous old age due to sexual exertion (or killed by a jealous lover).  Yet, few join without some understanding that those who go to war due so at some risk to themselves.

The politicians that want us to keep fighting and those that want us to quit fighting will find ways to use this event to support their views.  Boeing will try to explain why these ancient Chinooks are safe, while their competitors will argue for new airframes.  Others will say that the helos will be safe once some expensive piece of technology is added to the aircraft.  The Air Assault guys and helicopter pilots will argue that the birds and their associated tactics are the only way to fight this war.  Others will demand ground assaults, or an even faster withdrawal.

Ignore them all.  Here is what matters.  Thirty eight individuals got on that helicopter to do their job.  They chose to serve their countries in a time of death and danger, rather than settle for a safe place with their families.  Their reasons for joining, for staying, for getting on the helo that night, were no doubt somewhat different for each.  Unless they shared their thoughts with family and friends, we will never know their reasons.  They served faithfully until the day they fell in battle.  Remember them.  Honor their memories.  Help their families.  Support those who would follow in their footsteps.  If you have it in you, step forward and serve your nation for a time.

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