Loneliness of Combat

Army Capt. John Marion flies the AH-64D Apache, and has carried out about 1,000 hours of combat flight time. He’s served seven years in the Army, with tours to Baghdad, Iraq and Al Kut, Iraq. Currently on his third deployment in Khowst, Afghanistan, John writes for the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Brain Injury (DCOE) Blog on what it has felt for him to be a soldier and deployed.

I never really know how to respond when people ask me about deployments. With two tours in Baghdad under my belt, and currently serving in Eastern Afghanistan, words like boring, chaotic, harsh, exciting, gratifying, depressing and just about every other descriptor you might expect come to mind. Truth is, deployments can be such a rollercoaster that no one word can really capture the full extent of what it feels like, but of course, I usually throw a few of them out there to satisfy their curiosity.

The only word, or feeling, I’ve found that remains constant, is “loneliness.” Now, most people don’t want to hear that because it isn’t what combat is supposed to be like, and most veterans don’t want to say that because either it’s too revealing or entirely unexciting to the listener. It seems to me that the loneliness that springs from combat results from the separation of pre- and post-combat experiences.

Looking back, I can recall the first onset of that loneliness. When I was accepted to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, my life began to change. I certainly felt some excitement and anxiety as I started down this brave new path, but I also felt a deep regret that, in many respects, my life would never again be as carefree. I sacrificed wild college years for hard and tedious study, so that I could better serve my nation. Although I’ve kept close contact with my friends, I know that they simply can’t relate to most of my military experiences. That lack of understanding separates you from the life that you led and the life you now lead. West Point initiated that crevice of isolation that has turned into a gorge.

The first time I deployed I accepted the thought that I might not make it home. I understood the risks and I had very little trouble moving from the academic theory to the practical reality. I would either get smoked, or I wouldn’t. I had metaphorically put my name in a hat knowing that mine might be the next drawn. As a deployed soldier the time I spent at West Point immersed in leadership examples (both good and bad) and rigorous academic study, seemed a waste. The brave, intelligent and disciplined soldier could end up dead just as quickly as a cowardly, foolish one. Facing your own mortality with such random, unforgiving swiftness gives you a unique perspective…and takes some time to accept.

Family and friends may try, but they will never really understand the “loneliness” of a deployed soldier. And as that soldier, you can only accept that “a man never steps into the same river twice” and know that you’re not alone.

What words of encouragement do you have for Soldiers dealing with the loneliness of combat?

This Army Live Blog post  by Army Capt. John Marion was originially posted on the DCOE blog.