My Time On Operation Southern Watch, 1992

My last year on active duty, I spent a few months in the desert. Combat zone. No combat.

Only one photo I know of taken of me when I was over there. Squad photo. Me and the guys, standing outside our Humvee, weapons in hand, right before going out on patrol.

So I took the only copy of the photo I was given, stuck it inside a letter I sent to my mom.

Years later, I asked her about that photo. Thought maybe I’d try and get a copy. Like I said, it was the only photographic proof I was even over there.

She told me, “Oh. That. I threw it away.”

Mom told me that getting the letter with that photo, seeing her firstborn in uniform, “holding a machine gun”, and smiling for the camera, no less, well…

Seeing that was really painful, she said.

Because it reminded her that she’d “failed”.

“We protested against Vietnam so that our kids would never have to be soldiers and fight wars.”

I didn’t know how to respond to that at the time, partly because the naivete of that sentiment was embarrassing.

The more I thought about it, the more it bothered me, because it was clear not only that she believed it, that that was going to be the outcome– no more fighting, no more wars, ever– but that, apparently, it was only our country that needed convincing to quit fighting.

Not the NVA. Not the Soviets backing them.

Just us.

Because, apparently, Americans were the only bad guys in the world.

And that it was street theater, and street theater alone, that was going to keep the country free.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful, I thought, if only it were that easy.