A soldier needs to feel loved

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 3, 2007


The word comes out with a loud exhalation. Now done with my last set of &uot;bent-over dumbbell rows,&uot; I put the weights back. I stretch and wince at the tightness in my back.

&uot;That’s gonna leave a mark tomorrow,&uot; I think. I figure I’m still paying for all the Cindy Lou Cheeseburgers I ate at Parker Drugs before I came out here.

Maybe that’s unfair. After all, cheeseburgers have never been shown to cause back pain. It’s more than likely the very fast exit I made into my &uot;Snatch&uot; vehicle last night, when the locals decided to send their love by lobbing rockets at us. By &uot;exit&uot; I mean I dived headfirst into the back of the vehicle, while my partner in crime prevention floored it.

I have my iPod at its highest volume setting, with Bob Dylan singing &uot;The Hurricane.&uot; I can only imagine how bad my singing is and catch myself as a guy walks in.

I know him. That is, I’ve seen him around and have heard the stories about him. I’ll call him &uot;Mick.&uot; Word is, this is his third tour in Iraq. He’s a quiet guy. He wasn’t always, though, according to some of the stories. He used to be a pretty funny guy, always quick with a joke.

About a year ago, Mick was a happily married man, with two little girls, serving his second tour in Iraq. He was an &uot;operator,&uot; a shooter. He caught bad guys. He worked hard, and his sole motivation for staying busy here was to take his mind off how much he missed his family.

His family was his life. He’d stop and show anybody pictures of his family. He called his wife every Saturday. He’d spend about 30 minutes on the phone talking to his family.

While most guys begged their significant others for care packages from home, he never did. He’d buy all sorts of souvenirs from out here and send them home to his family. Like most, he e-mailed his family every day, but he’d also hand-write a letter each night for his two daughters and his wife, no matter how exhausted he was from the night’s activities.

Toward the middle of his tour, there was a noticeable change in his demeanor. He wasn’t the same guy.

Instead of hearing stories about which of his kids got an A in school, people heard nothing. Instead of seeing him writing his nightly letters or e-mailing his loved ones, people saw him taking long walks along the fence line of the base. He seemed to prefer being alone.

Inevitably people asked him how things were going. &uot;Fine,&uot; he’d respond pleasantly. People knew better but didn’t know what else to ask. People would see him working out in the gym with his iPod on at full volume, not meeting the gaze of anyone. The same behavior applied at work. He never talked to anyone, unless absolutely necessary.

Then one day, people understood. Mick was found in his hooch, sobbing uncontrollably. In his hands, he clutched a thick sheaf of papers — divorce papers.

&uot;She couldn’t deal with all this any more,&uot; he said. He finally unloaded on his platoon sergeant. He was a complete wreck.

He said that she had grown tired of waiting for him to come home. She was lonely. She hated the fact that he loved a job that took him away from his family. She said she had been driven into the arms of another man because of this. She took the kids and went to live with her mother.

What could he do? He signed the papers, finished his time in Iraq and left to go home to an empty house.

He realized he’d become a shadow of his former self, so he volunteered to come back. He’s doing what he did on his last tour. He said he had nothing left back in the States. People are concerned about him.

I’ve seen guys lose legs, arms, fingers and any other extremity you can name. They are almost always fitted with prosthetics. But is there a prosthetic for an amputated soul? Once it’s gone, it’s gone, right?

The most important thing to anyone in a combat zone is to have that one constant in his life, that one thing that won’t change. It’s the difference between life and death for some. What is it? Just to feel loved.

Most of us can do without the parades, the prayers, the &uot;thanks yous.&uot; It’s not that we’re unappreciative. Quite the contrary. I, for one, am always floored by the amount of support that the public has for the military.

It’s just that the thing most of us need more than anything else — the thing that every &uot;Mick&uot; out here needs — is that knowledge that when we’re done here, a certain someone will be there to say: &uot;I’m glad you’re home. I really missed you.&uot;

We need that other person to hold out, just a little longer. We need that other person to keep the faith. Always.

What do I need? After that workout, I sure could do with a shower — and a cheeseburger.

Thomas More is the pseudonym of an intelligence analyst with the U.S. Navy, who makes his home in Franklin and is serving in Iraq.