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Thoughts of a Deployed Soldier

Greg Givens, United States Army

Here is the highlight of my day:

After nap number two, I walk my happy ass down to the phone center and make some phone calls. It’s been a couple of weeks since I called home, so this is a real treat for all parties involved. First on the line was Dad.

He was surprised and very happy to hear from me. Cool. I get the status update from him. He and my Mom are in Wilmington visiting my brother Andy. I talked to him after Dad. He is almost finished with week two out of four of rehab.

Here is his story so far. Since he was about twelve he has been smoking weed. That changed about a year ago, right after he graduated from high school. The police raided our home and found some stems and paraphernalia. After that my brother stopped smoking, but he started using painkillers.

Over a period of a year he moved from morphine tablets to harder and harder prescription drugs. It got to the point where he was using his impressive alchemical skills to separate the active drug from the filler parts of the pill. Soon he’s using needles for the drugs.

This whole time I’m off doing my badass Army training, and the few times I come home I can’t offer enough of the kind of support Andy needs (something I deeply regret to this day). The last time I was home was in May he was totally strung out on heroin. It hurt me just to look at him. I tried talking to him, but I didn’t know what to say.

I met his dealer/best friend and the losers that he spent time with. Nice apartment in a nice neighborhood, sweet computer, big black couch, big TV. All in all a cool place, until you meet the people who live there (if you could call it living). They were like ghosts or zombies. Walking or laying around, every now and then bumping into each other and trying to relate. Except they can’t. Their mouths won’t work right when they try to talk, so it just sounds like a flow of muddy water instead of words. Even if they could talk, what would they have to say? What is important or interesting to a junkie? They either ignored me, or asked me some dumb ass question like what kind of gun I have. One of them had a pit bull who liked playing with me a little too much. The junkie owner grabbed the dog by the throat and the poor beast made a noise I have never heard any animal make.

The whole visit was one of the saddest events in my life. I wanted to kill them all. Punishment for being a waste of human life, or maybe mercy. I hated them for changing my brother. I shouldn’t though. Blame for his downward spiral rests more on our shoulders than theirs.

On the way home from the drug den, I finally knew what to say. I was angry. Not just at him, at everything and everybody. This was wrong. There was no reason he should be doing this, and no reason I should be allowing it. I might have been living on the other side of the country, but I am still his big brother and it is my job to look out for him. I told him how I felt and how I wanted him to quit. He agreed with everything I said. He wasn’t happy. How could he be? He wanted to quit, but it was hard for him. I told him about how I would pay for rehab if he would just go. He said he wanted to join the Army and escape that life. That made me really happy for some reason. I hoped something from our heart to heart would stick.

Two weeks ago our home was raided again. The sad irony is, according to him, he was cleaning his room and getting rid of the drug stuff so that he could pass the piss test for the recruiters. Then the police came. A year ago it was a knock on the door and a few uniformed officers served the warrant. This time around they brought SWAT. Body armor, automatic weapons, the works. Andy has never had any weapon-related or violent charges against him. I don’t understand why the police thought it was necessary to do that. Andy did not resist. When he heard them coming, he got down on the ground outside the door to his room (that room used to be my room). He told the officers that he had trouble with back pain and asked them not to hurt him. The first thing one of them did was put his knee in Andy’s back and he didn’t remove it until Andy threatened to sue.

Now he’s at a treatment center in Wilmington. Like I said, he sounds much better. He was overjoyed to hear from me. I was pretty happy to hear his voice so alive again. He still hopes to get his shot in the Army. I hope he does too. I’m proud of him. We’re praying that the prosecuting attorney will drop the charges if Andy is allowed to enlist. If the state labels my brother a felon, they are dooming him to a life of failure. It wouldn’t be the first time such a deal has been made. My team leader has been in for six years and he told me that he came in under similar circumstances. I know a few guys with the same story.

His story could have been mine too. I joined for a number of different reasons. My father’s health, the need to step up and help support the family, wanderlust, patriotic fervor, desire to do bigger and better things, long suppressed violent tendencies, failed relationships, all my friends were doing it, etc. etc.

One reason was that I was tired of doing the same thing every day. Working shitty jobs, going to shitty junior colleges, smoking and selling weed day after day after day with the people at the shitty job or the shitty college. That’s how many of us found ourselves in the Army. We wanted a way out of that life, either before we got into trouble or after we already had.

For what it’s worth, here is how I see it. The War on Terror, The War on Drugs, The War on Education, on Health care, on Infrastructure, on Variable: They are all the same War, and it’s one that we were never meant to win. It’s just another tool that the guys in charge use to maintain the status quo. Petty drug crime is like a back door draft. Go to war or go to jail.

Our public schools are well stocked with powerful drugs. Crack in the inner cities, weed and pills in the suburbs, meth in rural areas. Criminals provide the drugs, and the police don’t do everything they can to stop them. All the kids experiment. (Except for the brainwashed kids with super-strict religious parents. But don’t worry, they break once they go to college where Mommy and Daddy aren’t watching them.)

Some of the experimental kids try hard in school, they only smoke or drink on the weekends or during the summer. They pop their speed pills, and write papers and go to every class. They go to football games and socialize and get into the same university that their parents went to. Eventually they land that job that will keep them for the rest of their lives. Now they can afford their own prescription drugs (that they fail to safeguard.) They get a house and a spouse and spawn new experimental kids.

Some other kids don’t do that. Maybe their parents didn’t go to college, maybe they did. Maybe they are mad at their parents, or they hate school and the way of the world, or they are mad and they don’t even know why. So instead of buying in, they tune out. Headphones and hooded sweatshirts. If it makes you feel good without having to come out of your protective shell, do it.

The biggest test I ever failed in high school was the drug test. Not the kind where you pee in a cup. The kind where you get high and still pretend to give a shit.

Six years later I’m in Afghanistan standing by. I’m backstage at the big show, waiting to go on. The volume is getting louder and I’m anxious to get this party started. I am a hardcore death machine of an Infantryman, and I love my job more than I’ve ever loved anything.

A phone call home reminds me that I’m still on Planet Earth.

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