Battalion Commander’s Meditation on Memorial Day

 by Colonel Kenneth Mintz

… after a year of combat, I saw a group of haggard veterans, lean and sinewy in uniforms bleached by sun and sweat, soldiers who had been through a terrible crucible and who absolutely loved each other

On Memorial Day we take pause to reflect upon those who we have lost, but I would suggest to you that we should also take pause to reflect upon those who are the most important to each of us in our lives. I realize that many of you are combat veterans who have an intensely personal connection to the significance of Memorial Day; we have all lost friends and comrades in war. There is not a day in my life that I don’t think about the Soldiers I lost as a commander in combat, and contemplate my decisions, and really think about and worry about those with whom I served. I feel a personal connection and commitment to those with whom I have served, and to the memory and the families of those who I have lost. I’m sure many of you feel the same way.

As I watch the Army struggle as an institution to deal with problems such as PTSD, suicide, sexual assault, resiliency etc… it occurs to me over and over again that what got us through combat is also what gets us through all the other problems. At the end of the day I believe that the chain of command is the single, best Army “system” that really works (or doesn’t), and that we all bear a responsibility to our comrades even when they are no longer in the active service. We can get through anything if we help each other and talk to each other and care about each other.

We can get through anything if we help each other and talk to each other and care about each other.

When I stood in front of my battalion after a year of combat, I saw a group of haggard veterans, lean and sinewy in uniforms bleached by sun and sweat, soldiers who had been through a terrible crucible and who absolutely loved each other, and who trusted one another, and who needed each other, a team of Soldiers who found confidence and swagger in their connection to one another, who together could accomplish anything, and endure any hardship, so long as they had each other. Soldiers fight for each other!

I love my family, and would gladly give up my life for them, but I have never had to face fire with them. I have never had to order them into a life or death situation. The connection I have with my comrades with whom I have served is therefore special and unique, almost more than family. Materially, that connection dissolves following a campaign, and as we move to new assignments, leave the service, or retire. It is the dissolution of this “family” that leads to problems such as depression, drug and alcohol abuse, relationship issues etc…ultimately a feeling of isolation and lack of purpose.

It is a strange irony that most people actually miss the experience of serving in combat. While you are living it every day you can’t wait to get home, but when you get home you find that you have a kind of curse placed upon you, the curse of forever missing this experience and your comrades in arms. In combat you had buddies that you loved and trusted, and who loved and trusted you. As an individual you had meaning, and were needed and counted on, and empowered. You felt as though you were a part of something important, and bigger than yourself, and that you were doing what most people cannot or will not do. In combat with your comrades there was real honor and integrity.

In combat with your comrades there was real honor and integrity. Back in the world it just isn’t the same, adrift in a sea of humanity that cannot understand you or your unique place in the world.

Back in the world it just isn’t the same, adrift in a sea of humanity that cannot understand you or your unique place in the world. We that have served have a responsibility to each other – it was that responsibility that got us through the hardest of times, and it is that same responsibility that we must continue to maintain with our comrades for the rest of our lives. We are so connected through social media, and other communications media. I have thought that we should revitalize and get involved in our Regimental Associations, and use those associations as a support group…and get together periodically for reunions to catch up face to face; to come together again to share our lives and our history.

No one is truly alone. If you need someone to talk to, reach out to those that truly understand. Together we can get through anything. Take care of each other.

Together we can get through anything. Take care of each other.

I close with a piece by John Donne written in 1624; it speaks to this idea that we have a responsibility to each other. It is this responsibility empowered through leadership that can get us through the issues we have in the Army today as well.

Meditation XVII by John Donne*

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

On this Memorial Day.

 

* Excerpt from Meditation XVII, full essay here

** Colonel Kenneth Mintz returned from his deployment as Joint Operations Officer for Regional Command East in Afghanistan this past winter. He has deployed three times to Afghanistan, once as Battalion Commander of 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment of the 10th Mountain Division; he deployed to Iraq for 15 months; and he deployed twice to Bosnia. In his 23 years of service, he has served in the Middle East commanding troops and implementing policy multiple times. (Link to Interview on War & Peace and the Middle East)

*** Colonel Mintz posted this letter May 22, 2015 on social media to peers, soldiers, and friends. It is reprinted here with permission.

About mylinhshattan

I’m a writer who has worked in the private sector, taught at college, and served in the U.S. Army. I hold a B.S. in Mathematics from West Point, an M.B.A. from Florida Southern College, and an M.F.A. in Writing from Queens University.