Author: David V. Gibson
Location: Concord, N.C.
David V. Gibson is a 48-year-old student and father of three who hopes to spend the balance of his working years writing. He is keenly conscious of his immediate environment and finds much of his best material a glance away. He has a unique perspective of the world and enjoys painting picures with words.
This One I Know
Six years have passed since the United States began military operations in the Middle East, the longest period of active combat for our nation in thirty-five years. I was in grade school during the Vietnam War and my familiarity with that faceless tragedy all belongs to Hollywood. Similarly, except for the hyped-up, headline occasion, I have held only a casual, back burner interest in the Iraqi conflict. In the breath of a short phone call, all that has changed. I suddenly have a stake in the barrage of suicide bombings and roadside booby traps our troops encounter each day. A frightened teenager has arrived in Kuwait, awaiting orders to cross the border into the escalating chaos that is Iraq.
My wife Linda and I have mentored more than one hundred kids over the last fifteen years. When you enroll three students on a twelve-year, round-trip journey through the same school system, it is sometimes like that. As parents we chose early on to keep our three close to the house and accepted, perhaps even relished the responsibility of entertaining for the masses. Birthdays, holidays, and summertime swims always kept a triangle of distinct friends revolving through the front door of our modest Concord home, and the parties were like banquets. My wife loves to cook and bake, and even knew the favorite dishes of many of the regulars. Like many of the kids, we even had our own nicknames. I was dada (day-day), and my wife was the Momanator.
Our three children included our daughter Michelle and her two cousins, Eddie and Heather, who joined our family when they entered public school. Each had specific friends, but Shell attracted the crowds. She was blonde, bold, and confident, naturally suited as the hub around which all the activity orbited. The only color Shell ever noticed was the true-blueness of hearts, and her warm acceptance kept the numbers content in their place of attachment around her.
With a sigh of relief, those hectic days have passed, perhaps destined to become sweeter as the memories age. Occasionally, a grown-up model of one of those kids will appear on our porch, tapping at the front door, but most have sprung from the safety net that is high school and are scattered all over. Some hit the ground running on a chosen path, others tumbled on a ricochet of life's design. I believe most stumble out of the gate, their spinning heads oblivious to the next bounce on the road. Either way, the universe that was Shell now consists of only two faithful soldiers, Joshua and Jay Wambach. This is understandable, given the role each has claimed in our lives. Josh is a likely son-in-law, and Jay, a permanent family friend and constant reason for our concern.
The two Wambach siblings are multi-cultural, sharing a predominately German father, a Puerto Rican mother, and absolutely nothing else. Josh is light-skinned and laid-back, as quiet and calm as his father. He is soft-spoken and polite, though generally calculating in his every move. He and Shell first shared a spark in their early middle school days, and she has had a spot reserved in her heart for him ever since. After graduation, their romance rekindled into the inseparable state they enjoy today. They get along well because Shell is a leader, Josh chooses to follow, and Shell allows him to choose. Their youthful ignorance sometimes frustrates my wife and me, but we always feel Shell is safe with Josh.
Jay Wambach never had an ounce of the tranquility that oozed from the older brother. Rather, Jay was born daring and rebellious without a drop of caution, a recipe primed for brick walls and ditches. Youth is a natural maze of wrong turns, and this high-strung youngster seemed to seek out the collision. A minor problem was never good enough for Jay. Nor was an obstacle sufficient when there could be an avalanche. I knew this free spirit as bright and ambitious, but there was an anger that frustrated the child's every move. A bubbling personality constantly teetered between a babbling brook and the molten lava of an active volcano. These impulsive eruptions always led to fights, and the fights eventually led to Kuwait.
While Shell and Josh were giddily marching across a graduation stage, Jay found the GED as a last, desperate option. There was a classroom altercation involving an airborne student desk and a distraught teacher that effectively ended public school for the reckless one. Public life proved to be just as challenging. One wild haymaker at a law enforcement officer placed Jay in a quandary only a magician could resolve, or worse, a recruiter.
Military recruiters are not much different from any other headhunter. They are just salespeople trying to fill a quota. It is not the crisply pressed uniforms and the shiny medals that distinguishes them, but the amazing way they can make transgressions disappear. Some youngsters join the armed forces to continue a patriotic family lineage. Others enlist to take advantage of the educational opportunities available. Then there are those who have squandered all normal resources and need a way out. With promises of discipline and a new direction, many troubled teenagers choose to expunge past sins for a fresh start defending the homeland. To the youthful eye, it must seem quite a bargain.
Approximately 3,500 United States soldiers have died over the last six years in the Middle East conflicts, substantially less than the 60,000 that lost their lives in Vietnam. However, the percentage of seriously injured troops is much higher today than in that previous war. Ironically, the modern technology that protects against battlefield fatalities is to blame for the crippling injuries endured by the "lucky" survivors.
A frightened teenager serves in Kuwait, awaiting orders to advance into the war zone of Iraq. Private first-class Jessica "Jay" Wambach is in the army now.
God bless that girl.