My younger brother’s friend George is in Iraq.
At least, I’ll call him George although that’s not his real name. He is a happy-go-lucky, lanky guy. Like all of my younger brother’s friends, he is a bit mischievous in that bored, small-town-kid kind of way. George likes track and field, girls and vintage trucks.
I have had close friends enlist in the military, but they were all out before this war started. But the recruitment never stops and it was inevitable that someone I knew would end up in Iraq.
Four years ago my younger brother and his friends were seniors in high school. There was no war in Iraq; not even a threat of war. And the Marines had, and still have, an open ticket on the high school campus. They strut around in their uniforms and flirt with girls who are overly impressed by athletic-looking men in white gloves and blue pants with gold stripes down the sides. The guys are overly impressed by the attention the girls are giving. The schools can do nothing about it – if they refuse to allow military recruiters on campus they can lose federal grants.
George used to talk about how great it would be to pole vault in college. Or maybe he’d train to become a mechanic and build custom cars and trucks. But all of that takes money and luck – and there’s only so much of that to go around in a small town.
The recruiters, local dupes themselves just looking for the opportunity to spend some time at home in exchange for “recruiting,” know this. They extol the virtues of the American Armed Services, which they know are a load of crap. But if they sign enough people up, they get a bonus. So they use the same lines that got them into the military: “It will make you into a real man;” “Your parents will be so proud;” ” Everyone will respect you;” “You can pay for college” and “There’s very little chance of you ever seeing combat.”
Everyone I knew back home at least talked about enlisting. Hell, I even thought about it for awhile. The ever-present Marines offered us money, education and a guaranteed career once we completed our tenure. Most of us knew it was too good to be true, but they offer the opportunity for anyone, absolutely anyone, to be able to afford to go to college or learn a trade.
The Army Reserves offered George a scholarship to join its track and field team after his first junior college track meet. I remember him telling us what a sweet deal it would be to be able to compete and pay for school at the same time. He pole vaulted for them one weekend a month in competitions for three months. Then the war in Iraq broke out. He is now, and has been since the first months of the war, a field medic in Iraq. God willing, he will be home in two months – a veteran at 19.
For two years we’ve been talking about the war in Iraq in classes and with friends. We debate the morality of the war, the wisdom of a unilateral war, the morality of an offensive war, a war that could possibly liberate people living under a brutal dictatorship. We compare it to Vietnam, Chile and Cuba. The war is something to be opposed or supported on intellectual or moral grounds.
Up until Thursday, at least for me, the war had no face. A picture on the cover of the L.A. Times showed medics carrying a bleeding American soldier through the streets of Ramadi, Iraq. None of the medics were George, but any one of them could have been.
Last week one of the last of my younger brother’s high school friends enlisted in the Marines. He held out through two years of war and junior college tuition increases. He said he enlisted for “patriotic reasons.” These are the boys I shuttled around in a minivan for two years. I took them home from track and football practices, picked them up from parties in the middle of nowhere that they should never have been at in the first place and consoled them in their numerous ill-fated romances. They were, and are, my boys – and they are getting shot at. Possibly as I’m writing this.
Stephanie Tavares is the Daily Nexus features editor.