A soldier's life: Pride in doing more than what is asked
Editor's note: Army Lt. Matt Spartz, a lifelong Lombard resident, was deployed to Afghanistan in May with the 101st Airborne Division. A 2008 journalism graduate of University of Illinois, he is submitting occasional reports for the Daily Herald.
It is not my place in this war to tell you about blazing fire fights. It is not my place to illustrate the successes and failures of civil reconstruction projects. It is not for me to recount the lore of secret operations or the capture of terrorist cell leaders that make blockbuster screen plays.
My stories are harder to tell in certain ways, and probably harder to read. I can say not much more than that about the daily lives of our average soldiers. The plight of the hard-working fighting man is not all bombs and bullets.
There are soldiers in this war who have it much, much harder than I do. There are soldiers in this war who have it much easier, too. But the most uncommon trait in the most common soldier is to get up every day and do his job, at every hour of every day, of every day of every week, of every month until you're relieved of your duty, with the expectation of iron resolve and a scientific attention to detail in every task.
The enemy doesn't care if you're in the shower. He'll still drop mortars on your outpost. Then soldiers go out and look for him, getting dirtier still.
It doesn't matter if it's nine o'clock at night. Sometimes that is when your work day begins - again - and you don't finish until seven the next morning. But four hours of sleep later duty calls, and the soldier will be back in a guard tower or at a radio monitoring air craft movements.
The enemy doesn't care that it's the Fourth of July or Sept. 11 or Eid. The Army can't afford to care that it's the weekend. Every single day someone will be on patrol; every single day reports have to be briefed.
I imagine it's like permanently living "at the office," and working for each of the 10 different companies that rent the building.
This isn't the war I learned about in grade school. American history books atone for 7,000 Civil War soldiers lost in 20 minutes of one battle. Theaters pack with summer movies about storming the beaches of Europe, some units suffering 100 percent casualties.
Today one can see soldiers reading "Band of Brothers" in their spare time, ever wondering whether thier daily goings on will have some legacy for those of future armies.
Our legacy won't be of epic battles, but of the individual soldier's ability to accomplish any mission he is asked to do. An infantryman runs and rucks hundreds of miles of hardened terrain, shoots thousands of bullets, and develops orders to close in and destroy the enemy. Here, he is told to build a well for a village, so he does it.
It doesn't matter that he hasn't been trained in construction or legal contracts.
A field artillery officer learns the ballistics of shooting unguided missiles, and calculates the effects of weather and the curvature of the earth. Here he is told to develop plans for the building of permanent living quarters, so he does it.
It doesn't matter that he has no engineering or construction background.
Robert E. Lee took personal responsibility for the loss at Gettysburg revealing "All this has been my fault. I asked more of men than should have been asked of them."
I believe the modern American soldier takes pride in being asked more of him than should be asked, because in this war the modern American soldier has to.