19 Delta Scout
Every American military unit that deploys to serve overseas has its fair share of good NCO leadership and almost every unit has that one NCO who stands out to be the very best. This NCO is the person who is extremely competent, and confident, a generous mentor to the people that he leads, the loyal supporter to his NCO peers, and the invaluable advisor to the officer in charge. This one particular outstanding NCO was the go to person when other NCOs needed information or advice and in our particular case, the outstanding NCO in our unit was my friend, a Sergeant First Class named Tommy.

Tommy and I were sitting on a long comfortable wooden bench in front of the barracks and relaxing after a particularly long day of patrolling. We were on a long elevated wooden deck which ran down the entire length of the barracks and we rested our feet up on the wooden railing which bordered the deck. The setting sun cast the sky in brilliant and fiery shades of reds and oranges and purples as it sank behind the mighty mountain peak known to us Americans simply as “Big Duke.” We were serving as NATO peacekeepers and were stationed at the main American operating base called Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo. The summer was coming to an end and with it our year long deployment was also coming to a close. The weather was pleasant and the colors in the sky mixed with the high clouds painted a breathtaking picture from our vantage point on the hilltop.

Tommy pulled the pipe from his lips. “I’m really going to miss that view,” he said, leaning back on the bench and exhaling.
I nodded in agreement. “We have to come back to Kosovo someday, but not as peacekeepers, but as visitors. We did so much good here. I want to see if it lasts.”

We stared at big old Mount Duke for a while and I said, “Okay. Explain to me the difference between a .223 ball ammunition round and a 5.56 ball ammunition round again? Aren’t they the same?”

I knew that Tommy liked talking about everything guns, weapons and ammunition. In fact, he was once an army sniper. I needed to get him talking about something so that I could ask him the question that I really wanted to ask him.

Tommy smiled as he took another puff from his pipe. “The .223 and the 5.56 round are visually similar. The difference is in the grain used to propel the round. The .223 is optimized for the civilian market while the 5.56 is strictly used for the military. Our M4 and M16 rifles can fire both kinds of ammunition. But in the civilian version of our rifles, you should only fire the .223 round.”

“Huh,” I nodded. “You learn something new every day.” At least I got him to start talking.

“Now I have a question for you,” said Tommy. “Why do the Russians have 61 millimeter and 82 millimeter mortars?”

“Because Russians are sneaky bastards,” I said. “Americans have 60 millimeter mortars and 81 millimeter mortars. If we capture Russian mortar rounds, we can’t use them because they are exactly one millimeter bigger than our mortar tubes. But if Russians capture our mortars, they can use them against us!”

“I have trained you well, my young Jedi,” said Tommy, and we both had a good laugh. Great. Now maybe I can get to what I really wanted to talk to him about.

“Hey, Tom,” I said. “Is everything okay? I mean, are you going to be okay?”

So there it was. I said it. Ours was a very close knit unit and bad news travelled fast. A few weeks ago, Sergeant First Class Tommy received a letter from his wife back home. She had been cheating on him while he was away and had cleared out their bank account. She also threatened to divorce him and take away his two daughters and his house as well as half of his retirement pay. Tommy, who for the past year served his country, his battalion, and his friends with courage and honor, would be going home completely broke.

Tommy took a long puff off his pipe and exhaled slowly, watching the smoke dissipate. He smiled. “Ahh, brother,” he said, “an hour ago all of my earthly problems went away.”

“Huh?” I said. I turned to Tommy, wondering what he meant. I was about to ask him what he was talking about when Tommy interrupted me.
“Let me ask you this, brother,” said Tommy. “Are you going to be okay? Getting a video call on Skype from your new wife telling you that she has been cheating on you has to be tough, believe me, I know.”

What? How did Tommy know? An hour ago, after I submitted my daily patrol report to my team commander, I went back to my living quarters to talk to my wife on Skype. At twenty-three years old, she was ten years younger than me. We were married only two weeks before I left for Kosovo, so we really didn’t have time for a proper honeymoon. I had saved enough money during my deployment for us to have an awesome honeymoon in Europe which would culminate in a trip to Ohio to visit her lifelong friend which she had grown up with. She was usually happy to talk with me, but today, she looked depressed and near tears.

“What’s wrong, baby?” I asked. “Are you okay sweetheart?”

“Yes,” she cried. “But you won’t be.”

As it turns out, almost since the day I left, she had been cheating on me with her lifelong friend and was now planning to move in with him and eventually marry him. They just needed money, money which I unknowingly provided to them every time I sent my paycheck home to my wife.
I stood up and stepped towards the railing. How did Tommy find out so fast? I knew bad news really travelled quickly in our unit, but this was ridiculous. I looked off in the distance, admiring the view. Damn, I was going to miss that beautiful sight of the sun setting behind Big Duke.

“I’ll be fine, brother,” I said.

“Are you sure?” said Tommy from behind me. “I don’t want you to do anything… well, you know.”

Yeah, I knew. Suicide takes more American soldier’s lives than enemy bullets. “Trust me,” I said. “I loved my wife, but I love my life as well. She isn’t worth me hurting myself.”

“I am so glad to hear that, brother,” said Tommy. “I just needed to make sure before I go.”

I turned around. What did he mean by that? An empty bench stared back at me.

All of a sudden, I heard the wailing of sirens coming from the barracks row behind me. Emergency vehicles and medic HMMWVs were turning the corner as soldiers ran from their barracks rooms. I jumped the rail and ran around my barracks towards the sound the sound of the sirens. They had gathered in front of Sergeant First Class Tommy’s barracks room and about twenty soldiers were crowded outside. A squad of MP’s were pushing us back, keeping us from the door.

“What’s going on?” I yelled. A young female specialist from Tommy’s team, tears in her eyes and crying inconsolably, said, “It’s Sergeant Tommy. He shot himself with his own side arm. They found divorce papers next to his body.”

“What?” I said. “But I was just…“NO! DAMN IT! DAMN IT! DAMN IT! DAMN IT! DAMN IT!”

Even after he had died, Tommy was concerned about his friends. Even in death, he wanted to make sure that his friends would make it home safely. Later on, at least three other soldiers claimed to see Sergeant First Class Tommy. He was checking on them, giving them advice, and encouraging them to continue to be great leaders of our young soldiers.

If you are sitting there safe and sound and sleeping around with everyone and their brother while your soldier is overseas serving this nation, then you are the one who is killing us. Every time a soldier leaves the wire to go on patrol, he risks his life. He needs to focus on the mission in order to survive. If he has to worry about what is going on back home, he loses focus and he may die. It’s worse when he is back in the rear and he has time to think about how he is thousands of miles away while you are destroying your relationship. I tell you the truth. The biggest killers of the deployed American soldier are your damned Dear John letters.

Tommy was the best of us. We miss you, brother.
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