What do you do for a soldier who’s getting ready to leave for war?

Last night, I stopped by the local watering hole with the wee one to gulp a few cold ones down with some of the regulars and catch an episode or two of The Simpsons. Nothing unusual about that, it’s just that I hate going home to an empty house right after work, it makes the evening drag by even slower than normal.

Anyway, I was there shooting the shit and I noticed one of the youngsters who usually works in the back as a chef sitting at the end of the bar hunched over a beer. If you’ve spent as much time as I have with your foot propped up on a brass rail and your ass parked on a barstool, you come to recognize a certain something in a person’s posture as they sip their drink. They’re’ either yakking and laughing it up with some of their cronies, looking at something on the television or trying to put the moves on anybody who will listen. It’s usually a bad sign when somebody is staring down directly into their libation and seems oblivious to the things going on around them.

This is a good kid and I’m sure there are thousands and thousands just like him spread across the country but this one, this one is ours.

This is a good kid who takes extra care to cut the crusts off Anna’s grilled cheese sandwich and leave off the pickle when he knows it’s for her. This is a good kid who once tackled a guy who had just robbed the gas station across the street and held him down until the cops came and didn’t take any credit for it. This is a good kid who is quick with a smile and a joke and wouldn’t hurt a fly unless the fly had it coming. This is a good kid who goes bowling on Tuesdays and takes his mother to the store whenever she needs it. This is a good kid who joined the Marine Corp Reserves a few years back to try and follow in the footsteps of his father whom he loves and adores. This is a good kid who would follow you into a dark alley if he thought there was going to be some trouble and he might be able to help.

This is a good kid that I asked something along the lines of “What’s up?” and he responded that his unit was shipping out to Iraq come January 4th of 2005. They’ll be gone for at least a year.

I’m a former Marine myself and anybody who tells you that there isn’t a bond between fellow and former jarheads just doesn’t get it. My tour of duty was many, many years ago and I was fortunate enough never to have to face the kind of hostilities such as he seems destined to face in the coming days but there is still a sort of kindred soul thing that goes on.

I bought him a beer, we clinked our glasses in a silent toast and afterwards held our conversation is kinda hushed tones. I’ve never been fortunate enough to have been a big brother to anybody but a sense of brotherhood is what I think we felt. I told him to try and stay out of harm's way and he kinda looked at me and smiled. I think we both knew that sometimes no matter how hard you try, you just can’t avoid it. I asked this good kid if he was nervous and he looked at me and deadpanned… “We’ve been trained well.” With that he drained his glass and got ready to put on his coat. His car had died the other day and in the meantime, he was borrowing his dad’s. It was now time to return it and he, being a good kid, didn’t want to be late.

I leaned over to Anna and told her what had just happened, that the good kid was off to war. Her eyes got wide and she jumped out of her chair and gave him a big hug. This simple little act caused my eyes to mist over and when I looked at him, I noticed his had too.

We shook hands like men, firm grips and eyes locked together. A simple nod of the head and a quick manly embrace and a pat on the back was how we left it.

There’s a going away party for the good kid to be held at the bar on December 30th. I’ll probably go, not because I want to, but, because you never know if there’s going to be a coming home party a year or so from now.

UPDATE - September 29, 2005

A good kid has arrived safe and sound on American soil. The unit he was attached to suffered an inordinate number of casualties, thankfully he wasn't one of them and he is still in one piece. Let's hope that he returns to what he was but after seeing what he's seen, I kinda doubt it.

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