by Frank Pauc
This first appeared in Frank’s Blog on March 25, 2019. It is republished here with the author’s permission.
I should have just kept my mouth shut.
I was sitting in the Mocha Lisa Coffee Shop in Caledonia. I like to go there. It’s kind of artsy-fartsy. They have lots of crafts on display, along with other artwork. They even have paintings from my brother hanging on their walls.
I had my mug of black coffee in front of me as I sat down at a table. I had planned to write a snail mail letter. Then a soldier walked past me. I looked him over.
The guy was tall and exceedingly fit. His uniform had all the right badges, and it had been ironed recently. I think he was airborne/ranger. It was obvious to me that he was a lifer, and that he was most likely a recruiter. I was right, on both counts.
He went over to a nearby table, and the regulars asked his about his work, and how he selected new recruits. He explained that guys with neck and/or facial tattoos were not accepted. Also, people with massive holes in their earlobes did not make the cut. I found this a bit odd. Those kind of folks might make excellent killers. In any case, the locals were doing their best to massage his ego.
That irritated me. I am by nature a contrary individual, and I find it difficult to listen to people talk shit. So, I roused myself from my chair and stood facing the Army recruiter. I asked him:
“When you recruit people, do you ever tell them about the costs involved?”
He gave me a funny look (as did everyone else). Then he asked,
“Costs? What do you mean?”
I replied, “Do you tell them what it will cost them to join up?”
He still didn’t get it.
“What are you talking about?”
I sighed. “My son went to Iraq. He killed people. He did not come back right.”
The soldier told me, “That’s dependent on the individual. Each person reacts differently.”
I said slowly, “That… is… not… really… an… answer.”
At this point two women intervened. One of them wore glasses, and she went immediately to the recruiter and said, “THANK YOU for your service! Can I buy you something? A coffee, maybe?”
He shook his head. She scurried away to get him something he didn’t want. However, she also looked at me and said, “And thank you for your son’s service!”
The other woman went up to the soldier, stroked his arm, and gazed at him with something approaching adoration. She also told him breathlessly, “Thank you for your service.”
I asked him, “So, do you explain to them what they are going to experience?”
He answered obliquely, “It’s different with every person. I don’t know what your son experienced. I’ve been in the Army for twenty years. I was in Iraq too. (and I’m all right).”
I told him, “I was in the Army too, way back during the Cold War. I flew Black Hawks.”
I don’t know if the recruiter or anyone else heard me. There was no reaction whatsoever.
The woman with the glasses returned with the recruiter’s coffee, and she gave him the biggest smile this side of heaven.
I continued to speak. “So, do you tell them that might have to kill somebody?”
He replied, “People enlist for all sorts of reasons. We answer whatever questions they have.”
“What if they don’t even know enough to ask the questions?”
“Well, like I said, people join for all sorts of reasons. Some just want to get their education paid for. Some people come in with a certain idea in their head, and it doesn’t matter what I tell them. It goes in one ear and out the other.”
The woman with the adoring eyes said to the recruiter, “My father fought in Vietnam. He’s on full disability now.”
The recruiter perked up, and said, “Well, he’s being taken care of. People keep saying that we don’t take care of our vets.”
I chimed in, “I go to visit the vets in the psych ward at the VA hospital in Milwaukee every week. They are being cared for, but I want to know if the people who you meet know what they are getting in to.”
The adoring woman rolled her eyes and said, “Do any of us ever know what we’re getting into?”
The soldier told me, “We tell them that there might be trauma.”
The woman spoke again, “Well, we all have trauma. We make decisions and we accept the consequences.”
I butt in, “Okay. I just want to know if these people, especially high school kids, are making informed decisions.”
The recruiter looked me straight in the eye and said, “We talk to them about everything. We talk about deployments, everything.”
At that time, The person who was to meet with the recruiter arrived, and my conversation with him was over. However, somebody else wanted to bend my ear.
The woman with the adoring eyes took me aside.
She told me. “We all have free will. My father went to Vietnam. Your son went to Iraq. They both experience the consequences.”
I replied with pain, “My son sleeps with his AR-15. He can’t sleep without it.”
She nodded and replied, “My dad can’t sleep either. He can’t even go to a 4th of July parade because of the noise. He has no regrets.”
She continued, “The recruiter, he’s just doing his job. He’s chosen to serve his country.”
I asked her, “So, I can’t ask him hard questions?”
The woman replied, “Well, you can ask him hard questions, but it kind of sounded like you were attacking him.”
She went on, “I felt like I needed to defend him.”
“So, is he a hero?”
She smiled sadly, “I think he’s a hero.”
She said, “We all have free will. We make choices. You did whatever it was you were doing.”
Then she walked off.
I walked back top my table and stared at my coffee cup. I was confused and hurt. I kept thinking of my son, and of the boys in the psych ward. I thought about the costs.
This first appeared in The Havok Journal on February 25, 2021.