Chapter 2

The Beginning of the End

June 2004

 

I collapsed to the confined bathroom floor, certain I had just made the biggest mistake in my 17 years of life, a mistake so immense that it would ultimately cost my life. I cradled my head in my hands, weeping bitterly onto the tile floor.

For the first extended period of my life, I was leaving my hometown of Zion, Illinois. Moments ago in a hotel lobby just outside of Chicago, I had said goodbye to my family for what felt like forever. Just a month-and-a-half earlier, I had enlisted in the U.S. Army National Guard for six years, and now I was in this doleful hotel room awaiting a flight to go to South Carolina for basic training. I wasn’t even a high school graduate, and I had already signed my life away to the U.S. government. I had just finished my junior year of high school, and by the time my senior year rolled around, I would be a bona fide United States soldier. I was a cicada; I had waited the last 17 years to finally surface and maximize my potential for one fleeting summer.

The last month of my junior year was a tough one, because even though I would only be gone for a little over two months, it felt like it was the beginning of the end of my life. I had been admonished by teachers for enlisting to serve under the “evil Bush regime,” and several friends told me that I made a fatal decision. My parents, who had to co-sign my enlistment papers as I wasn’t even a legal adult yet, were criticized and told that I was going to die and that my blood would be on their hands.

When I lifted my head out of my palms, I couldn’t see a thing through my teary vision, save for the toilet that was smack in front of my face. Just like so many of my friends and family and teachers, I was sure that even the toilet was judging me for my decision.

At 17 years old, you’ve already thrown away your life. How does it feel to know that?

“Stop. I don’t regret what I did.”

You’re going to regret it when you have to kill somebody. Will you be able to live knowing you ended someone’s life? What will you do when you realize you’re innately a wild boar; a brute; a predator? How might you answer God when He asks you why you willingly became a killer?

“That’s a low blow. Don’t make this about God’s judgment.”

But your whole life is about God! If you really believe in what you say you do, then how can any decision not be a matter of faith to you?

“It is a matter of faith, but what I’m saying is I can still be a Christian and be okay with killing during war.”

You’re lying to yourself. Let’s be realistic: why’d you really do it? Don’t you have any common sense?

“Yes, of course I have common sense! I know what I’m doing.”

You think so? Then you must be aware that this will be the death of you. Your death will spiral your family into a deep depression. All because you wanted to be something better. Is that worth it?

“It’s not about me. I’m a patriot. I’m doing this for my country. And if I die for my country, so be it. I have a duty to give back to the people what they have so graciously given me.”

What people? You think anybody ever went to war because they genuinely cared about you? People go to war because they had nowhere else to run to, not because they want to protect anyone.

“You’re wrong. You just don’t get it. It’s about justice. The September 11th attacks were an atrocity; I’ll never forget the fury I felt when I watched those towers fall. I want to bring those who propagated that evil to justice.”

You think you’re really going to help bring terrorists to justice?

“I will bring them to justice. My family has a history of military service, and it’s up to me to continue that tradition. I just have a servant’s heart; I love serving others.”

So go and serve others! Why did you need to serve in this capacity? You could’ve served in a million different ways, ways that you would actually be good at.

“Stop it! Will you just stop it? You’re missing the point. I enlisted because…”

Because why?

“Because… because I, I… want, I mean that I wanted … I wanted to… you know…”

Wanted to what?

“I wanted… I had to make…”

Why are you here?

“I did… I just…”

Quit sputtering!

“I enlisted…”

Why?

“I enlisted because I wanted to make the world a better place!”