Part 1: No one goes behind the generator
The sound is deafening. It smells like JP8, exhaust, and dirt mixed into a toxic, sweltering cloud. Usually, the ground is littered with an array of ancient plastic bottles, relics of some past water bottle contract. Generators are positioned in hard to reach corners of compounds and only barely accessible for refueling. They are usually semi-entombed in concrete barriers to protect them from mortars – which traps the tiny, noxious, atmosphere within protective walls.
No one goes behind the generators.
I went behind the generator. In the noisy, hot confusion, I found a quiet safety in which to fall totally and completely apart.
If the generator could talk, it would tell of great sadness. A sadness born in an unimaginable world that is unfair and cruel and ruthlessly selective. It would tell of frustration – trying to remember my mission despite feeling our objective was just recycled from a different theater or an older war. Knowing surely that I mattered to the people I served, but questioning some days if they even know I existed. Feeling with every email or post, that the people I left behind were slowly leaving me. Watching my dreams get harder and harder to catch.
And fear. The bitter taste of true fear that comes when I saw how easy and final death really was.
The generator would also talk of strength. Of looking the fear, and death, and sadness squarely in the face – feeling every bit. The generator would tell of the birth of courage, which came in the moment when the tears ran dry and sobbing stopped with a rattling gasp. In those eternal seconds, courage would be born. Birthed in the decision to continue on.
Behind the generator- the Soldier chooses to stand, wipe the tears and dust, sling the rifle, and simply go to chow.
The next day, the mission will call. And we will choose to go out again.
I learned to go behind the generator from a good friend. She too lived this life that was both so full of reality and yet so empty. She knew how the conflict of emotions after death, crashes, sandstorms, pointless missions, and nearly dying for some dumb ring route could rip at the core of person. One day, she told me to go behind the generator and feel it all. “No one goes behind the generator,” she said. The generator won’t talk. No one will ask questions. She said I would be okay.
She was right.