We entered the house, myself and another soldier, knowing it was already cleared. The occupants sat outside in a line, zip-tied, so I sauntered in expecting my work to be quick and uneventful.
But some of the occupants were still in the house.
There were children, disabled and malnourished, congregated on the floor of the main room.
I remember there being four of them. One who scooted along on his knees, his head rolling around as if he didn’t have the neck strength to keep it steady. The others were sprawled about on the floor, in various shapes and various states of undress.
I saw unfocused eyes, ribs jutting out from lack of food – I saw pain and discomfort and innocent little bodies hardly cared for and left alone while foreign soldiers barged into their home.
And I stepped over them.
I stepped over them, the ones lying on the floor, to get where I was going, to complete my mission.
I stepped over them, did what I came to do, walked back over them, finished the mission, and returned to the COP (combat outpost)..
I stepped over them and I didn’t think about them again until later, until I was back on American soil, until I was a few drinks in, and then I thought of them.
I couldn’t have done anything, I thought to myself, and it is true. But the truer truth is – I didn’t consider doing anything.
In that moment, on that day, in that house I did not consider the humanity of those kids. I didn’t think about if there was anything I could do for them. I didn’t even give them my consideration. I did my job, I completed my mission, I got home.
And the reality is, nothing I could have done, felt, said would have done anything other than hurt the mission. It was not feasible or practical for me to have any feelings on the matter, to say anything, to attempt to do anything.
That didn’t make me feel better as I stared down the neck of a beer bottle, remembering what they looked like lying across the floor, and recognized someone in myself – someone who could walk over those kids and then leave them behind without a thought.
And I wept. I could tell you I wept for the children, for their pain and for their neglect and for their hunger, but that would be dishonest.
I wept because I now knew something about myself – something I didn’t want to know.
Because war changes you in a million little ways, and I didn’t particularly care for this way.
War shows you what you’re capable of, and I didn’t particularly care for this capability.
You might not think yourself capable of walking over vulnerable, disabled, malnourished children while you carry out your business, but maybe you are – maybe you are and you just haven’t been put to the test yet.
You might not think yourself capable of a lot of things, but war has a way of proving you wrong. Sometimes it’s positive things, like endurance and toughness and bravery. But sometimes it isn’t – sometimes it’s cowardice or indifference or inhumanity.
The fear that comes from being confronted with what you’re capable of doing, the fear that comes from wondering what else might be dormant inside of you, this fear is hard to describe.
It’s easier to understand the fear that comes from bullets flying, from driving around knowing you could blow up at any moment, from blood and guts and adrenaline.
But this fear - this new terror - it’s harder to explain, it’s harder to wrap our minds around, and it’s probably, for me, my deepest wound.
I’m quite sure I’m not alone in this. War wounds us in a million little ways.
I don’t write about my time in the Army much and don’t plan to. This place is all about how God is awesome, how life is short, and how this isn’t home. But I am part of a group called “Blogging For Better,” and this month we are raising awareness and money for Valor Clinic Foundation, whose mission is to improve the lives of veterans. Find out more about Valor Clinic Foundation HERE.