It was 21 years ago, but I still remember it like yesterday. Thank God it was only practice. We were peeking over a ridge line, watching the A-4s practice their strafing and bombing. They're fast, and loud, and the flew for most of the morning...it really was impressive. We moved that night...LRRPs only move at night. Another morning, another ridge, looking for anything that moved. We were hoping for a column of tanks, instead we found a Tactical Operations Command post (a TOC). We'd be heros for the mission, and we knew it. The protocol was clear. Once we radiod in the TOC, we'd have 1 hour to exit the area (the army has a more colorful phrase, but I'll spare you that!). "TOC in the open, Over...I repeat, grid coordinates 15347690." 8 digit grid, the A-4s would have no problem finding the TOC. We packed quickly, ready to move out. I was throwing my ruck over my head and onto my back - a slick move infantry soldiers learn quickly. I looked up, and there they were. 2 A-4s, fast movers. Low, and fast like lightning. Time stopped for a split second and I almost swear I could read the pilots name on the skin. A second later they were gone, the trees now waving in the jet wash as the ground rumbled. I was terrified, we all were...at least the new guys. In that moment I felt so vulnerable. We never saw them coming, never heard anything until they were past, and then the sound was deafening, reaching right into your chest. We turned and watched as they fired their missles. Small tactical nukes, we had been briefed. We were too close, still in the fallout radius and we all knew it. So much for the hour. Nobody said a word other than "move out," for a very long time. We all marched silenty, considering our mortality. We made a pact; that never again would we call in an airstrike until we were clear...the TOC wasn't going anywhere. And we were hero's for the day. The Colonel was in the tent - we smoked him. The 7th was without effective command for 8 hrs. Enough to secure the battle. We sure didn't feel that way though - like heros. This isn't an anti-military entry...just a memory - that's all.
A kid asked me the other day, "are you a veteran?" Yeah, I said. "What war?" I'm not a war veteran, I said. For the 11 years I was in, we were mostly at peace. God was gracious to me, I know I'd be a different man today, had I gone to combat. I'm proud of my red beret, of my airborne wings and my DI hat. I'm proud I had a chance to serve. And I'm proud of all the men who've served before, during and after me. Combat or not. There are some things worth dying for, and though I feel blessed to be alive, it was worth the risk...Freedom is worth the risk.