Fallen Comrade

A Momentary Lapse In Judgment Can Cause Lasting Consequences

I couldn't help but reflect upon the events that recently transpired, which brought me to this point. The honor guard had just finished folding the flag that was draped over the coffin of my CO. The flag was handed to me and I presented this triangular-shaped banner to the spouse of my fallen commanding officer. The flood of emotions that came over me at that moment were absolutely unbearable. The well-worn cliché, "war is hell," suddenly rang true with resounding emphasis, as the bitter truth of this whole malady finally came home to me.

Could this whole travesty have been avoided? I now realized this needless exercise in futility didn't have to take place. I blamed myself for the untimely events that led up to this debacle. I came to the conclusion that I was the only one who could have prevented this whole thing from happening. I was the one who should have seen this coming. If I would have taken the appropriate actions, we wouldn't be here now. "Could have, should have, would have," seemed to be the story of my life. How could I have been so blinded in my judgment of the various situations, that preceded this whole quandary.

I was a good soldier, a twenty-two year veteran, a no-holds-barred, go-getter, who pulled out all stops to get things done and make things happen. I prided myself on being the proverbial "mover and shaker," didn't take no for an answer and made rank in minimum time. I was the first sergeant in a local reserve unit. I backed the troops and officers to the hilt, but I also expected them to back me. That was an integral part of my personal code and I made sure my charges knew that from day one. I thrived on being an effective liaison between the officer corps and the enlisted grades, making them "tow the mark."

So how a good upstanding soldier like myself, of such high moral values, could find himself in this situation, is beyond me. It all started out when my son enlisted in my unit, even though I tried to discourage it. I didn't want to take the chance of being accused of favoritism, which is hard not to do, even though you try to treat him like one of the other soldiers. My son became a good soldier, because he had a lot of passion and heart for what he was doing.

Our former CO was a good man who got caught up in impropriety and as a result lost his command. All the men really loved him, being he was more people oriented than mission oriented. The men really took it hard when he was drummed out of his commission. My son took it especially hard because he was really fond of the CO.

His replacement was a military genius and a superb tactician, so he was more mission oriented than people oriented. He led by example and had a "down in the foxholes" mentality, so he won the respect of the men. However, he drove the men hard and expected a lot from them, which wasn't necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes his methods were called into question by the men, who didn't always understand the reasons behind his actions.

This ended up being a good thing, since our unit got called up to go to Afghanistan. The training the men received under the command of the new CO proved valuable in the conflict. I believe my son started building resentment toward the new CO because he didn't agree with his training methods. My son was an expert marksman who could pick off a flea on the rump of a Tamarisk gerbil at 100 yards. Because of his superb marksman skills, my son was used extensively to take out Al-Qaida and Taliban snipers.

My son's brewing animosity toward the CO was reaching the boiling point, and I was aware of it even though he tried to hide it. It became infectious among the men and I should have diffused it long before that time, but I allowed my nepotism to get the best of me. I should be smart enough know that this is a very dangerous precedent to be established in a battle situation. This can undermine the entire cohesiveness and effectiveness of the unit.

That fateful day began as normal when we were out on patrol. A lone Taliban sniper had the CO in his sights and my son normally would have wasted no time in taking this insurgent slime out. He hesitated for only a moment, but that was all the sniper needed. The sniper's bullet found its mark in the head of our CO and of course the wound proved fatal. Did my son allow his animosity to color his judgment in this situation? Possibly. I know I allowed my judgment to be colored, which to say the least, caused me to conduct myself in a very unprofessional manner. This could have placed my entire unit in jeopardy.

I now found it very difficult to look our fallen commanding officer's wife in the eye. I don't know if I can live with myself. My son is taking this extremely hard, because he realizes that runaway emotions can be very dangerous on the battlefield.

Our unit is back home now and I'm heavily involved in fund raising for the children and families of our fallen comrades. Since I feel responsible, this is a small way I can try to make up for my momentary lapse, which caused lasting consequences. My son spends a lot of time reaching out to the children of our fallen CO, which helps him deal with his momentary lapse.

When life throws its twists of fate in our direction, we don't always respond in the most positive way. If we determine to live day-to-day as though our every action may have permanent consequences, we may find ourselves choosing differently. As we continually strive to make decisions driven to achieve the most positive outcome in all circumstances, we'll have less opportunity to experience regrets.