Why is it so important to you?
Why do you work so hard to help others?
I will tell this one time. It is something unknown to all but those closest to me. Even many of my fellow soldiers with whom I served in combat are unaware of these things.
I shouldn’t be here.
I’m supposed to be dead.
I don’t mean the near fatal accidents, of which I’ve had several. I don’t mean the contract on my life by misguided Mexican gang members that led to my California Concealed Carry Permit. I don’t mean the bouts with various diseases that are often fatal in 3rd world countries. Nor do I mean the direct attacks on my person by nefarious criminals during my years of bodyslamming punks and facilitating their incarceration.
No. None of that.
During my Afghan tour, I took every opportunity to get outside the wire. Being saddled with a position on the Commander’s staff, when all I wanted to do was be a good old fashioned grunt, wore on me. Any excuse to go on a mission was acceptable, even if I thought that mission was pointless, which many of them were. I found excuses to take trips out to our supported COPs that received the most action and usually found a reason to stay longer than was necessary.
I wanted to be where the action was. We weren’t on an installation like KAF or BAF where people walked around without their weapons. We were out there, where the killers lived. I was bored.
When a mission came up that actually involved my designated additional duty, I was ecstatic. I couldn’t wait.
Then, I wasn’t placed on the convoy manifest. I couldn’t understand why. I asked and was told someone else would be going, not me. I exploded. I was so mad my protests shot all the way up to the Brigade Command Staff. A Major, who shall remain nameless, called me on a secure line to talk me down from the ledge.
Don’t worry about it. It’s not even a priority for us right now. We need you working on that other thing. I was told who would be going in my stead. It wasn’t even his assigned job!
What the fuck?
I said some very unkind things to a person I respected and liked. We used to debate social issues heavily and discuss the law as well as military life. Our careers combined had taken up 4 decades and there was much to discuss. He was a good man and I enjoyed his company.
But, not on that particular day.
“It’s no big deal,” he said. “Just one less thing for you to deal with this week.” He smiled and ignored my frustrated insults.
They were the last words he ever said to me.
My parting words were, “Bunch of assholes.”
It was one of the most beautiful days you could imagine. Clear, blue skies of the kind that can only apparently be found in backwater shitholes with no industry produced smog. The temperature was the kind of mild that made even full body armor seem acceptable.
I will never forget that day.
April 4th, 2012.
My friend, and the man with whom I was so angry that day, never returned from that mission. He was killed by a suicide bomber along with two other of our best soldiers. Seven others were seriously injured, a few less so, and several Afghan policemen and numerous civilians died with them.
If I had my way, it would have been me standing right there where he was when that cowardly terrorist detonated. He was there instead of me. He wanted to get outside the wire at least once on this tour, having been assigned as Staff just like I was. Just once. Being outside the wire was nothing new to him, having completed previous combat tours. He had remarked to me, while we waited to move out to “the box” at NTC, that this would be the last tour. He was going to retire and he was perfectly okay with the staff job because he had been there and done that enough.
So, it is now my mission, a solemn promise, that I will not waste my life in selfish pursuits. I will work to ensure that my fellow veterans are cared for – properly, and I will raise holy hell when I find a problem.
I’m also working to improve… me. Haunted by my angry words to a good man who would die instead of me, I now know that being a good man, a real, respectable man, takes work. I’m a work in progress.
I never had the chance to apologize. He will never know how truly sorry I am, how utterly ashamed I am.
Some day I hope to see him again. If so, I will make it right. Until then, I’m working to make things right here on this earth.
Rest in peace, Master Sergeant Shawn Hannon.