combat writing badge C O M B A T
the Literary Expression of Battlefield Touchstones
ISSN 1542-1546 Volume 05 Number 01 Winter ©Jan 2007


War is a filthy undertaking. No one ever leaves combat with clean hands and shining armor. The military mind is preoccupied with spit-and-polish, which is anathema to operational camouflage; and both are indifferent to the basic premise of field hygiene ... to wit, a clean machine performs optimally. Officialdom deludes itself with unrealistic rationales about preventing disease, maintaining military order, and sustaining morale, under some vague notion of preserving government property. But that's not the root cause for good hygiene, and any soldier in field operations knows the real reason. Any improvised bivouac lasting more than a week inspires the true impulse for hygiene. Many men have kept a sense of identity with attentive personal care. The inner-breast-pocket for pens on most fatigue uniforms contained spoons, toothbrushes, and combs. Many men have kept a sense of personal discipline with regular shaving or routine bathing. One of my patrol comrades insisted that stealth was impossible if body-odor wasn't obliterated by daily sponge-baths. A replacement uniform that's been freshly laundered in a muddy flow, and donned over a sweaty body, can restore pride and purpose. The essential complement to physical hygiene is mental hygiene. A clean body evokes a clear mind, and together they serve to keep the soldier alive. Violent death, which is inherently messy and unclean, was all around us, and we didn't become inured or disregarding as much as vacant and eviscerated. We noticed, and we would long remember, but there wasn't enough time to care; there wasn't any acceptable way to express our feelings. This poignant fact became obvious to me when, after breaking contact and attempting to treat a mortally wounded enemy soldier, I realized that I would never know his name, could never explain anything to his family, and would probably never forget him. He'd been so young, so irreparable, and so stalwart in the face of imminent death. We continued toward our Remain Over-Night site, and prepared for rotating assignments. When I joined the others for a meal, I noticed that I still had the dead soldier's dried blood on my hands ... I couldn't eat with these hands. Because water was scarce, I left our perimeter, pissed on my hands to wash them, and dried them on my dirty pants. I then returned to the dinner circle, and no one spoke of my acts. Days later, when we were exfiltrated, the team dispersed. I marched directly into the basecamp's shower-room, disrobing in the soapy spray. The blood stains had changed my priorities. The debriefing to accrete more documentation, and the subsequent filing of Intel-Reps and After Action Reports would have to wait for me to restore my composure, to reconstruct my facade, to reinvent my impersonal shell. A new man would emerge from the crust ... someone I did not want to know.

by Pan Perdu
... who is a former soldier and VA counselor; this work has been excerpted from Fragmentations, a book in progress.

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C O M B A T, the Literary Expression of Battlefield Touchstones