Off to war

By John Toth

The second time is not as bad as the first time, but it’s still bad.

We smiled and kept the mood upbeat. We didn’t have much time to think. Things were hectic.

There were hugs, smiles, jokes. I even ran to the hotel to get a cellphone charger and raced it back to the airport. We told more jokes and stories, and then it was time to part.

We waved as long as we could. Then we walked out of the airport in Gulfport, MS. Bobby, my son, was on his way to Afghanistan again.

An emptiness set in, but not as bad as the first time. This is his second tour. I knew what to expect. I have become experienced in sending one of my children off to war.

It’s dramatic sounding, but that’s what I did. I know it’s not like going off to WWII or Korea, or Vietnam. This is a modern war. The chance of dying or getting wounded is a lot less than in previous wars. Statistically, the odds are in the soldier’s favor today.

Bobby is now one of the 88,000 troops stationed in Afghanistan. He is a medic at Bagram Air Force Base. What he does is something so unique that only .03 percent of the population of the Unites States does it … serve in the military and be based in Afghanistan.

In contrast, there are 759,200 lawyers and 661,400 physicians and surgeons in the U.S. Most people know someone who is a lawyer or doctor, but many do not know a soldier who has served in Afghanistan – or Iraq, for that matter, before we pulled out.

Most of us cannot even imagine what it would be like to serve in a war zone.

I’m looking through the photos Bobby posted of the trip and then on the base. These soldiers look so young. They’re just kids. They’re smiling, joking around, playing pranks, chilling at a hangout between flights.

Do they know how important they really are, or what a rare job they are doing? How a mistake can be a blemish on the whole country? They probably don’t give it much thought on a daily basis. Maybe years from now, or even decades, they will realize all of that.

Do they realize the danger? Bobby said he didn’t worry about it on the first tour, although it was in the back of his mind. Rocket attacks were routine. But they hit somewhere random, and no harm was done.
I worry about him every day. But, I also worried when he drove from Biloxi to home for seven hours.

Statistically, the chances of dying behind the wheel in the U.S. is much greater than dying in Afghanistan.
Just like plane travel is much safer than driving, unless you happen to be in a plane that’s crashing. The chance of that happening is minute, however.

If that rocket has your name on it, the danger increases tremendously. But the chance of that happening is also minute. Statistically. And, I worry.

I sat for a while with Harold Allen, my father-in-law, while visiting him in Dickinson on Memorial Day and listened to him talk about Korea, where he served as a Marine in the middle of the Korean Conflict (or, more accurately, war). The nightmarish stories he tells are nothing like today’s war. But war is still war. One side wants to kill people on the other side. That has not changed.

I’ll be glad when all of this is over, and everyone comes home safe and sound. Unfortunately, some won’t. Maybe after this war, we’ll wait a while before the next one. Maybe there won’t be a next one. Unfortunately, there will be.

People like Harold were the heroes back in the Korean days. Today, it’s the 88,000 men and women who serve our country in a war zone. For that, I thank them very much. And, I worry.