Dimon Kendrick-Holmes: In Columbus, Ga., talk of war hits close to home

September 7, 2013 

When you live in a military community, some national stories are really local.

Take Syria, for instance. Folks in other parts of the U.S. might hear about nerve gas and air strikes and think it doesn't affect them much.

Sure, they have opinions about politics and the president and the role of the military, but it doesn't change their daily life.

Those are just things they root for — or against — on TV.

But around here, we see neighbors deploying and their families coping. And most of all, we see armies of young recruits marching down the sidewalk to Carmike and Best Buy and Smokey Bones.

Any talk of war hits close to home.

I know it hits home for me.

I first heard about sarin gas 23 years ago at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., where I was taking the Officer's Basic Course.

Our NBC instructor — that's Nuclear Biological Chemical — showed us photos of gas-attack victims from the war between Iran and Iraq. He described what it's like when you get hit by a nerve agent and start doing the kickin' chicken.

It made quite an impression on my classmates and me.

Several months later, on the eve of our graduation, we gathered in an apartment to celebrate. Most of us were headed to the Persian Gulf.

It was a typical party: Wings, dip, loud rock, strong beverages.

At some point, the mood changed and the guy with the Ivy League biomedical engineering degree decided to snort his dog tag chain. He disconnected it and snorted one end up a nostril, then hawked it through his throat and out his mouth, then affixed his dog tags and reconnected the chain.

It was gross and cool.

Everybody was wearing dog tags so everybody attempted it, with varying degrees of success.

Then somebody found a chem light and broke it open and started slinging the glowing goo onto the walls and ceiling. Somebody smeared it on his face. Somebody ripped his polo shirt down the middle and painted his chest.

We were trained military intelligence officers. It really is an oxymoron.

Then somebody started playing "Goodnight Saigon." When Billy Joel got to the part where it was "dark... so dark as night" and everybody was praying to Jesus Christ with all of his might, the oldest guy in the room started talking.

He was prior service and always good for a laugh. He started talking about how his grandfather was wounded in World War II and his father was wounded in Korea, so he pretty much knew what to expect.

It wasn't funny at all.

But as it turned out, none of us died in the first Gulf War. None of us did the kickin' chicken. In fact, none of us were even wounded.

One of us suffered burns but lived when a helicopter crashed during a training exercise in Kentucky. One of us died in Germany crossing the finish line of a half-marathon.

More than a decade later, after 9/11, soldiers were facing a different kind of war. Their fears were realized and their buddies lost their lives.

So around here that's what we think about when we hear people debate about Syria and we see all these young guys walking down the street.

Our prayers go with them.

Dimon Kendrick-Holmes, executive editor, dkholmes@ledger-enquirer.com

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