My worst fears became harsh realities in combat. Two months into my deployment, a fellow platoon leader was killed in an I.E.D. strike. Shortly afterwards, my former team leader — one of my favorite non-commissioned officers — went missing in a firefight and was eventually found dead. Then, three of my soldiers, two fresh out of high school and the other a young father of three, were killed in a mountainside ambush. While I was still reeling from these terrible losses, my larger-than-life commander and two soldiers were killed in another I.E.D. strike. Throughout my tour, my mind drifted back to my fallen comrades as I struggled to move on. Each loss shook me to my core.
I am now a 29-year-old student in graduate school. I serve in the National Guard, with my final discharge scheduled for next May. I returned from Afghanistan over two years ago. While my combat experience seems distant, my worry for friends serving overseas keeps me closely connected to the present wars. In a morbid routine, I scan the newspapers and casualty reports fearing the worst. As losses mount, fresh wounds add to old ones that never healed.
I am overridden with conflicting emotions. I am indescribably proud of my service, but can never feel good about it. I did the best I could with an impossible situation, but left behind what has become one of the most violent and unstable valleys in Afghanistan.