Unexpected Departure: Leaving the Battlefield
People think all men who've been to war are courageous. This tends to be partially true. We give the title of courageous or brave as if they're unanimous, stitched onto the pocket of a crisp new uniform. There are different tiers of bravery. The men who signed a contract to possibly go to war are entirely different from the men who's sole purpose was to go to war. Some will call those men foolish, and honestly, some of them are. When the intentions are just, and the devotion is sound, you can mark a man courageous, which undoubtedly depends on how the individual negotiates the lack of discrimination that bullets and mortar rounds hold.
When you leave the battlefield prematurely, a feeling of restless defeat takes over your ego. Regardless of your accolades and personal triumphs, there will always be a disconnection that you will have with yourself and your brothers. A seemingly impossible victory of self-fulfillment will be tested daily. Failure never becomes an option because you have this sense of obligation to prove your value and ethics. The disillusioned belief will be that you want others to perceive you in a better light when, on the contrary, it's for the selfish fact that you wanted to do more. You wanted to fulfill the entirety of the deployment; you wanted to improve your tactical skills. You wanted to prove your worthiness to the platoon. Ultimately, you wanted to help ensure the livelihood of your brothers. There's always more you wanted to do for the people you love, not necessarily the ones you left behind, but the men beside you. Who you knew would defy the enemy's objective without hesitation. Those men are whom you want to be compared to and whom you always compare yourself to. The men that are scared out of belief yet handle the stress of combat as if it is something of a routine, like drinking a cup coffee in the morning.
Welcoming home, your brothers is a bittersweet moment. The sense of relief and gratitude that they've made it back from hell is indescribable. Finally, the guys you've missed and wanted to be with for months are back. The reunion is full of laughs, stories, and memories. You begin to realize you're not apart of the camaraderie as much as you thought. Inside jokes were created, missions were accomplished, and overcoming hardships were shared — all without you. You longed for the moment of their return but feel even more distant upon their arrival. They still include you and love you for what you've done, but you weren't there the entire time. There was a war that still needed to be fought, and Soldiers who needed to fight it. Once you're a part of a brotherhood like that in the military, you tend to quickly form relationships that'll last a lifetime. It is acknowledged that someone can deploy, be reassigned, or even pass away at any moment, so you struggle to have any emotional attachment with anyone. This tends to be difficult when someone leaves unexpectedly. They are never forgotten; they are always missed. Your life needs to go on, and we can't be expected to dwell on the past.
The ones we've lost to war would want you to live your life to the fullest, so they can live vicariously through your actions and dreams. It is your responsibility to love, cherish, and appreciate life's wonders because they cannot. Everyone will experience their own version of grief. Some are stuck in a dark age of depression or anger for what seems like an eternity, others find the light of acceptance without much of a detour. It's hard to pinpoint the exact coping mechanisms because it's the individual's past, present surroundings, and future goals that help determine the transition back to some level of normalcy. It's almost ironic how we called the dead "the fallen" when we remember them as the highest standing individuals. There is nothing that sticks with you more than the last moments you spent with a hero. You're forever blessed to be apart of their story, but as one chapter ends, another has to begin. It's up to you to write the future a way you and the fallen would be proud to claim.
The return home is a lonely journey. It's as if it is a nomadic adventure as a solitary traveler, and the most comforting presence is that of your own faith. Sure, you're surrounded by other people, but the sense of community after leaving your brothers is hard to replace, especially after such valorous acts. Nothing can ever compare to the wholehearted willingness of bodily sacrifice. The instinctual acts of bravery and compassion will be engrained into your personality, and they will forge themselves as standards. You begin to have little to no sympathy for the unwilling; any subpar performance or efforts are shunned. People who understand that level of commitment and pride are the ones you want to surround yourself with. Unfortunately, the caliber of man who could be followed into battle is hard to come by when you are back among the general population.
When exposed to the general public, you feel a sense of vulnerability far more potent than any you had outside the wire. You're typically not in any physical danger, but the emotional strain it takes to not break down and beg to go back in time to change any mistakes you believe you may have made are almost unbearable. The weight of shame can outweigh any ounce of power you thought you might have had. You try to balance the scale of sanity by reassuring yourself that actions were justified, and you convince yourself that everything happens for a reason, despite the cruelty and unfairness. An awaken nightmare continues to play until the tape is through, rewound through the night ready to play at any spark of familiarity. An abrupt thunderous sound, a metallically torched smell, and the chalkiness taste of dirt can bring back memories so vivid you could paint them with your words. As damaging as certain events transpired, those were some of the best days of your life. It becomes difficult to rationalize your emotions when you tell someone you would go back in a heartbeat. There is nothing that makes you feel more alive than when you stare death in the eyes.
Consider yourself fortunate if you have someone you can trust to confess these feelings to; not everyone does, so it is vital to embrace their compassion. There are people out there who sincerely care for us. Find them. No one is ever alone, despite the debilitating feeling of isolation. The battle is a tough one, but it isn't undefeated. You can prevail through hard times and come out better and stronger than you once were. You have to conquer the battle within yourself. So many people can relate to the uneasiness of unfinished business. You should be relieved to know that your job is done. You are back home. The challenges that'll arise will be different, but you will still have to face them with a similar ferocity and coolheaded strategy that you did on the battlefield. You owe it to your country, your brothers, your family, and yourself to drive on and not let your ego control your happiness. The respect you have for your service can be so fulfilling that the unaccomplished feeling of duty you may have will eventually subside.