Written and submitted by Adam Majid.
War? I Miss It. What I Don’t Miss Is War.
The following is based on a 2018 interview with a Private Military Contractor who worked the frontlines between 2002 and 2008. He worked in Afghanistan and Iraq and was in over 100 separate engagements with enemy combatants. He left the world of war behind in 2009. These are his words. This is his story.
This is why, he rejoined in January, 2019.
His identity is redacted at his request.
I don’t know if he is alive.
It’s been more than eleven years since I held an AK47 Assault Rifle with high tech aftermarket hardware in my hands, engaged in the TIC (Troops In Combat) on the fringes of the Great Afghan Fuck All. I have not worn my Battle Dress Uniform, or anything heavily tactical in almost ten years. It’s been nine years since I’ve held a Glock 18 in my hands, and had it holstered in a thigh drop. It has been almost six years since I fired a weapon. I still remember the last time that happened in a combat situation. I’ve been away from War for so long but I still remember it. Vividly. I remember so much of it, but what I remember, would surprise people.
I know War in all of its sickening “glory,” in that I have tasted the cordite, smelled the burnt brass and copper and heard the high-pitched screaming whistle of incoming death, and felt the tacky-stickiness of blood. Mercenary. Gun-for-hire. That’s what Civilians call us when they are feeling charitable. Of course, the sword cuts both ways. I’ve been called “rapist,” “child killer,” and many other things that I won’t mention. Why I worked as a gun-for-hire, a sell-sword, as a modern-day mercenary? The reason is a simple one. But doesn’t really matter. I’ve seen how guys like me get treated, by civilians who don’t fucking get it when we admit that its what we do, or did. I did it for the money.
With hindsight, maybe things would have made so much more sense to a lot of people if I’d just said something. I never did, but it slipped out in small ways. In things I said. In things I did. In the way I reacted to certain things. Those little mistakes, those little things…. The devil is in the details. And those details reveal that I’ve worked as something that left me with my head-on-a-swivel and hair-trigger-neck-hairs.
Why did I join up, to serve and fight? It wasn’t for a “Cause Worth Fighting For.” It was not a belief. It was not because I needed to prove myself, to be a man, to “be-all-you-can-be.” I signed up, to fight, to get shot at, to kill people because I needed the money and it beat owing the government anything.
What I took home, was enough money to pay for my degree, and a lot of other things that I did not plan on, that I was not trained to handle, that I’m still coping with today, and will be for the rest of my life. I look back on that period of my life, and I KNOW how lucky I am to be here, physical in one piece, and mentally… mostly in one piece, or peace. I’m still not sure. You be the judge. But you? You are a Civilian. How can I expect you to judge what you do not understand?
The simple truth is that I miss War. What I miss is the simplicity of it all. Those motherfuckers over the next hill, the next sand dune, the street corner are shooting at you? It’s your job to shoot back, straighter and make sure you kill him before he kills you. I miss that feeling of being alive. The sheer raw emotion and adrenaline rush of combat. You lived in fear of getting wounded, you get your mind and soul put through the shredder before the first shot is even fired. You get anxiety, paranoia and edgy but you feel alive.
What I miss are the firefights. The all-out prosecution of Total War, without quarter. It was a toe-to-toe-knock-down-drag-out-slobber-knocker fight. The combat situation could be anything from a snap ambush, a raid, a contact scenario could start with us or them having the advantage – before Close Air Support (either a British Longbow or American Apache) or an airstrike from a flight of A10 Warthogs or Tornados ended things very abruptly. It was animalistic instinct and fight training to the fore, alongside soldiers who would kill to protect those around them.
I miss the way time would slow down, spooling’ down in the white heat of combat until every moment becomes strangely crystal clear and then, somehow, after it was over, completely unremarkable or memorable. “Fight Time.” That’s what we called it when everything went slow. Think “The Matrix” meets “Max Payne” and Quentin Tarantino in a barn full of cows. Some moments ring clean and clear, like the burst of gunfire that somehow, went between my legs instead of ripping my leg off at the knee. Then there’s the bullets that tore through the wall next to my head, before my body armor took a hit and saved my ass. It was truly being able to live in the moment. Live moment to moment, knowing that the guy who fucks up second last is the guy who survives.
One of the weirdest fuckin’ things about the whole thing, was that death was not something feared. I… miss not fearing death. Nobody was scared of death. We were all mortally terrified of getting wounded or worse. It put life and living in context when the bullets are snapping back and forth, or there’s the roaring boom followed by that two second fizzy-hiss-crack and then second almighty boom of an RPG hitting something. We fight, praying that we don’t get injured. Death? We accepted that we were potentially going to die, and that is was random fate/luck/bullshit that determined the outcome of that dice roll.
I miss the sheer simplicity of combat life. Out there, over there, we fought, shot and killed every bastard who tried to take us out. There are no bills, no political correctness, no paperwork or admin crap (mostly). Out there compared to here, I get incredibly impatient standing in line for anything.
What I miss is the men and very, very few women who were with me every day through that scorching 45^C heat. We get stood down for a couple of days R&R and we go our separate ways. And when we see each other the next day, it’s like I’ve been separated from family. And it is a family, capable of incredible violence against an enemy with murderous intent, that will use women strapped with explosive vests and cars filled with explosives to kill us. Parents kill to protect their children. At different times, we were the parent or the child, but we had our family.
I miss that camaraderie. I also miss those that understand why we hated the sand and dust and GET the “circumcised by necessity joke.” I miss the fellowship and easy camaraderie. Some of us were together for so long, we started telling each other jokes using numbers. You have to be in the family, to understand how yelling “23-13! 23-13!” is suddenly a cause for laughter all round when Taliban mortar rounds come crashing down around your ears.
I miss the people who were happy to see me. I miss hanging out at the Observation Post. I miss the terrible coffee, that grew cold and could be used to degrease a clogged toilet. I miss sprinting in to cover at the onset of “Troops in Contact” situation. I miss the thrill of knowing I’d just escaped death and sent that MOTHERFUCKER around the corner, or over the next hill to meet HIS fucking maker.
I miss War because of all those reasons.
I miss War during my readjustment period, trying to prepare to fit back in to normal, polite civilian society where I could not use the word fuck as a noun, pronoun, adjective and verb in the same sentence. Some how that old line, “Fuck those Fucking Fuckers!” comes to mind immediately. Otherwise, well… Alpha-Mike-Foxtrot (Adios. Mother. Fucker).
Then I came home, and then… I started to miss War even more.
I came back to Civilian life, and spent three years jumping every time a car backfired, a balloon got popped, someone made popcorn or the fireworks came out every New Year’s Eve. I still wake up from time to time, in sweat, my teeth clenched, shaking and trembling. These days, I don’t generally reach for the whiskey bottle or the Xanax. The fight or flight reflex? Still on overdrive. Where it once made sense, now….it doesn’t.
What I miss most about war is that I lost touch. I lost that ability to have friends and family. I cannot describe it. How do I explain, how do I justify or defend the things I had to do, with my warrior family out there? Even after more than a decade, I don’t know how. I cannot talk about these things with Civilian friends and family because they don’t understand. It’s why I don’t reveal my experience and what I know and what I’ve done to survive a firefight. They will judge, and condemn, without understanding. That’s bitter experience talking.
I now look at life, and realize that people can be divided in to two general categories. There are the Veterans. Then there are Civilians.
Civilians just don’t understand. I’ve been living with that shit since I got out. When talking about things started to cost me friendships, started to have people judging me behind my back. I realized this could cost me my FAMILY if they ever found out. So, I have never ever told them. Civilians don’t understand and are conditioned NOT to understand. My own family and friends discuss war, as a topic, as a “current event,” and just listening to them talk about it, I realize they don’t understand a God. Damn. Thing.
Civilians don’t get what it is people on the front line of the War go through so that they can continue sipping their fucking Starbucks Latte while fiddling with their phone, swiping left and right on Tinder for a hookup. For those of us who have gone through the fire of War, and emerged, we have not emerged unscathed. You don’t understand what we went through for you. I think that sucks. I think its worse knowing that we did this for you, and what we get when we come home…
Civilians, do a shit job of making a place warm and welcoming for Veterans to come home to. Civilians, “compartmentalize” War. From the politicians to the average guy on the street, all of them compartmentalize it and refuse to look WAR as a CONCEPT, straight in the eye and admit that it does break the body, rape the mind, and shatter the soul. We’ve seen things, and we’ve done things. We did them to survive. And, we don’t know how to talk to Civilians about. Because when we try, we get blank stares from friends and family, and worst of all, we lose that precious connection, that in many ways feels like losing our connection to humanity.
When we lose that connection, that of so precious connection to our civilian family and friends, that’s when it happens: – We re-up, we re-enlist. We go back in to the cauldron, and jump in to the fire of battle. It’s the place where we are known, and accepted and understood. Not just by the returning Veterans, but even by the Fuckin’ New Guys. I’ll go so far as to say, even the enemy welcomes us back. Sure, they’re trying to kill us with bullets, RPGs, and IEDs. But at least we understand that. We go back to the place that we understand, that understands us, that is trying to kill us. Because, sadly, tragically, it has become home. Because it has become the place filled with people who know, understand and love each other.
For those that get out, and stay out, I wish you all the very best. I wish I had your strength.
What I don’t miss about War is the things I did to survive, and the things that I saw others do too. Yet it is those same people who did all those unspeakable things alongside me, and quite possibly with me, that I miss the most about War.
I know. I know. I have not told you, any of you, what IT is, what EXACTLY it is I have done, and did. I don’t know how to talk about it, how to share those experiences. Even through the anonymity of this interview to an audience I will have zero contact with. I still fear your judgment, and condemnation. Because of what I have done, what I have experienced, I don’t know how I can make you understand, or have any compassion for me.
That’s why I signed a piece of paper some months back. That’s why yesterday, I completed Reeducation, Indoctrination & Physical Program with my employer from almost 12 years ago. This is my last week, here and I know I’m going to spend it terrified and happy. I’ve told family, and friends that I have snagged a job overseas. That I’ll write when I can. And try my best to call, and to keep in touch with them. Because that connection will, I hope, help me keep my humanity amidst the inhumanity I will find myself fighting.
I decided to answer the invitation from what I miss most. So, for the first time, in a long time, all my bags are packed. I’m ready to go home. I’m ready to go back to war.