There are only a handful of holidays that are of any importance to me. Christmas I get stuff, Halloween I get to dress up and New Years I get to party. Most people get Veteran’s day and/or Memorial Day off because it is basically mandated, but to most people these are just days they don’t have to work and get to spend an extra day with the family. I used to be one of those people. I wasn’t going to complain about having to take an extra day off work as a paid holiday. That changed after I joined the Army…well, it changed for real after I got back from Iraq.
Even in the Army as a recruit/newbie I had some extra pride for these holidays but never really felt like I deserved any recognition for them. Honestly, I was in for 8 years got to run around the US and parts of the world wearing a uniform and carrying an M-16 but until my unit was deployed for OIF-1 (Operation Iraqi Freedom) Memorial Day was a holiday that was reserved for real soldiers that had fought in wars and had died in battle, and I didn’t know of any personally.
As the weekend got closer I found myself going through old pictures and letters from when I was deployed. I was remembering the hard times of playing GI-Joe in the desert and the brave souls I served with. It’s a far cry from my current position of managing business development for a software company. Now I sit at a desk 9-10 hours a day on the phone or answering emails. Compare that to running around in 100+ degree (NO JOKE) heat wearing full battle gear that could weigh up to an extra 50 lbs. I have it fairly easy now, I’m still under pressure but nothing like I had gone through in the sandbox. There are days I miss the Army, the troops and the adrenalin rush from IEDs exploding or gun shots.
What I don’t miss are the days I would walk through base camp and see a formation of soldiers standing at attention in front of a helmet resting on a rifle. A pair of dog tags hanging from the grip that belonged to a soldier that gave his life for his country and fellow troops. I never had to stand in one of these formations. Our unit beat the odds even with the length of time we spent in the zone, no one lost their life. This didn’t lessen the effect it would have on me when I saw the somber faces of other soldiers, some of which I would see on patrols and outside the wire that had to say farewell to a friend that was more a family member than anything else. When you are that close to war on a daily basis every soldier that dies reminds you how precious life is and it can be taken from you in a second.
Memorial Day carries a different meaning to me now than it did years ago. I will always be appreciative for the service of men and women that chose to wear a uniform and fight alongside others and ultimately gave their lives. For the remaining soldiers of WWII and Korea to Vietnam and the current wars in the sand, I thank you and your service to the USA.