Cpl. Dillon Baldridge of the 101st Airborne Division died in the Nangahar Province of Afghanistan in what is know as a green on blue attack. One of the Afghan soldiers he was training turned out to be an enemy agent who gunned him and two others down before being stopped. I didn't know Baldridge, but I was struck by his age. He was 22 when he died.
I stepped into Afghanistan in 2004 at the age of 20. Cpl. Baldridge was around nine year old. I can only imagine he had hazy recollections of the 9/11 terror attacks at that age. I'm sure terror attacks weren't at the top of his concern list at that age when there's an entire world opening up to you.
Me in a different time, in a different place
Back then, I was so sure I was protecting the world. There's arguments to be made for our involvement in Afghanistan, and in 2004, it hadn't turned into the absolute clusterfuck it is today. I was going to war so that Cpl. Baldridge wouldn't have to. We were there to save the world. Make it a place for all the children to grow up in relative peace.
I don't have anything to show for it. Cpl. Baldridge wasn't supposed to go to Afghanistan. He was supposed to grow up, go to college, have fun with friends, love, lose and love all over again. It wasn't supposed to be like this.
Who do I blame? Myself for not winning the war (As much as an E-4 PAO can win a war). The Afghans for not holding on to what we gave back to them? The incompetence of our leaders then and now? It doesn't matter. Does being angry and passing blame even matter at this point?
Every service member has to come to terms with their deployments at some point. To keep anything resembling sanity, you'll have to look back on your personal war and come to peace with it. Many see themselves as heroes, helping to vanquish the evil of radical Islam from the face of the earth. Other look at the microcosm, making it about themselves and their squadmates. Looking out for the man to the left and right.
The kids I was meant to protect are now dying in My War, and it has not gotten better. It's expanding to Yemen and Syria. I may have to fight in My War again, maybe in a country that hasn't even been dragged into it yet. All I know is that My War is not slowing down. It's ballooning as more and more countries pile on.
We're fed a steady diet of fear, anger, and mistrust to keep a bloated war machine moving forward. Soon no one will remember why we're killing and dying in the desert, it will just be the thing we do. The children born after 9/11 will step into my shoes, walk the same roads I did. Most will come home, some will die.
And My War will be Their War for the fighting. To protect the nine year olds of today. To keep them from dying in a country on the other side of the world like I was supposed to. To stem the rising tide of terrorism by shooting, killing and destroying infrastructure in countries that never wanted us there.
I just hope they are able to deal with the futility.