What Are We Fighting For?

A biweekly article series by

Chief Master Sergeant Bob Anderson

I’m Chief Master Sergeant Bob Anderson, and I’m honored to be writing to you from Balad Air Base in Iraq.

War Stories – Remember When?

I’m going to shift a little in this article because I want to talk about one item of compensation that is rarely mentioned in the press.

A military member is compensated for their service by promotions in rank along with increased pay. There are additional benefits such as the G.I. Bill that helps with education. Medical services are not as strong as they were when I first came in but they are there. We have the BX/PX system and the Commissaries that help with items civilians purchase at Wal Mart and other stores. We have ribbons and medals for services we perform and we are recognized for—and each of these is important.

However, the Awards and Decorations (better know as Awards and Decs) program has always been difficult to describe and administer. All of the stuff that I wear on my chest, I got doing what I thought was my job. The things I thought I should have gotten a medal for—no one ever saw, or no one ever bothered to submit a nomination for an award.

Promotions aren’t always available to a member because a slot doesn’t exist or they haven’t done their Professional Military Education (PME). Without the PME being completed a promotion is stopped. Unfortunately many extremely good troops are simply poor test takers.

I live nearly five hours from my base of assignment and don’t use the Commissary and only occasionally use the BX. After nine years of service, I did return to college and let the G.I. Bill pay for my Bachelor Degree—but that was 1978. Why then am I still in?

There exists a final benefit to military service that to me and those like me is one of the strongest—war stories. War stories are incidents we relate after the fact to folks as we try to describe what we do and what we have done. All war stories have several things in common:

1.They are invariably enhanced and exaggerated with repeated telling.

2.Seldom are they about good things.

3.Most end with a macabre point of view or valuable learning experience.

4.All identify challenges and obstacles that were struggled with.

5.Unlike fairy tells that begin with “Once upon a time__” a war story usually begins with “This is no S*@t__”

From a cultural anthropological point of view, war stories are history lessons. They are part of our verbal history of story telling. Often they are the only remaining vestiges of what really happened—no one else saw it, heard it or lived it. Like the story of my Dad who during World War II was on point when he knelt down and a sniper’s round pierced his collar and shot the epaulet of his jacket. I remember sitting listening to the story and I asked him, “What did you do?”

He responded with a laugh, “I grabbed my E-tool (that’s shovel to you civilians) and dug a fox hole so deep I had to cut steps in it to get out!” I know the part about the rifle slug almost hitting him was true; I don’t care if the part about the fox hole was or not—it made a great war story.

Several years ago my son returned from Kuwait where he spent three months living and working off his tank. We sat on the tail gate of my truck, drinking a little Jack while for the first time, I got to listen to his war stories. War stories are important to those of us that have served. They sometimes allow us to remember special people, sometimes allow us to laugh at ourselves, sometimes allow us to deal with adversities that happened decades ago, sometimes allow us to unexpectedly break down in tears, sometimes allow us to get angry over trivialities from another time and another place, sometimes allow us to find answers that we could not see before telling the same story the 150th time, sometimes allow us to make a point that will prevent someone else from making the same mistake, sometimes they are our way of honoring those that are not with us anymore—of honoring their memory and their lives—and sometimes they just allow us to remember.

Remember when we were there and the people that were with us. Remember a shining moment of bravery that we try to cover up with humor or a moment when we were less than we wanted to be and try to cover it up with a lesson in life. Sometimes we behaved as well as we thought we would, as brave, as righteous as noble—but we can’t usually say that directly. Sometimes we behaved as poorly as we feared, as wrongly, as ignobly—but we shouldn’t say that directly.

All war stories have a basis in fact. All war stories have a basis in truth—but the best war stories are just that—stories. Remembered by an older person, looking back on the scared, naive innocent person they used to be. War stories are important to a Vet. Sometimes it is all we have!

The chance to survive and return home and find someone who will be kind enough, gentle enough, sensitive enough to listen to what we know and hear about what we did. “There are some things that should be said for the hearing. There are some things that should be said for the saying. There are some things that should be said for both.” War stories help us remember and are a constant reminder of What We Are Fighting For!

God Bless our Troops and God Bless America!

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