A Ten Year Hope

May 20th, 2009

cigar-smokeThe things we did as soldiers, the rituals that bound us together, really helped to shape us into the men and women we are today. I can remember some of them and I know that today, many of them are frowned upon and some are even considered criminal. But we thrived in them and they bound us together as brothers and sisters…….forever.

If you were in the military, I’d love to hear about the rituals or traditions you began or carried on. That’s what the military is based on. That’s why it doesn’t change. It’s tradition. It’s regulation. It’s building upon the foundation and carrying on in the same way that so many great men and woman did in the past. The difficulty we all faced, bound us together and for those of us who served, we have stories to tell. I truly think that from the first days of basic training when the realization hits us that we are no longer an individual and it stinks, thats the day we all begin to change from being boys and girls into men and women.

There is a passage that says that when we were children we thought as children. But now that we have grown up, we have put away those childish things. I’m glad that’s true from a Biblical perspective. But I’m also glad that there is still some of the whimsical kid in all of us and we never forget how to really play and have fun. This brief story is one of the promises we made to each other so many years ago and I hope it’s come to pass.

Back during my days in the military, I had friends who I would have gladly given my life for and I know they would have laid theirs down for me. We were a unit. Challenges, missions, battles and war, the threat of it, and the happening of it, bound us together. We wrote letters to our families and gave them to each other to be mailed just in case something happened to us. We talked of our hopes and dreams, shared our thoughts and took a terrible beating when we said something too mushy or sensitive. It was great fun. We would grind each other up, and get ground up. It was just how things worked and it bound us together.

We celebrated each others accomplishments. We would give each other blood stripes, blood wings, bloody this and bloody that. Somehow, we love inflicting pain on each other and it wasn’t so bad when we were the recipients. We knew we mattered when our brothers cared enough to line up and punch our new stripes or wings into our chests until the points on the back of them would puncture our chest and our shirts turned a crimson red. It was tradition and it felt good. Yes its strange and it probably doesn’t happen that much any more, but we loved it.

But, there were also more tender times where the young men we had become struggled against the emotion we all fought so hard to push down deep inside us. I can remember so vividly the days leading up to day that buddies of mine rotated back to the states or out of the military. We would celebrate, party, fight, laugh, and make promises, all to put aside the pain of loss we all were about to experience. It’s been going on for centuries. Men and women bound together and then separated because the time had come for seasons to change. One of those events hit me particularly hard and so, to keep a promise, ten years later I honored the word we had all sworn and wondered if they had done the same.

There were about four of us that had grown particularly close. We did everything together and we thought of each other as true brothers. Nothing would have been too much for any of us to ask of the others. It would have been done. Well, The time came for us to part ways and we were devastated. You could feel the tension in the air as we drew closer to the day of separation and we even fought and did our best to pull ourselves apart from one another. But, the brotherhood was too strong and we always ended up arm-in-arm telling lies to each other and laughing like tomorrow would never come. Yes,…….I loved my brothers. Couldn’t say it then, but gladly admit it now.

So deep was the pain of loss we were about to feel that we went out and found a way to carry on the tradition which so many soldiers had done before us. We wanted to do something that would unite us down the road. We didn’t want to make hollow promises to each other of keeping in touch although they eventually were spoken even though we all knew that they probably wouldn’t be honored. So, we bought a bunch of cigars in glass cases and we each wrote our names on them and made a promise to each other. The promise was this: In Ten years, on the exact date of our separation, at a particular time, we would open the cases, smoke the cigar and remember. We would remember each other and celebrate the friendship that the military had blessed us with and thus, carry on a tradition.

Ten years to the day, I found that cigar, opened it, lit it and remembered. My thoughts of my brothers flowed over me and I contemplated the vastness of time and wondered where the paths of their lives had taken them. I thanked the Lord for having given me such men in my life and allowing me to experience such great friendships and I hoped that they were alright. As the smoke lifted lazily into the air, I wondered if they too were sitting somewhere, looking out into the world and thinking the same thoughts. One thing I know they were thinking for sure:

“This is one stale cigar! How did I let those chumps talk me into something this stupid!”

Brothers forever.

I love my brothers. Ziggy, Deputy Dog, Gordy, Mikey Fitz, SSG Moment, Gonzo, Dave, If you’re out there, I miss you.

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