Send Me Back to Combat, By Dominic Mancuso

Recently I was commenting on a public forum (ok… it was Facebook…) that I would be willing, in a heartbeat, to go back overseas to combat. One of the guys I served with and subsequently work on Veterans issues with asked me something that I honestly had to thinking about; “Why”. I knew I wanted to go back over but I couldn’t exactly nail down the “why”. Why would I want to go back and live through that all over again? The desire to be in combat might seem strange to those who have not had that trial by fire, but to those who have seen it, fought through it, and survived it can feel it become a mild addiction. It’s not that they are (we are) blood thirsty villains, though there are people like that; luckily they are a minuscule amount of the population. Most deplore the killing of another human being so what is it? It’s a much more primal addiction; tapping into a natural aggression that not many ever experience (less than 1% in the US because of how relatively safe we all are within our borders). Some Combat Veterans find themselves wanting to go back to combat for a multitude of reasons; to help someone who has never seen combat better understand I did a bit of soul searching and will list off what I came up with for my reasons for wanting to go back: 1) I would go back to feel the self-actualization I felt over there, again. 2) I would go back because I don’t think the job is done. 3) I would go back because I was good at it and the adrenaline rush is completely unique 4) I would go back because I still believe in it. To fully understand these things, of course you would have to of been there. But, let me try and explain it in a way someone outside of the military life might understand.

I have often spoke of Veterans having issues in the transition because what they find themselves doing in their civilian lives is wholly for themselves with no greater sense of purpose. Some are able to scratch that itch by engaging in veterans activism, establishing a business that’s gives people job, etc etc etc… but to be a part of armed struggle, a military conflict… a war… a person finds themselves no longer living in their own little piece of the world puzzle but instead they are thrust into the pages of history books yet unwritten, living the life of someone who is on an adventure for the greater good. It is not easy to come back from that kind of lifestyle. If Soldiers/ Sailors/ Marines/ Airmen in an all-volunteer military did not believe in what they were doing they simply would disobey their orders. It is, after all, a mandate to not follow any order they consider to be immoral. So to commit their mind, body, and spirit into an armed conflict then to leave it all behind is no small feat. Things like working a 9-5 office job feels very minute and bland because in the end they are only working that job to pay for food, shelter, and entertainment. To have once held a position in a fighting force whose sole aim is to bring lasting freedom, economic value, and safety to an enslaved people and to then be working behind a computer, filling reports, and paying bills is nothing but a shot to ones self-worth. The self-actualization of being a part of an armed conflict is beyond anything that can be compared to in the civilian world. It is awesome in its power of self-motivation and confidence. To be ripped from that life, for whatever reason someone leaves it, over time makes them miss it and want to go back.

Private First Class Kyle Hockenberry, 19, lost both legs and his left arm in the blast. June 15, 2011 He was on a foot patrol just outside Haji Ramuddin, Afghanistan, when an improvised explosive device detonated nearby. In this photograph, by Laura Rauch for the military’s Stars and Stripes newspaper, flight medic Corporal Amanda Mosher is tending to Hockenberry’s wounds aboard a medevac helicopter minutes after the explosion. ~ Time Magazine

Nothing makes someone who takes pride in what they do miss something more than leaving a “job” that is unfinished. Think of it this way; if Vincent Van Gogh never finished Starry Night, do you think he would be able to move on with his life knowing one of his greatest works is unfinished? To someone who has put blood, sweat, and tears into something and then knowing it waits unfinished can become a point of obsession and want to finish it, no matter the cost. We are now in our 15th year of conflict in the Middle East, and it has not shown signs of slowing down. Old threats are eradicated and new ones appear to fill their shoes. All Iraq and Afghanistan combat vets see this and feel “the mission is not yet over… The job is not done… the work is not complete…” so they feel the need, the desire, to go back over and finish the job. This is most evident in the hundreds of American Military Veterans who have volunteered to go back to Iraq and fight with the Kurds against ISIS, on their own dime, receiving no compensation and outside of the United States Government control. To their core they believe in that fight and want to see it finished. A cause has to be pretty powerful for someone to abandon all of their well-earned comforts of home to the hardship of combat life. There is, however, a more chemical side to the love of just-war on top of the moral righteousness of it.

There is no greater rush, no greater high, than to survive death-dealing combat. Your body pumps so many endorphins into your system that is just an absolute sensation beyond anything you can ever comprehend. It’s not a good feeling, it’s not a bad feelings, its singular… in its own category and the only way to unlock it is to experience the combat-rush. That adrenaline rush, exposed to it enough, and someone can become a junky for that “Combat Dope”. Now, only less than 10% who experience combat actually get this “high” (according to Dave Grossmen and his workings on the psyche of the brain in combat with his “killology” research). It is not considered a bad thing, or a good thing; It just is. But to add good-cause for it to be happening, the combat veteran sees no reason to stop pursuing that high until the job is done. It comes back to that Wolf, Sheep, and Sheep-dog analogy that is often and wildly boasted (and rightly so). The wolf enjoys violence, the sheep deplores it, and the sheep-dog loves doing violence onto those who would do violence onto those who wish not to do it themselves. The wolf attacks the sheep, the Sheep dog attacks the wolf. The wolf is killed and the sheep are saved. There is no greater feeling than to do bad things to people who only like to do bad things onto innocent people. That rush of righteousness is singular and addicting as long as it is from the service of doing harm onto those intent on doing harm to innocents.

Combat is the single, all encompassing, worse thing I have seen in my short life so far. It is also the most beautiful and powerful. People willing to go through such physical and emotional pain so that others do not have to is more precious and venerable than anything I can think of. To be willing to lay down one’s life so someone else can live, to 100% believe in it, is not something you will ever come back from. Once you reach that pinnacle of selflessness it will always be with you… Then to no longer be in a life where that is something someone would ask of or expect from you is kind of depressing in its own way. I believe this is why so many Combat Veterans pursue civilian careers in Law Enforcement, Firefighting, EMS, and Federal Agencies… because they don’t want to lose that ultimate level of self-actualization which is the self-worth of knowing you are willing to lay down your life so that others may live.

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