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Questions, with Answers

We’re doing something a bit different today. Twitter friend and college professor @Trishlet asked her students to brainstorm questions for Soldiers, and today I’m going to answer some. Out of a whole bunch of war related questions, I selected the seven that inspired the most interesting responses. After I wrote my responses, I realized it would make a great On Violence post, so here we are.

(By the way, we had a reader ask for more personal experience articles in the comments section of Monday’s post. We agree. If you have any specific or general questions about my experience, contact us. Just answering these questions gave us several post ideas.)

1. How do you deal with everyday life and the uncomfortable questions people ask?
Humor mostly, especially with uncomfortable questions. My dad told me long ago that you should never ask a soldier if they have killed. Every parent should teach that to their children.

I would add, as a corollary, that if a veteran boasts about how many people they killed, or brings it up themselves, I would question either how they handled the war or if they are who they say they are. People who never left the wire love to tell war stories; veterans will usually only talk to other veterans or people they trust.

2. What is it like coming home from war for the first time? I imagine there would be a lot of culture shock.
Actually, for me, I was surprised how easy it was to pick up where I left off. I have this mode I go into, and once I leave the combat zone, I leave it behind. Coming back from Ranger School was actually a bigger shock for me than coming home from Afghanistan the first time. Little things will come up, but mostly down range is over there and civilian life is over here.

After a few days back from Afghanistan, it was like nothing had changed. You drive again on civilian roads, you drink again, and you have a level of freedom. At the same time, you sleep, go on the Internet, and work out just like you did downrange. Deployment is just replacing one home for another, and you always make a new home.
Of course, going to A*stan and Iraq wasn’t as big a culture shock as going to Europe the first time, but that’s another post altogether.

3. Do people feel a second disillusionment when they return from war?
For me, the disillusionment with war came when I lost two friends. No matter how good the cause, no matter how many good things I did over there, I don’t think anything can make up for that. Not just my lost friends, but the violence that happens everyday. Even if it wasn’t to my platoon, the effect of violence was everywhere.

Eric C is the pacifist who believes that hardly any war can justify its cost. I don’t go that far, but I have seen the cost of war, and that probably counts as disillusionment. It didn’t happen in Afghanistan, it happened before I went.

4. How are dreams useful in remembering things?
I have had very few dreams about Afghanistan after I got back, but I wrote about one I did have here. It wasn’t based on reality, but it says something about the emotions I associate with Afghanistan. The emotion of fear from the dream was incredibly real, just like before I left.

Another thing. Downrange soldiers take an anti-Malarial pill called Mefloquine. It causes you to have vivid dreams, and downrange I remember having very disturbing and very real dreams. Different topic, but interesting.

5. Do you think that reading about and trying to understand what past soldiers have experienced could help future soldiers from having the same problems?
I truly believe that the best way to deal with deployment-caused emotional problems, like PTSD, is by communicating. Reading, writing and talking in groups are all methods of coming to grips with what happened. Soldiers are solitary and individualistic creatures, though, and it prevents that communication.

I definitely think that blogging has helped me channel my frustration, if you will. Though I still complain an awful lot about the military, I think blogging mellows me a bit.

6. How did soldier’s jobs change directly after COIN was established then enacted while troops were already in theater?
I think this is a false dichotomy. There wasn’t ever a point where we decided, “Now counter-insurgency has started” and we changed what we did. Instead, it evolved over time.
For instance, I was in Afghanistan right when the surge was starting in Iraq. It hadn’t been proven effective yet, but the manual had been published. So we did plenty of engagement with local leaders and tried to fund local reconstruction projects. But my battalion also fought the Battle of Wanat, which was one of the most violent, traditional battles of the war yet.
And units in Iraq were conducting leader engagements since the beginning of the war, they just weren’t trained or prepared to do so. Rebuilding a society was mainly something unplanned, that troops figured out on the fly. I am a huge proponent of population-centric counter-insurgency, so I hope our military doesn’t forget the lessons of these wars next time.

7. What kind of war memorial do you think best honors soldiers?
This question provoked an altogether too complex response, that we will have to think about and write up in the future.

six comments

I really want to emphasize, we had like three or four new post and outside opinion pieces come from answering these questions. We’ll share what we come up with in the future.

Wow. I am thrilled to see these. The students will be so stoked. Thank you for the thoughtful responses.

And Trishlet, if you have more or your students really want the answers to the other questions let me know and we can just email them to you.

Thank you so much. I really appreciate the extension of Capt. Bynum’s definition/explanation of collateral damage (also at the blog). They’ve been working hard to create a definition for CD that seems to fit their understanding of the memoirists’ experiences and accounts.

“Rebuilding a society was mainly something unplanned, that troops figured out on the fly.”

…something strikes me as very, very uncomfortable about that statement. not because it’s untrue, but because of how very true it really is. and what exactly that implies.

sad face.

Sad face symbol is probably the best description of an army unprepared for war.