Thursday, December 17, 2009

I feel like I'm going to be sick.

My dad just informed me that my brother has told him he'll be sent to Afghanistan in June.

Mike is a first lieutenant in the US Army, a chemical defense officer and proud to serve. He chose the Army and chose to make a career of it after his tour in Iraq when his reserve unit was activated. He spent 11 months in Mosul attached to a medical unit in 2005, shipping out the day after Christmas 2004 and returning at the beginning of December 2005. As soon as he returned, he switched the remainder of his time as a reservist to ROTC.

What he told me was that he felt there were too many bad officers. Guys who had no idea what ordinary soldiers were like, who didn't understand how it worked on the ground. He told me that it was bad enough he wanted to leave the army, but instead decided that the only way to really make it work and protect his fellow soldiers was to become an officer himself, and be a damn good one.

He chose to go into chemical defense, for a few reasons. Mike liked that it was a smaller branch, that it would fast track his promotions (his goal is to retire at nothing less than Colonel and said if he could make brigadier general, he would). He also liked that it would give him greater opportunity to travel. Despite the dangerous nature of it, he told us that the liklihood of deployment was much smaller as a chemical defense officer.

And so it has been, until the extra push by Obama for more troops in Afghanistan.

My brother has not said a word to me, or to my mother. Which is how I know it's not just speculation right now. He wouldn't have told anyone in the family, even my dad, unless he had more information. I'm guessing he'll either tell us at Christmas or wait until after he gets back home from it.

Mike is a poet. 0His writing, whether poety or prose is amazing - fluid, stunning, sharp but delicate - always surprising to an older sister who marvels at what her baby brother has become. His BA is in English and he has a passion for all things Japanese. He has studied the language and can read and write passably, if not fluently. He is also hearing impaired, having lost 50% of his hearing in one ear and 70% in the other. He is fluent in American Sign Language and hopes to one day pursue a Masters degree in deaf studies. He wore hearing aids during college until his unit was activated and he received orders to Iraq. His disability ought to have disqualified him from overseas assignment, but revealing it might have disqualified him from further service. So he has learned to do without the hearing aids and no one who didn't know him has any idea he doesn't have full hearing.

He amazes me, this brother of mine. I puzzle over him. I harbor regrets - for not attending his soccer games, from being too cool to play with him when I got older, for not being around when our parents were divorcing and he was stuck in an unpleasant situation at home. Living apart from him for the last 11 years, I don't know if I can say I know him well. He has always been a true Gemini - aspects of his personality well hidden from his family, often an enigma to us. As he grew out of adolescent tempers, he has opened himself to us more, allowed us to see these other sides of him. I know little about his daily life, as he does not choose to share much.

But I know the strength of his character. I know there is a gentleness and compassion in him that he finds confusing, that urges him to help people, that has always been there. He recognizes and appreciates beauty. He doesn't always understand other people, is sometimes mystified by how they act. Mike prefers logic to emotion, and would be horrified and embarrassed by everything I'm saying now. I appreciate knowing him, and have enjoyed becoming a sort of friend-and-sister to him. I always feel I was not the sister I ought to have been, but I know he still loves me, because I am the one he seeks out for relationship advice.

I am terrified that he will be in danger again. That he will return to this war. I realize this is the life he has chosen and that as an honorable man, he will do nothing less than his full duty and be glad of it. I fear losing him. He is a beautiful soul.

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