This is the book Eric Fifer was reading before he was killed in Iraq. I found it lying by the side of the road as we came out of the palm grove. It must have fallen from his pocket as he was being evacuated. I've had it ever since, but today I am mailing it to his father. It's not easy to give it up, but it belongs with his family.
OK, if you don't feel a little emotion rising within you after reading this get the hell off of my blog. Seriously, leave. For those of you that feel something after reading that and understand the bond soldiers serving together feel, especially those serving in combat...read it again. This is probably one of the most powerful things I have personally come across in social media.
I have often told people that the military is a haven for social butterflies. In a environment where a "stable" tour is one where you may serve 18 - 24 months after which you are sent somewhere else to have to build new relationships to a large extent, the concept of a "long term relationship" takes on new meaning. In many instances the time you get to interact with people is often much shorter...days, weeks or months. But these people are all you have in many cases, especially for younger troops who do not have families of their own. In such an environment people are forced to create very immediate yet strong bonds between themselves in order to fulfill a sense of security in their environment and, more importantly, to act as a team working towards the mission at hand. This means that often time you find yourself knowing and caring more about a person that you have only known for a few months than some friends from your childhood. Add to that the fact that men and women in combat not only are forced to live in close proximity to each other but also literally rely on one another to have each others' back to survive and this concept rapidly expands.
The love soldiers have for one another lies somewhere between a platonic relationship and true agape love as defined by religious scholars in my book. Brotherly love seems most appropriate to most but I would dare say that it does border on agape love in the way that they are often driven to sacrifice themselves for their fellow soldiers so willingly in battle, but differs in this respect that they are sacrificing generally for people that they know and care for and not totally and complete strangers. The famous lines from the play Henry V by William Shakespeare that spawned the entire "Band of Brothers" title used so much since the book and show of the same name seem very appropriate here...
"We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:"
Erik was amongst men that died that day. The fact that he lived and they perished is something that I am sure he had thought about since then, and that of other soldiers that were killed. A survivors guilt is common amongst combat vets and is one part of dealing with PTSD. If you or someone you know struggles with the "how" and "why" of surviving combat while others died I urge you to seek help. The Army, the VA or other such veteran agencies have people willing to listen to you and can help. Hell, if you want to talk to me drop me an email with your contact info and you can have my ear.
As a nation we are facing a point where the war in Iraq is winding down and, while the war in Afghanistan is still being fought, signs of its end are starting to appear. Personally, I say good deal. Too many young men like Sergeant Fifer have given their lives for what I can only say are modest gains in the region. That is not to trivialize their sacrifice, just my observations. Our nation is now awash with men and women suffering under the surface for serving their countries. Unlike some veterans of our past conflicts, we now recognize and can treat these warriors whose wounds do not only show. Call your Congressman or Senator and tell them to support funding for the VA and other agencies that can help these soldiers transition and move on with their lives.
Eric A. fifer, Sergeant, US Army
KIA 10/7/2005 Operation Iraqi Freedom