Had a very humbling experience this weekend in Austin Texas, as I was invited to be a guest at the Savage Thrash Throw down. After a 4 hour drive from Thackerville Oklahoma, I finally pulled into my destination. As I pulled down a long windy dirt road I began to see cars, trucks, and people roaming around a gully at the end of the road. There were all kinds of guys meandering around wearing the typical veteran uniform…beard, beanie, 5.11 pants, veteran themed t-shirt, and tattooed from head to toe. But this time the crowd had a different mix of individuals.
I started seeing the wheel chairs, the fake legs, the missing limbs, the full body burns…that’s when my reality set in. I was in the presence of some of the most brave men and women that have paid so much for my freedom. Yes, I am a wounded combat veteran, and yes I have PTSD. I have parts of me that are missing and scars and all that mess but I am for the most part considered whole. Without going into a lot of detail…I witnessed men and women, with no legs doing 200lb clean and jerks…firing rifles, being carried by their team mates to each course…I was there, standing quiet, just observing the Warrior soul that was pouring from these guys. On top of that, each one had a huge smile on their face the whole time. I meet some of the best men and woman I have ever been in the presence of this weekend. This brings me to my blog for this week. I am my brother’s keeper…
A term we should all be familiar with is “Battle Buddy”. As soon as I hit the hill in Ft. Benning this term was pressed deep into my mind. Wikipedia defines “Battle Buddy” as a partner assigned to a soldier in the United States Army. Each Battle Buddy is expected to assist his or her partner both in and out of combat. Most participating soldiers have reported satisfaction and have agreed that the Army should implement the system fully, although there have been cons reported as well. A Battle Buddy is not only intended for company, but also for the reduction of suicide; since each watches his partner’s actions, a Battle Buddy can save their fellow soldier’s life by noticing negative thoughts and feelings and intervening to provide help. In plain text, Battle is your brother/sister in arms, you back to lean on in the rain, the person to drag you behind the wall after taking a hit, the person you call when you do not want to take your next breath because depression has its full grasp on you. This person does not ask why you need help, does not care what time it is when you call, and tells you what you need to hear no matter how painful the truth is.
As many of my friends know, I have an innate love for weapons. All kinds of weapons, from rifles, pistols, to staffs, bows and arrows, to my favorite… Edged weapons/knives.
Nothing compares to a good edged weapon to me. With that being said, people ask me all the time “what weapon would you want going into combat and knowing without a doubt you will be engaging the enemy?” Most are expecting me to say, a fully rigged M4 or .45 caliber Kimber Ultra Carry 1911 framed pistol, so my answer usually gets a weird look at first. My answer every time without hesitation will always be this, “when I go into battle, make sure I have a Warrior standing next to me, big enough to carry me if and when I get hit.” The greatest weapon you could ever have is the man standing next to you. Every man needs a battle buddy, a wingman, even Tonto saved the Lone Ranger’s ass many times. Even in the Bible battle buddies are prominent in the text. David, one of the greatest men, leaders, and warriors who ever lived, needed Jonathan to “strengthen his hand in God” (1 Sam. 23:16)
We are living in a world that has become a war zone. Now more than ever, we need our Ranger buddy, that close friend or two, the guy to jump up and take the round for us without question. The taste of this brotherhood in combat is something we (warriors) chase for the rest of our natural born lives. The flavor of soul-rendering friendships found in the heat of battle or adversary. Once this is tasted, it stays with us for the rest of our lives and leaves us longing for more when we leave service. This power of friendship that is forged under adversity is one of life’s greatest treasures.
Once you have experienced it, you will never be the same. And with that, the feeling of having to leave that is gut wrenching to a warrior.
I am remembering loading out to return home after the initial tour in Iraq. I remember wanting to feel excited and happy to be returning home, but instead I sat on the edge of my rack with my head in my hands, reflecting sadly on what was about to happen to me. My time in country (this time) was done, I was heading home, but to what…a wife that stopped sending me letters months ago…friends that I had not been in contact with since I left? What was back home for me? Why should I be excited about going home when I felt like there was nothing there for me? I was afraid that I would never be as alive again, that I would never feel this kind of purpose when I woke up in the morning. These are the feeling that returning soldiers have flowing through their bodies and minds. Weather we are facing hot lead racing passed our heads in battle or fighting the spiritual bullets that the “enemy” fires at us daily, the elements of the battle are the same. And the sheer power of knowing my battle was there for me, that powerful friendship is life marking, life making, and in the end very much lifesaving.
Seeing these heroes this weekend carrying each other, supporting the weight of missing limbs and missing fingers; helping, once strong healthy bodies that have now been torn to pieces…seeing that friendship in action brought all my emotions, for my brothers that are gone now, rushing back to me. I played the scenes of the day over and over again on my 4 hour trek back to Oklahoma. Missing my brothers that are no longer able to call me for advice, or tell me that their son hit his first home run today…brought me to these points of post combat life.
Whether we are in the sands of a distant country in physical combat or here in our everyday lives in spiritual warfare, the deepest friendships are forged. If you look the word “forged” up, the metal is shaped for a specific purpose, being heated and hammered until it attains its true effectiveness. These sounds very much like how the strongest friendships are made. The best friendships are often formed under great pressures. I thought of one of my favorite proverbs from the Bible. The story that tells of the heat and friction of steal on steal, or iron on iron…”as iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” (Prov.27:17)
We are losing way too many of our nation’s heroes to suicide. I have felt the impact of this personally and very recent. I have lost six brothers to suicide in the last 18 months, 2 of them called me on the phone and did it while talking to me. Listening to their loved ones running into the room screaming a blood curdling and agonizing scream, not knowing that there I was laying on the phone hearing every raw emotion. Having to live with the anger and questions of why they called me, why they called and still decided that their life was so unbearable…hearing the sound of metal hitting the teeth of your combat buddy is a sound you will never erase from memory. But at the root of that pain and anger comes this point…I was there, I was the last person he reached out for…the battle buddy.
Today more than ever we need to lock shields…
“Because fear makes each man do his best to shelter his unarmed right side with the shield of the man next to him, thinking that the closer the shields are locked together the better will he be protected.” Thucydides (Spartan General) on why hoplite armies edge to the right as the battle begins.
22 veterans a day take their lives, the battle raging in their minds is still as vivid as the day they left the front lines. Let’s begin today, to be men of Resolve, men that know the true meaning of Battle buddy. Let’s leave no man behind, if we have to turn around to meet them, throw them over our shoulder and carry them home…that is my battle cry to you today my brothers/sisters!