By adolescence, I viewed death as a rapidly approaching inevitability. I viewed my life’s value in its destruction. I sought only an honorable end, one of sacrifice. I had long decided to join the military. I wanted a life on the absolute brink. I wanted to be a Ranger, a SEAL, Special Forces, or a sniper behind enemy lines. I wanted to live my life until it was taken. I wanted my worthless life to be sacrificed in the stead of another. I wanted to sign the dotted line until I rested in a flag-draped coffin at Dover AFB.
In Regiment I found a value in life I had never really possessed before. I found value in living. I would have, and still would sacrifice my life without a moment of hesitation, but I found value in life beyond its destruction. When the time came to sign the dotted line, I chose to separate from that which had given me so much. I had decided to give life a chance. I knew that if I signed that line once more, I would never have a family. I would have signed until I rested in that coffin, or they told me I could no longer sign. I would have lived my life on the brink of death. I would have sacrificed my life without a moment of hesitation in a world where such chances to sacrifice were plentiful. I would have never wanted a family knowing I would so readily leave them behind. I would have devoted my life to the ways of war. I would have always been absent training, yearning for the next deployment. I would have spent every moment I could in foreign wars.
In Regiment I found a deep seeded desire, a desire for a family, for a wife and children. I knew the desire for the brink would never disappear, but I sought a greater balance between the conflicting desires. I knew I had to remove the temptation of a lifelong brink. I knew I would have given the brink everything. I would have sacrificed my values and beliefs of what a family was to the brink. I knew a life without the brink would have also destroyed me. I would have been a shell of a man who could not have aspired to the values and beliefs of what a family was to me.
I was long on the track of law enforcement when I met my wife. For the first time, I began to feel a twinge of guilt in a way I never had. I had always felt some form of guilt about leaving my parents, siblings, and other family members behind, but this was different. They had expected nothing less most of my life. Most of all, they did not shape their lives around me. They did not depend on me as my wife does me and I her. Every day I don my uniform, I feel that twinge of guilt, especially as we try to have children. While my wife and I have had countless discussions, and she is painfully aware of who I am, I cannot escape that twinge. It is the twinge of guilt knowing I will always find the brink and, if it is asked of me, I would sacrifice my life for a simple stranger. It is the twinge of guilt knowing that I will not only always find the brink, but I will also continually seek it out.
Every day I don my uniform I feel that twinge of guilt until I step outside. It is the twinge that motivates me to be my very best, to train harder, and to think smarter. It is the twinge that reminds me that I have something worth fighting for. It is the twinge that reminds me that I have something worth living for. It is the twinge that gives me the balance. It is what Yin is to Yang. But it is the twinge that has no place on the brink. It is the twinge that distracts, that fulfills the prophecy. It is the twinge that exists only when I don and strip away my uniform, only in the fore and afterthought of the brink. It is the twinge of guilt that gives me balance. It is the twinge of guilt I want to never sacrifice.
Jake Smith is a law enforcement officer and former Army Ranger with four deployments to Afghanistan.
As the Voice of the Veteran Community, The Havok Journal seeks to publish a variety of perspectives on a number of sensitive subjects. Unless specifically noted otherwise, nothing we publish is an official point of view of The Havok Journal or any part of the U.S. government.