Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Presence and Absence

My husband is currently serving in Basra, and last week they lost three of their soldiers. These are the photos and thoughts from one of the soldiers that is currently serving with my husband.

Somewhere during kindergarten between nap time, cookies, and story time, we learn that when the teacher calls our name, we respond. “Here,” we cry with the boisterous enthusiasm of youth. We continue the tradition on sports teams, on road trips, and at work. Throughout our lives we engage in this ritual so pervasive that it becomes second nature, barely noticed, or poked fun of with a variety of unique responses. Roll takes on an added level of importance in the Army. Leaders at all levels must maintain accountability of the Soldiers in their care.

As we learn about presence, we often learn about absence. When the teacher calls a name unanswered, everyone looks around the room. Where are they? Are they sick? What happened? The teacher repeats the name. The questions and concerns deepen. In the Army, the lack of an affirmative response leads to a certain amount of anxiety, missing formation or movement can mean loss of rank and pay and results in an immediate search for the missing Soldier.

**2030h I sat up at the local internet cafĂ© across from the stage where local bands occasionally play, uploading my latest notes and pictures. The internet connection slowly chewed one byte at a time from my computer. Outside Soldiers wandered about, some coming from the newly opened gym – others from an MWR nearby. The empty stage stood where a concert by Catch Penny might have happened had it not been cancelled. The evening breeze mixed leisurely with the air still heated by the desert sand.

2105h. I finished my uploads, packed up my computer, and left.

2115h. A loud siren screamed through the darkness as I approached my housing block. “Incoming, Incoming, Incoming.” I quickly took cover in one of the concrete and sand reinforced bunkers that dot the COB. In the distance, I heard muffled thuds as the rockets impacted somewhere out in the darkness. A few more soldiers jumped in the bunker. Dust from the dirt floor floated almost motionless in the air as if it too sought shelter.

***Not everyone was safe that night. Not too far from the stage where Catch Penny didn’t play, three young specialists lay mortally wounded: “Spc. Daniel P. Drevnick, 22, a military policeman and native of St. Paul, Minn., Spc. James D. Wertish, a military policeman and native of Redwood Falls, Minn. and Spc. Carlos E. Wilcox, a platoon medic and native of Golden Valley, Minn.”

***Final roll call, one of the US Army’s most deeply moving and emotional ceremonies, took place last night at the end of a memorial service for the three Soldiers. A senior NCO called the unit to attention then started to call out the names in the unit. When he reached the names of the fallen Soldiers, he called, “SPC Drevnick” and waited in heartbreaking silence for a response that would never come. “SPC Daniel Drevnick” – again the terrible silence. “SPC Daniel P. Drevnick.” . . . Nothing. This continued for each soldier until a 21 gun salute broke the cycle - loudly - too loudly. Then Taps sorrowfully closed out a ceremony for three young Soldiers who will never have children learn about roll call between cookies and naps in kindergarten.

***The enemy thinks these attacks wear us down, that they destroy our morale. They don’t. They bring everyone together. When a Soldier dies, the petty bickering, the destructive gossip, the politics and rivalries that form a good part of daily human interaction seem – well – petty. United in purpose and resolve, difference cast aside, we soldier on as our fallen brethren would want.

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