Number 2


Will kept a copy of the U.S. Constitution in his helmet bag on deployments.
In these uncertain times, the country desperately needs idealistic young patriots like Mike.

Mike was the first of my comrades to “see the elephant.” This term has nebulous origins, but in martial parlance, it means to have experienced war. In the 3rd Century BC, the Macedonians defeated the elephant-borne troops of King Porus at the Battle of Hydaspes. For Alexander’s Pezhetairoi and Hoplites, this was a seminal event.

The famed Carthaginian General Hannibal Barca was one of the most adroit military commanders in human history. He famously crossed the Alps with his militarized pachyderms during the Second Punic War. This represented a rude introduction to elephantry for many Roman Legionnaires in the service of the Republic. Veterans returned home with wild tales of mighty warriors riding astride these massive, strange beasts. Nowadays, if you’ve seen the elephant, that means you’ve made it through your first combat tour. Mike called when he got back in town, and we met at a local pizza joint to get reacquainted over a Coke.

Boredom And Terror

We caught up on the obligatory family stuff. We were all fairly newly married, and the enigma of children and fatherhood was a common pending mystery. Additionally, there is an ethereal brotherhood borne of corporate suffering. Though we hailed from disparate parts of the country, ours was a kinship most deep.

Old soldiers embrace war with a reluctance borne of experience and wisdom. Young soldiers invariably crave it. As he was the first of many from our motley mob, I was curious regarding his impressions brought back from his time downrange.

Mike was a gun pilot who had deployed to this particular ghastly cesspool as part of a multinational peacekeeping mission. As is so often the case, good intentions launch such endeavors while raw, overwhelming firepower ends them. Politicians seem to take into account every variable save the innately fallen nature of man. It is then left to the soldiers to sort through the details.

The mission had grown invariably tedious. Mike would fly his gunship out to some hover hole or sit inert on the ready pad until they hit bingo fuel or passed the duty off to the next crew. Then they’d pack it in for hot showers and some chow. Repeat as necessary. Then, one day, they got the call.

There were friendly troops in contact, and the earth pigs needed the big stick. Nothing was terribly far away in this tidy corner of hell, so Mike and his wingman were on station in short order. What they found was unfettered chaos replete with friendly casualties, well-armed insurgents, and rampant confusion. Mike spotted a Bad Guy with an RPG, slewed his gun around, and killed the man before he had time to think.

The appearance of American helicopter gunships is a reliable deal breaker in many of your less well-funded war zones, so the insurgents melted away to sow their rampant discord another day. Mike circled over the site of his recent engagement, paying particular attention to the human being he had just torn asunder. The guy had been wearing a brightly-colored shirt that stood in stark contrast to the dirt, gore, and detritus that characterized his recent violent demise.

The AH-1S Cobra gunship was the U.S. Army’s Big Stick in this particular ghastly hellhole.

And The Next …

Mike felt introspective on the trip home. That evening, he struggled not to fixate on the surreal nature of the day. He kept thinking the guy whose life he had taken undoubtedly had a mother and a family, maybe even kids. The dude had been shooting at American troops, and the kill was unquestionably righteous. However, the gravitas of what he had done robbed him of sleep regardless.

He said number two was the toughest. He knew the way it would make him feel and developed a certain foreboding as a result. When the time came to take human life a second time, he almost hesitated. Then Mike dropped his eyes to his sweating soft drink, paused for a moment, and looked back up with a smile, saying, “It got nothing but easier from there.”

Eventually, Mike got to the point where he could whack insurgents with impunity. His machine gave him a distance both physical and emotional, and that distance made killing both abstract and palatable. The fact the Bad Guys were bloodthirsty psychopaths didn’t hurt, either.

From the terminus of WWII until the end of the Cold War, the United States spent enough on defense to raze and rebuild every manmade structure in North America. It is in our nature to destroy ourselves. Such has been made most lamentably manifest since Cain’s first unfortunate fratricide.

Innocence is such a fragile thing. Once lost it can never again be regained. However, as a nation, we desperately need guys like Mike. Though really just souped-up teenagers, it is warriors, not diplomats, who stand between civilization and the darkness.

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