The ones who stay behind
Gideon D. Asche.
Recently I had to make the long drive to Travis Air Force Base for a medical exam. I found myself sitting outside X-ray with a bunch of other guys who didn’t want to be there either.
Some were active duty, some retired and as usual, there was one guy intent on convincing everyone within earshot that he was Rambo incarnate; telling stories of past glories to anyone who would listen, always loud enough for everyone to hear. I wanted to pinch his head like a big zit to shut him up.
Rambo finally went in for his X-rays leaving an active duty PJ (Air Force Para-Rescue), one old guy in a wheelchair and myself to entertain ourselves. The old guy was a VA patient. I saw his card. I’m not sure if Rambo embarrassed him, or he always wrestled with the issue, but he kind of blurted out “I didn’t really do nothin’ worth talkin bout.” He said he served between wars in the ’50s.
Informed we had at least an hour to kill, the three of us moseyed down to the dining facility. The PJ pushed the wheelchair; he nudged me and quietly pointed to a small lapel pin on the old soldier’s hat. The silhouette of an SR-71 superimposed over a globe circled by the words: “ALONE, UNARMED AND UNAFRAID.”
My new PJ buddy asked the old guy if he was a Blackbird Driver. A tiny smile formed, just the corners of his mouth, then the affirmative nod. He said he flew “Recces” over Europe in the late ’50s & ’60s, back before the Soviets figured out how to “shoot high enough to hit us.” I’m sure he said “over Europe,” because of leftover security briefings.
Recce pilots flew right into the heart of the Mother Russia shooting film of Soviet assets. In doing so, they also “shot the bird” at the entire Soviet Missile Defense Command. This angered the Central Committee.
It takes guts to go into combat armed to the teeth wearing body armor, with a squad of men you trust to your left, right and rear. Knowing you can call in medivac and air support if things go bad helps too, but consider flying 2000 miles into enemy territory, unarmed and alone with no available QRF or extraction assets.
Just contemplating it puts me at a Pucker Factor of about PF-6. I’m pretty sure my rectum would bite holes right through the nylon webbing and leave dents in the seat armor if I ever had to do it in real life.
The SR-71’s only defenses were her speed and flight altitude. If a Mig could get in range, he had you. Recce Pilots could egress a crippled ship, but what good would it do to eject over the USSR at Mach-2. The only two actual defense mechanisms provided for the pilot were the ability to destroy the aircraft and “The Coin.” They each had a special coin in their flight suit pocket. One edge opened revealing a very small hypodermic device. When injected it ended the pilot’s life within four minutes.
The old guy flew with a camera instead of a gun. Personally, I think it takes more courage to go into hostile territory armed only with a camera and some cyanide than it does to go in packing a Barrett – That’s just my opinion though.
The three-hour ride from Travis to my home in the Sierras gave me time to think. Time to think about what the old warrior said. I was, and still am completely puzzled at the description of his service as “nothin’ worth talkin bout.”
I wish I could go back and tell him a few things. First, I would tell him that men like him are the reason my parents could sleep at night with confidence their children were safe. Second, I would tell him the story of a great general who lived a little over 3000 years ago.
General David Bar-Jesse was the baddest SOB in the valley. His army simply did not lose, and it wasn’t made up of conscripts. In those days standing armies were rare. Kings usually hired mercenaries and only raised conscript armies in times of war, but General Bar-Jesse’s army were all volunteers or mercenaries who chose to serve him alone.
Eventually, local kings realized that even the mercenaries they would normally hire to do their fighting refused to fight against Bar-Jesse. Many began to wear the General’s mark branded into their shield arm; a sign of loyalty and a reminder of who they served in battle. Even today, it is common for foreign soldiers and mercenaries who fight for the general’s descendants to take his mark in retirement. – I bear it myself.
The General’s men were always ready. Even in times of peace they tended their crops and worked their trades with weapons in reach, always prepared to answer the call. Loyalty to their General was a way of life.
I studied General Bar Jesse’s tactics and style of command. I found that General Bar-Jesse had one very odd policy for his time in history. He always left one-third of his combat troops at home.
Along with soldiers who were ill, injured, worn out, or occupied in the business of running his city, he left a contingency of combat troops to protect the city. He did the same with any bivouac sites. It seems like common sense, but he went a step further when the fighting end of his army returned victorious with the spoils of war General Bar-Jesse always ordered that the ones who stayed behind with the gear would get the same share in the loot as the soldiers who went out to battle.
He was a wise officer, this boy General who took command as a teen. He understood the true act of valor initiated when the soldier offered himself for service and acknowledged the willingness to go into battle. He recognized the commitment to serve as the real sacrifice, and he made sure his men knew it.
Who deploys and who stays is not a decision made by the individual soldier. All have the possibility of deployment, but the ultimate decision rests with command. Today, for every Night Stalker, A-10 jock, Ranger or SWO out in the field, there are a couple of hundred others called to act as support.
I didn’t get to say it to the old Warrior at X-ray, so I’ll say it to you now…
It makes no difference if you were a stevedore and never left South Carolina or you were a clerk typist who stayed CONUS when your National Guard unit deployed. One thing I can guarantee you is: You are an important part of taking every objective.
Be damn proud you served our flag.
I salute you, Soldier to Soldier.
I would be proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with you in battle.
Fratribus Sine Pari
Authors note: General David Bar- Jesse (son of Jesse) is commonly referred to as King David. The guy with Valley of the Shadow of death speech; the one ending in I will fear no evil.
– Have you ever wondered why he “Fear(ed) no evil?”-
Cause he had 2 Rangers and a Night Stalker with him… King David even calls them by name in verse-6, they just left out their ranks in translation: “(SGT) Surely, (SGT)Goodness and (CW4) Mercy shall follow me…”
(Sorry… it was a much better joke when the PJ told it.)