When we think of service members that died in the combat zone, we have this romanticized picture of how they went out. But the thing is, it’s not always that “heroic” scene you imagine. While I was in Iraq, my unit suffered a terrible loss…at the hands of an Aerosol Can.
My squad was coming up in the dark from a 12 hour shift at the Detainee Facility when we noticed some medics carrying a stretcher out of a Compact Housing Unit (CHU). My battle buddy started to look worried, this was a guy in our unit that she was known to hang out with from time to time. We made our way to our own CHUs and she spoke with me about it. By this time, we weren’t sure, but we were confident…the person they carried out wasn’t alive anymore. My battle confided in me, she was worried he didn’t know Jesus.
Yes, that’s a real thing that happens even down range. We knew the soldier being carried out hadn’t been injured during a battle, something else happened. We wouldn’t find out until ater that night exactly what it was, but we knew something went amiss- and the first thing that came to mind for my very devout friend was “Maybe if he knew Jesus, he wouldn’t have done anything reckless.”
As the night went on, the entire Battalion was called to the back road of our CHU Village to get a stern talking to. In hand was a Counseling Statement for every service member there. The leadership, in pain that this had happened, told everyone off for not reporting that this service member was engaged in “Huffing”. For those that don’t know what Huffing is, it is classed as a form of Inhalant Abuse, where you take something with Aerosol (in this case Canned Air) and squeeze it into your mouth. The effect causes a number of problems…but ends up giving you a “high” if you survive the act. Our leadership went on further to state that we needed to make it known now if there was anyone else experiencing this, told us to rely on our training to watch out for each other.
That night, all the MPs present in the Battalion (we were a melting pot of occupations) had to help sign witness the statements amongst the crowd. The comments flew, as I went one by one to people and signed my name on their documents.
“The signs of depression were there….”
“Why didn’t I see it?
“I saw the can in his room…”
“Why didn’t I invite him to church service?”
“I wish I had gotten to know him, maybe there was something I could have done…”
“How could he do this to us?”
“Oh god…his family…what are they going to tell his family?”
Later the next day, even the Chaplain confided in me that he didn’t know what to do at the funeral because he felt like the act was suicide even if it was an accident…and in good conscious he couldn’t say that the soldier went to heaven…which made it that more heart-wrenching for some of his friends.
We like to think that every combat related death has some sort of climatic story. But that doesn’t make this soldier’s death any less the tale of a Veteran worthy of recognition on Memorial Day. You see, he might not be the Hero you imagine, but this soldier was fighting two wars- one as a Team Member in a HMMWV against terrorists that cared nothing for the lives of their fellow Iraqi Citizens, and one against the Psychological strain of being in the Combat Zone. Thousands of soldiers endure the pain of Combat, but that doesn’t mean all of us can.
This Memorial Day, let’s remember that the deaths in war aren’t just painted in shades of red.