Just a Navy guy
He loves his family. He tells them often. He does miss them, he misses them often. He has been enlisted since he was seventeen, now he is closing fast on forty. He met his wife at school, she got in just before he donned the uniform. Now with two little girls he has a family. But for him and others like him he has always had a family, brothers and sisters in uniform who he is supposed to serve and die for. Many of them he cannot stand. Like in any job politics is rife, the ‘just because’ insanity of military life has eroded his romantic convictions. He stands merely as a cynical professional. It is a job. Nothing more, nothing less. The others who have been inside as long as him see it the same. Twenty years and the pension is there, the money is good for a non-commissioned officer especially when one has seen deployment. Throw in the wealth one accumulates from the combat pay by being near an active warzone, Outside Iraq and tentatively near Iran on a few occasions and now Yemen. Though officially his next deployment has nothing to do with Yemen, so instead he tells friends and families he is headed to the Middle East. Bahrain more specifically to begin with. Three months, maybe likely to extend that for longer as is often the case. His family, they are used to it.
At home his girls see him via skype or as photos that are captured in precious moments when he is around them. They know he is their father but the youngest calls him by his first name. For her young innocent mind, she has only one parent and her grandparents. Dad is someone she is told about, someone that her friends have. Daddy, she is told, is a hero apparently. She does not know why. His wife dares not say aloud her fantasies or fears, she dares not speak openly about her sense of neglect. He supports her, money pays for the house and the things that she is surrounded by. But the dollars cannot wrap her up at night. At first she was proud, seduced by the uniform and its promises of protection and duty. He was defending not just her or even the nation but much of the free world. Then the war never quite ended and there were always more wars, less distinct or defined. The news media, like her friends, soon lost interest unable to grasp what the mission was. So instead he would simply go away for work. To someone else’s country.
He drank a lot, so too do many of his peers. When they can many escape the mundane by gambling, drinking, drugs and working out. His vice however was far more ancient. Sex. He never has it at home when he returns. He could count the times on one hand since the girls were born. His wife flirts openly on social media with other men. It angers him but not for the reasons it should. Not jealousy but pride. She is his. For his part he has had affairs with work colleagues, those enlisted women under him. His rank and seniority can replace good looks, the handsome features and sweet smile of his youth has bloated into a cheeky dark grin. The younger women under him confide in him, they share an intimacy that his wife has missed out on. He has more in common with them, even though he has known them for less time. The world his uniform takes him to is different to the one at home. He misses home when he is abroad and he finds himself longing to be abroad while he is at home. When he is not with the enlisted ranks he spends a lot on hookers. He catalogues them, grading them in his phone. Some he becomes so regular with that relationships are made. All of them are women from desperately poor places selling their body and dignity so that they can feed their family at home. He sells his own so that he can buy things his family really does not need. He has so much income he can only drink so much or go on excessive shopping sprees with his lady of the now in whatever base or port he is located.
History will record certain events with an insensitive memory. Though scores of posts, memoirs and endless raw footage exists in print and online it is in the pages written by scholars and the elites that will define how the future students of the past shall remember now and not so long ago. For him he remembers the urgency of stopping Saddam from building WMDs like it was yesterday. The excitement of noble purpose, the thrill of watching missiles launch from American warships headed deep inland to what he assumed to be the enemy, the drills and adrenaline surges. The months waned on and both he and his wife cheated on one another, the same was true for his brothers. Each spouse seeking another mate for the moment in an act of spite. Then the drinking. Suddenly the urgent mission became an entrenched monotony, he felt relief to return home. Job done. Saddam had been defeated.
Home was empty. Drinking, counselling and depression. There were no WMDs it was a lie. Some of his comrades had shared images of dead civilians. Maybe those families blown to pieces were killed by the very missiles he had watched fire live. Those very missiles he had cheered and like a child watching fireworks for the first time gaped at delightfully with an open mouth. They had crashed somewhere with an explosive fury, whether desert, on enemy tanks or as it appeared some had blown houses and civilians to pieces. No WMDs murdered civilians. And now an insurgency Iraq was a deadly mess. The American president had claimed “mission accomplished”. What mission? The overthrow of Saddam, an evil man for sure but he had soon come to learn that he was once an ally. Someone who had support from the Americans. It was a mess. His marriage, his experiences did not fit any real comprehensible narrative. He felt grey and lost. His lean fit figure soon gorged into a gout laden middle-aged man’s body. Though he was only in his thirties.
He would have to return. The mission was against terror now. Saddam was a terrorist leader. Apparently now he would be fighting against Al Qaeda and other sorts of Islamic terrorists. Though many of them were only emerging with might now that Saddam had been toppled. It made little sense to him so he stopped thinking about it. Anti-piracy operations that saw the interdiction of ships and their cargoes confiscated. Medical supplies destined to crippled nations thrown into the sea, while illegal weapons were handed over to their American allies. Though the only pirates in those waters were from Somalia. Promotions and pay increase helped to focus his scattered concerns. It seemed however that he was not the only one suffering turmoil. The suicides began. Not just one but several. Others whose wives had left them, who could not cope with the inconsistencies. Whatever their reasons, they took their life. He would soon stop attending the funerals. They were too numerous. So too were the deployments.
He had thought that perhaps if he and the wife had children then they could anchor their relationship. Like an ill fitting band-aid he and his wife created life. Moments were beautiful for a time. Though the job kept creeping in. The call to work on distant bases, two or so hours away by car. Then to distant ports where he may as well have been inside another country. Months to a year spent in another state with infrequent video chat conversations of awkward moments followed by weekend visits that often ended in arguments. Normality was painful. Another child would come and again routine was in some ways a salvation. But the political masters pointed again and their military servants nodded and obeyed, so too would he. His family again taking second place. Just one more time, he promised, then it will be over. The twenty years of service neared and along with it the security of a healthy after service pay and perks. The drinking, the gambling and the prostitutes were the lifestyle as was the dishonesty. The lying ‘I love you’ concealed beneath decades of deceit and disdain, eroded by a cynicism of his reality. Whatever morality he once had was lost, now he was a consummate professional. He simply did his job and the vices were part of what helped him cope.
The prostitutes he felt intimate with soon began to make demands and they became complicated. The Middle East was more of a home to him than when he was back at ‘home’. The promises like the gym memberships and infrequent exercise could never return his body and mind to what it once was. He could never improve despite those brief moments of wanting to. It was easier to serve. The pay and trappings were so good. The lifestyle in the moments of orgasm so splendid but when sober were serious and lonely. At home just boring and imprisoning. That one last deployment but it was not the last. He has gone back over there. Working alongside the Saudi coalition, not directly in their war on Yemen. That miserable misunderstood little war is in the background. The horrible reality for those in Yemen is something for them to know. For him and his brothers and sisters they have a job to do. That job does not require him to think about the consequences or beyond the horizon on his scopes. Perhaps those peers of his that did were the ones that took their lives.
He is just a Navy guy. He loves the job. He has been at sea just as much as he has been on land. He is convinced maybe longer. He is not a bad man, just a man. Good to his friends. He loves his family, he loves his girls. Just not enough to put them in front of foreign policy. In his heart he wants to believe that he does it for them. His sacrifice, the time away is money that will go towards their future. Blowback does not enter the conversation inside his inner monologue. The money is good, the girls should love him because of it. All they want is a father. All they need is a Dad. But the money, the money can make people happy. It can convince them to do a lot of things. Give up so much, dignity, pride, worth, principles and in this case a daddy. Just one more deployment. Then it can all be over. The wars, they will always be there. The next family can take care of them. His little girls are told to be proud of their daddy, his service and what he does for them. Perhaps one day they will fall in love and marry a navy guy that might make their Daddy proud.