Saturday, July 25, 2009

It's Not Training Any More

Zach called today; good phone reception. He said that they started work immediately upon arrival. I guess with the long delays in travel, the outgoing group needs to get them up to speed quickly.

He woke long before dawn to start work. His crew just finished a double shift. The good news is, he said casually, that nobody shot at them while they were flying.


Now: it’s the first time I am going to use the word ‘troops’, and I want to proceed carefully here.

I have always been ambivalent about the word ‘troops’. It’s a word of respect. But it’s a word of distance. Of de-humanization.

We hear about ‘troops’ going into battle or peacekeeping or support work. We stand taller in the presence of the word. It implies trained-fighting-men.

We do not hear about sons and husbands and people we love going into battle. But they are: husbands and sons and brothers and nephews and uncles and cousins and boyfriends and fianc├ęs.

So saying ‘troops’ is shorthand for they’re trained for this and yet, it sort of dehumanizes them. The word itself strips them of their emotional connections to us and to other human beings, and isolates them. They are a body unto themselves, connected for the time being to the rest of the troops. Removed from us and our sphere of influence.

Troops are moved around the country, and troops fight battles. Troops are deployed.

Soldiers are wounded or killed or captured, rescued, evacuated or praised or punished, and return home from deployment.

Somehow soldiers, even though a similar word, sounds more compassionate than troops.

As it is time for me to use these words for the first time in my own writing, I am squirming a little inside, wondering if I will use them, if they will become as hollow in my writing as they are to me when I hear them…or if I can find something more meaningful.

In the end, a thing has to have a name for us to begin to understand it. And yet, so often, the very word that illuminates something also limits our understanding of it, and our connection to it, as well.

So I will say to you that in the long day that Zach worked today, he helped to fly young fighting men and older fighting men back and forth to different places. I don’t know where or for what.

I am need to proceed even more carefully with the next words…because they are not descriptive of a group of healthy strong men. They are descriptive of one man, someone loved by people I do not know; a young man to whom I want to be very respectful, and people to whom I want to be extremely respectful as well.

All of the travel, fatigue, frustration, good spirits and frustration were nothing but a prelude.

How do you even say this? It is too real now.

On their first day, their crew flew the remains of a soldier who had been killed back to base. He had been hit by a bomb the day before. A small and precious box carrying his remains was carefully loaded onto their plane and flown to camp, to then start the journey back to those who loved, and still love, him.

I think this may be the story of that young man. He is exceptional. Please copy and paste this into your browser and read about him for a moment:

Zach’s voice was more serious than I have ever heard him. Devoid of any fun at all. No joking.

With respect, and in peace,
Thank you for checking in.

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