This past week I was wondering what our service members overseas must think about the way things are going “back home.” As a veteran it isn’t hard to do, so I pictured a hypothetical Army Specialist writing an imaginary letter home while pulling tower guard duty at a far outpost in Afghanistan. I think it would go like this:
Dear folks back home,
People think it’s always hot here, but it isn’t, not now. At night it can be pretty cold, and the stars? Well you’ve probably never seen a nighttime sky like this before; it looks like you can just reach out there and touch them.
I’d rather be sleeping right now, but I can appreciate getting away from the constant light and noise of the FOB. The never-ending roar of the generators and the lights are nearly impossible to escape.
My buddy in the tower beside me looks at his watch: 2400 hours, midnight.
“Merry freakin’ Christmas,” he says, sarcastically. I laugh. Back home it is late afternoon on Christmas Eve, people are getting ready for the big day. Here in the middle of a war zone we have spent the past 24 hours in full battle rattle, helmets and body armor, because our enemy, whom we call “Hadji,” knows how important this day is to us imperialist crusaders.
If I were home right now I would be thinking about getting ready for muzzleloader deer season or wanting to catch a high school basketball game and hanging out with my friends, but that seems so far away.
I guess if you are reading this it means that all of the people freaking out about the Mayans were wrong, but I can see how it is easy to believe the world is coming to an end.
Being here changes a person forever; it’s hard coming back home and dealing with “readjustment disorders” or post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD as they call it now. Back home they think we come back a little crazy, but I wonder about that. I think everything else has gone crazy.
We know that back home in the states everyone but our families and friends have forgotten about us, but even 8,000 miles away we still follow the news, and it’s pretty disturbing to say the least.
We hear all this talk about school shooting, guns, mental illness and violent videogames. Compared to the “real world” where it seems more people are concerned about which actress has recently suffered an embarrassing wardrobe malfunction, I think things here sometimes make a lot more sense.
Consider this: if guns cause crime, then this camp should be the most violent place on Earth. Everyone here, at least the military members, not only have access to firearms but we’re actually required to carry them (and ammunition) at all times, and not just any firearms either, but real weapons designed for war selective fire M-4 carbines, M-249 machine guns or, at a minimum, a 9mm semi-automatic handgun.
We carry our weapons everywhere - in the dining facilities, the bank, post office, the PX (our version of a department store) and yes even the movie theater.
Demographically, sociologists would consider this place a powder keg comprised mostly of young males with a mix of races, classes, and city and country boys, all living and interacting in close proximity in a high-stress environment separated from their homes and support networks. So according to the anti-gun crowd, this camp should be incredibly violent, but get this: it isn’t, not at all. There isn’t even a jail cell in this place. Sure it isn’t perfect, no place is, and we always remember that just outside the wire real danger and violence waits.
How can this be? Guns cause crime don’t they? We even have our violent movies and videogames, but very little violent crime.
The only explanation I can come up with is this: all of the people here have been ingrained with certain values and characteristics including loyalty, duty, respect and personal courage. They are part of a culture that rewards hard work and achievement, where teamwork and integration is valued more than individuality and diversity.
We wonder, in at least this respect, why can’t home be a little more like this?
So in a way, even though this place is in the middle of a war zone, in the most dangerous place on Earth, it is a little island of what America really should be.
Well it’s time to get back to work; if you get a moment, think about all my friends and I.
Jim Freeman is wildlife specialist with the Meigs Soil and Water Conservation District and a long-time contributor to the Sunday Times-Sentinel. His column generally appears every other Sunday. He can be contacted weekdays at 740-992-4282 or at email@example.com