I was so distracted by the heat and bustle of rushing through to get my lunch and get out of the “Dining Facility” that the voice directed at me took me by surprise.
I turned to see a young black soldier with clear, intuitive eyes and a warm smile confronting me. He was wearing his “PT” uniform so I had no name tape to reference. I swear I never saw him before!
He must’ve sensed my lack of recognition because he quickly offered, “We met in Kuwait, sir.”
Still nothing, but I was already smiling at his friendly nature, “Of course. How the heck are you?”
“I’m doing well, sir. I’m IRR—” [“Individual Ready Reserve”, these poor kids were already done with the military but still had a couple of years in their contract from which to get yanked out of their civilian comfort for “needs of the Army”] “—and we’ve got about 2 months left. How about you, sir?”
“I’m a puppet on a string,” I said, somewhat exasperated. “I’ve been through 5 jobs and as many living arrangements. While I was down at Liberty, I got attached to a mascot there and my wife and I put a lot of effort into having an NGO charity called ‘Baghdad Pups’—”
“—Yes sir. You told me about them.”
Hmm. Don’t remember that, either. Damn I’m getting old.
I smiled. “She’s flying home as we speak…”
If I were to ask you, what is the next Bible verse after, “And God saw that it was not good for man to be alone,”? Would you say that it was when He created Eve? If so, you would be wrong.
Did you know that it says in the Book of Genesis that, after God created man and noticed that man needed companionship, He made the animal kingdom?
And then bonded them to Adam by bringing each animal before him so that Adam could name them.
Only then did God decide to take Adam’s companionship to the next level by making him a companion that was truly “bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh”.
So was the animal kingdom a failure? Far from it! Each animal served a vital role in the emotional development of Adam. After all, they pleased God when He created them.
If you lingered long in your Bible, you might also come across a passage that tells you the Essence of His Nature is love, and He wants you to share it.
Not “love” the way Hollywood wants you to believe, but love the way the Cross shows us. It’s a love of pain and sacrifice. It is most certainly not just a “nice feeling”. It is a conscious decision to give to and for the object of your love. Feelings come and go. “Commitment” is a choice.
Another important part of True Love? —Responsibility.
Responsibility is what drives the sacrifice (none of this , by the way, is part of human nature…it’s all learned).
If you’re a classic movie buff like me, you might recall a film called The Magnificent Seven starring Yul Brynner, Eli Wallach, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughn and James Coburn. If you haven’t seen it, you need to.
6 guns-for-hire (and one young local wanna-be) go down to a Mexican border town in an effort to help them ward off a band of brigands that regularly rob them.
There is a scene where Bronson’s character is spending time with 3 Mexican boys, discussing the realities of life as a poor rural farmer verses the glamour of being a gun-fighter. The dialogue is some of the best of any movie;
Boy: Our fathers are cowards.
[Bronson takes the boy over his knee and spanks him.]
Bronson as “Bernardo O’Reilly”: Don’t ever say that again about your fathers. They are not cowards! You think I am brave because I carry a gun? Your fathers are much braver because they carry responsibility. For you, your brothers, your sisters and your mothers. This responsibility is like a big rock that weighs a ton. It bends and it twists them until finally it buries them into the ground. Nobody says they have to do it. They do it because they love you and because they want to. I have never had this kind of courage. Running a farm, working like a mule, with no guarantee what will become of it – this is bravery. That’s why I never even started anything like that. That’s why I never will.
* * *
Responsibility can do crazy things to you. It can make you leave loved ones behind…
Or refuse to.
I was drained and depressed. Yet another obnoxious ride-along mission had just ended for me. Sitting in an “MRAP” (basically an armored truck), supposedly learning the fine art of running “DCLiPs” (“Deliberate Combat Logistic Patrol”—as opposed to the “Ambiguous Combat Logistics Patrol”).
The only problem was, I—like all other passengers—always sat in the rear of the vehicle (instead of the vehicle commander’s seat where I could actually learn something), looking out on the desolate, dark Iraqi countryside, bored, uncomfortable and wondering why I was there.
I walked in to the TOC (“Tactical Operations Center”) and walked out of the TOC. Screw the briefings. Screw the paperwork. I’m done for the night…morning…whatever.
As I walked across the deck outside the TOC and towards the opening in the wall that surrounded the building, I made out in the dark, sitting on the gravel, a small brown ball of fur. It wasn’t moving or scurrying off. It just sat there.
Then I realized it was a cat and it was looking at me. Such a tame animal was unusual, even for the “FOB” (“Forward Operating Base”). I had heard about the company mascot. I had heard that it was a cat that had a scarred-up face. But, at that point, I didn’t care. I was so drained, I was so homesick, I was so terribly missing my own wonderful pets that I stopped, stooped over and tried to pick her up.
She was completely content.
I walked her back to my room and she immediately made herself at home.
Of course there was no way for me to try to keep her the way I was accustomed to keeping cats; completely indoors, completely isolated from the dangers and insecurities of outside.
I got her some water and some jerky and tried to unwind for 2 or 3 hours of sleep before my next mission with a different company.
Before I went to sleep, I realized she was curled up next to me on the bed.
The next morning I knew I had to let her out, and, with some sadness, I did.
But as the days and missions continued, I was sorry that I hadn’t tried harder to hang on to her. Maybe I could get something that would qualify as litter. Maybe she would take to it. It really bothered me that such a sweet-natured cat was out loose. For every soldier that went out of their way to show compassion to her, there almost certainly was one who kicked at her or threw something at her. I had never seen it (which wouldn’t have been good for that soldier’s health or my career), but I had heard it was being done. There had to have been other animal threats as well. I didn’t even want to think about the terrible injury to her face.
There had to have been hungry nights.
If there’s one issue that always gets the best of me, it’s that I can’t turn my back on a dependant animal. My poor wife can attest to that…as can any of our 4 dogs or our 5 cats.
But I couldn’t find her.
The Will of God. It’s a lot better that way. Maybe I could forget about her. Maybe I could go to sleep each night and distract myself with hoping her dependence and vulnerability wasn’t going to undo her.
And then the roof caved in…again. I would be changing jobs…again. Moving…again. Leaving FOB Liberty and going to a different FOB…again. What in the name of all that’s holy ever made me leave the assh-les in active duty to get yanked around by the assh-les in the National Guard?!
There had to be a way to get word to the bastard in charge that I had missions to run, that moving me again was neither good for the battalion, the company or me, personally. I had to find a way to tell him because the arrogant ass never bothered to ask me.
I tried sending e-mails. I tried talking to company-level personnel. Nothing was working. How could it possibly be God’s Will to constantly uproot me and keep me in a perpetual state of depression and instability?
It was time to get out the big guns; it was time to go to the battalion commander.
So I made my way to the BN TOC, slowly treading through the obnoxious, sinking gravel as I walked.
I rounded a row of Strykers to the opening in the wall before the TOC door, and sitting on the waist-high wall, was my buddy. She was just chilling on the wall, right by the opening, as if someone had put her there.
I looked at her, looked at the BN TOC door, gently picked her up and walked away.
Now what did I get in to?! There was no way that it was God’s Will to get me further attached to Camp Liberty, only to make me leave and to keep me depressed and unstable. I was going to make a breakthrough, stay at Liberty and, somehow, take this cat back home with me.
Days went by. I got better and better at taking care of the fur ball, keeping her indoors and keeping her happy. At first I gave her a box with dirt in it to go to the bathroom and she did! Then, I was inspired; in asking around for help I came upon the idea of grabbing some “dry-sweep” from the mechanics. It was clay-based just like litter and should absorb her refuse very well. It even looked like liter. I borrowed the company SUV and almost gave up on it before coming across some guys from a completely different Division who hooked me up.
I was so pleased that it was all coming together…until I was given a fly-out date of 7 days.
Was God trying to purposely rip my heart out? Why was He doing this to me? This trial seemed tailor made to be the most painful thing I could experience; being forced to leave a dependant animal to the cruelty of the unknown.
It’s an unknown that is especially cruel in Iraq.
I frantically scrambled for help. The battalion chaplain was sympathetic, but the Army had very strict regulations against keeping pets. He said he couldn’t do the wrong thing and keep her for me.
Wow. That was upsetting. I was hoping for more from him, even if there were regulations in the way. I explained to him that love was something worth taking negative consequences for. He didn’t seem swayed.
Time was running out and my depression was in danger of turning to despair and making me useless as a soldier. I can’t explain why I became fixated on rescuing that cat, or why I equated success or failure as reflecting upon me as a person. I just did.
Maybe there was a soldier who could take her in for me while my wife and I tried to get her out. There were only a few in the TOC that I could trust.
It was a short list and, after the first 2 strikes I was about to lose it.
And then I ran into a female E5 who knew the cat very well, and offered to take care of her, herself. We just had to convince her excessively obnoxious, callous, priss room-mate that doing me this illegal favor was going to be temporary and not a big deal at all.
In the mean time, my wonderful wife was able to connect with our charity. They were up for the pick-up. All I had to do was wait…a month.
And pay a thousand dollars.
Was this “love” or lunacy?
I looked at the animal curled up in my room, with her scarred little face, and wrote the e-mail to my wife without a second thought, “Pay it.”
But the E5’s room-mate was another story. I turned everything over to them both; all the food I had for her, all the dry-sweep and even some boot lace toys. But I left them with a sinking feeling in my heart. How could they possibly last a month?!
To add to my angst, my week turned in to mere hours as my “flight” out became a Stryker convoy. No time left. I grabbed my things and endured the obnoxious, cloistered voyage.
As the month at the new FOB wore on, it was hard not to obsess. I didn’t have her in my room, I should’ve been able to shrug off any failures.
But I still couldn’t stop thinking about her plight and praying for an against-the-odds rescue.
How could it happen when I left her at another location in Iraq, with people who couldn’t possibly care as much as I did? How could it all come together when everyone had wartime jobs to do but needed to make a momentary connection with our charity? How could we get the cat to Baghdad International? No one on the coalition side moved anywhere without a convoy. How the hell could I get a convoy for an illegal pet? The post vet was an excessive dick when I asked him if he could help me get the cat her shots—thanks to Army regulations.
Basically, the assh-les who wrote the regs expected soldiers to be oblivious towards the thousands of pitiful animals all over Iraq. F—k them. F—k all bureaucrats. F—k all politicians. F—k all officers.
Then, I found out that the E5’s room-mate destroyed the arrangement I had made, and my cat was back to roaming loose around the FOB.
Well…I guess that was it. My failure was complete.
There was no way this was going to work. The date for the pick-up was going to pass and I was going to obsess over my loss. It was going to be a long, torturous deployment.
And the “good news” didn’t stop coming in. I found out from some Joes who knew my E5 that she had crawled up underneath the TOC where no one could get to her and had a litter of kittens. But that the noise stopped and it was feared none of the kittens survived. My wife had kept it from me in our e-mail traffic but, oddly, I found out anyway.
To anyone else, this was just one of those things.
I was dying inside. If there was ever an animal that needed to be rescued, and guaranteed a better life, she was it.
There was no way it could come together.
A little too little and a lot too late, I found out that our charity was going to help us with the transportation and hire a security team. Maybe, just maybe, if we could make the link-up, we could get her out.
So we set a date and hoped that our connection could somehow find the cat and keep her long enough to get picked up.
And then I found out that my E5 was being hounded by an investigation that alleged she had committed adultery. My sense was, she was a good person who was being framed. But of all the frigging people to have this happen to. Why her? Why now? Could this get any worse?
Suddenly, we were 48 hours out. The time had gone more quickly than I expected. Insomnia was beating me down. It was going to take a miracle. She could be anywhere roaming the FOB and it wasn’t me looking for her.
And then my wife got a-hold of the E5.
24 hours out.
And then the E5 found her. She found her. Was it possible? How would she be able to keep her until the rendezvous?
Then the chaplain suddenly stepped forward; they would put her in a box and he would hang on to her for the final few hours.
Phone calls (with a near-useless Iraqi cell phone).
Chaplain. Charity. Cohort. Companion.
Rendezvous’ time tweaked.
Chaplain standing by.
They have her. Wait. She’s still there. What’s going on?
My E5 shows up. I call on the gov’t phone. The security team is there. Where’s the paperwork? F—K THE PAPERWORK. TAKE THE CAT. You’ll get the paperwork at the airport.
They got her.
They got her.
Did it really happen?
Still another 2 link-ups to go.
Would she survive the confinement and the long, 2-layover trip?
Link up with our charity!
Plan with the wife a five hour drive to Washington D.C.
Tell the wife how special she is.
Washington D.C. Reagan International. How poetic.
Will the last link-up actually happen?
I don’t believe in “fate”. I’m a religious guy. I think that God is out there…and watching…and intervening.
Compassion is what sets us apart as Americans. Sacrificial love—love that can’t eat or sleep until they know their loved one lacks for nothing—is the mark of the morally mature.
In spite of all the negative crap the Left throws out about how we have no business being in Iraq, examples of this kind of deep, selfless love are being communicated to Iraqis—as foreign and astounding as it is to them—and making a difference.
As I wound my way through the crowded D-FAC, I looked for the door to get back out into the hot Iraqi day. By the door was a female soldier at work, who knew me. Working for the support battalion that owned the D-FAC, she knew I would stop and talk to her as I do everyone that works there.
“What are you smiling about, sir? That’s not like you.”
Sorry. I hate Iraq.
“That cat I told you about?” I said.
“Yes,” she responded.
“My wife’s driving as we speak to meet her at the airport.”
She brightened, “That’s great sir! What are you calling her?”
I looked at her and paused. An emotional smile played across my lips as I said…