Feature photo by The U.S. Army

My father has always kept an American flag hanging on his bedroom wall, far right of it a picture of Jesus embracing his own visible heart and wearing his crown of thorns. My father’s best friend returned from Vietnam with the same flag. Upon returning, he committed suicide and thus how my father got the flag. It’s faded yet heavy. It’s without some stars, and tattered on the edges. It’s old and has blood spots scattered on its face. It’s the most history I’ve ever physically and emotionally touched. I’m not sure who has seen its precious material let alone held it. I do not know all the places it’s been, flown, or hung; folded in with letters, pictures, and memories maybe, before it became a reminder on a bedroom wall. I’m not sure of the names of the soldiers who have bled on it or if it’s ever crossed through jungles. If only…it could talk.

I have been to Camp Lejeune. I have seen our American soldiers preparing for war along with saying  goodbyes to their family. Packing their gear and stepping foot on buses with their shined combat boots, ready, willing, and able to fight for our country. I have been to a Navy hospital in Virginia, watching the still of the ocean some nights, all the while ships moving like the soft wind to shore. I have known widows. Seen the face of death in a casket at a soldier’s funeral. Known the wounded and heard the tears of the lonely. I have known the loneliness myself at times. I have been that statue of a girl with her hand stuck to the window wondering when. When will my soldier return? Yet I have never known the face of war.

I have had the honor of interviewing Jesse Garcia, a U.S Air Force soldier. I couldn’t ask enough questions or gain enough insight to a soldier’s life. Whether you are against the war or for it, I think it’s important to support our troops, our protectors, our fighters. I take pride in our country and our flag. I have nothing but respect for the men and women who serve this country.

Why did you join the military?
I wanted to serve my country. I have had a member of my family in every conflict and war since World War I.

What is your job in the United States Air Force?
TACP, which stands for Tactical Air Control Party. We get tasked with Army units and provide close air support. Certain members can be part of heavy armored columns and others with 82nd Airborne. I personally was tasked with the 75th Ranger Regiment.

What is the best and worse part about being in the military?
It’s different for everyone. I found the camaraderie and my job and the ability to serve my country among so many other things wonderful. The worse was losing people close to me and watching news reports of people protesting and seeing people being so hateful to the very soldiers protecting their freedoms and their rights.

Tell me about death and war.
You lose a little more of yourself every time you see it. If you have ever lost a sibling then you will know the pain of losing a fellow soldier. I have seen people vaporized, cheeks sheared off faces, limbs. Brutal stuff that not everyone can handle seeing.

What was combat like?
It’s like the thrill of a million roller coasters, the fear of being circled by a thousand blood thirsty sharks. But it’s unique in its own way and unless you are in it, you will never understand.

What is a day like for a soldier in Iraq?
Lots of water drinking! Lots of walking! Lots of sand. Usually general boredom. Listening to music, out of nowhere mortar strikes.

Tell me about the sand storms.
The first one I encountered I was in complete awe! When word got out about it I just thought It was going to be some sand blowing around but what got blown was my mind! I was told to get my goggles by a Staff Sgt. Then the base alarm went off and I watched the horizon, and all of a sudden a tidal wave of sand came ripping across the desert. Some crazy scene from “The Mummy” played in my head. When the wall of sand passed it just about completely blocked out the sun. It was like being in a red dim haze and it was amazing.

How hot did it get?
Around 120 degrees during the summer days; which if you’re not sure how hot that feels, park your car in the sun all day, then get in it with a sweater, roll up your windows, and sit there a while. You will get a pretty good idea.

What were some smells and tastes that you can remember?
I don’t know what to say about taste. Everything tasted dry. You would open your mouth, and instantly it was dry and gross. Smells would vary.You don’t really know B.O like military men know B.O (laughs). You might only get a shower once a month. Needless to say it smells pretty bad around you. Around town you smell the markets and baked breads. But the smell of gun powder and building fires is what stuck with me the most. Also water! “Hydrate or die.” We were forced to drink 6 liters of water to recover what we lost from sweating and breathing.You are always thirsty!

Any last words?
If you can take the time and do something for the soldiers who fight for this country, that would mean a lot. Go to a recruiter or call somewhere you can get an address for a unit overseas and do something simple. Write a letter, send a card, or send a box with a few items inside a solder might need or want. Some of us don’t get to see the states for a year so cookies, candy, magazines, stuff like that would be heaven sent.

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