Friday, June 12, 2009

A must read: The Final Salute

As a kid growing up, I was raised in the heart of Central Pennsylvania, right smack between coal country and steel country. Halfway between Philly and Pittsburgh, but undeniably in the middle of nowhere bumbletown PA. I never felt a strong connection with any of the armed services, and really the only time we talked too much about the military was around graduation time. Invariably there were a few people who just didn't quite fit the college mold and decided to go another route. I will admit that my view of the armed services was tainted a little bit because of that. The military was for people who couldn't survive in the academic world, at least that's how it seemed as far as my hometown was concerned.

Matters of the military rarely hit home for me. It always seemed far away. Something that took place lightyears away, and something that people in Washington were concerned with. September 11 saw me preparing for another day of class. Shower, clothes, backpack and a phone call from my mom at 8:30am. I didn't quite understand the tone of her voice, but understood when she told me to turn on the TV. The college didn't close, but we were all aware of the presence of men in dark suits and large SUV's on the campus. Government officials were concerned that Three Mile Island may be considered a potential target, thus wiping out much of the eastern power grid. A meltdown at the reactor would have put my college within the immediate fallout radius. Things were beginning to come home for me in a large way. A sister in DC, an uncle nearby... but yet as time passed and the United States invaded Afghanistan, it still wasn't something that had completely resonated with me.

In January 2003, that changed. Arriving back to my locker to get changed after an away swim meet, I dialed my phone to retrieve a voicemail I will never forget. "Katie, the unit is headed to Iraq. I don't know when we'll be back, or if I'll get to talk to you before we go. I guess I'll talk to you soon." Click. Suddenly, the war slammed into me with a gale force. A friend who had joined the reserves as a way to pay for school was suddenly finding his way to Iraq with people he barely even knew. Spent one weekend a month with and two weeks a year. I can't tell you how it felt. There really aren't words. Dread, fear, regret, guilt. The war was finally hitting home, but I still felt distanced from a military sworn to protect me and others like me.

Fast forwarding to November of 2005, I arrived in DC a fish out of water. A country girl in the big city. I tried not to be affected much by politics, and by Washington, but as more friends had found their way overseas, I was beginning to change my opinion about the war, about the military. Enter in one Sgt. First Class who became a class project and the whole thing flipped upside down. Enter in CrossFit in 2007 and my opinion changed for good.

I now workout side by side with Army servicemen and women, former and present AirForce men and women, marines both enlisted and officers, former Navy seals, and my trainer is one hell of a guy, not to mention a former marine, because as we all know, or at least now I do, there is no such thing as an ex-marine. These men and women represent some of the strongest and some of the smartest people I know. They understand military operations, but they also understand the cultures of other countries. They study military systems, foreign languages, military tactics, and tons of other things. The military isn't for those who can't handle the academic world, although there are a few of those stuck in there, the military is for those smart enough and brave enough to fight an enemy who is determined to destroy the academic world and anything else that they don't particularly agree with.

On a few rare ocassions, I've talked with others about the cost of this war. For obvious reasons (dissenting opinions), I rarely bring it up. But in those few conversations we discussed what it's taking in tax dollars, what it's costing our country. I've even asked some of those very same people from above these same questions. But the response is always the same. We're doing good, and it would be worth the ultimate price if they should meet their end helping those people. "The Final Salute" tells the stories of a few men who met their end in Iraq. They died doing something that they believed in. Now having many friends in the military, this book was heart wrenching to read as it tells the stories of their families. Their suffering. How would I react if I was to meet my best friend's casket at the airport, escort it home, or recieve the dog tags of someone I loved?

This book brings to light something that has lingered in the shadows of this war. The pain and suffering of the families and friends who have lost loved ones. Mothers and wives, fathers and husbands, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters, friends, who will never be able to have one last moment with someone that they loved. These people supported our heroes and are heroes themselves for giving their love and support to someone fighting overseas. I am not very political. Not by any stretch of the means. But if there is one thing that this town, these people, and this book have taught me, it's that our military deserves our support. The families who have paid the ultimate price do not deserve the pain of having their son or daughters memory defaced by thoughtless words. Those families and friends with loved ones training to be in harm's way, or currently in harm's way, don't deserve to suffer the pain of someone's political crusade. Supporting our armed services is the first step to disarming an enemy determined to destroy us all.

I think that despite your take on the war, this book is a must read. I think we all need to feel, to understand. It took me awhile to get through it due to the number of times I stopped to cry, but I guarantee you that after reading it, I will not ever be the same. I now no longer feel distanced from the military. I feel connected to it through my friends and my "adoptive parents" who have introduced me to the Marine Corps. My "adoptive" father is a Colonel in the Marine Corps, so I will say it as they do. To all the men and women who serve, thank you, and oorah!


The Wigan Crossfitter said...

Came from quite a military family myself ( least on my dads side of the family).

My grandpop and my uncle both had terrible PTSD (wasn't diagnosed in those days of course).

It takes courage to do the jobs our government asks of our armed forces. They should be treated like the heroes that they are.

Katie said...

Steve, I agree wholeheartedly. Both my grandfather (paternal) and my grandmother (maternal) served in WWII but never talk about it. I think they're all heroes and deserve to be treated as such.

CrossfitAirborne!! said...

Thank you for writing this, Katie. I come from a long tradition of military men dating back to the Civil War. I am one of many who don't look for our name in the papers or in the headlines. Self-gratification is all we have. But sometimes it is good to see someone not in the military taking the time to write about us. Thank you!!