Sunday, April 22, 2007

And two soldiers fall

I recently participated in a memorial service for two fallen soldiers from our sister company. I had the honor of being a member of the rifle squad that did the 21-gun salute. Now, not being an honor guard, the seven of us picked had our work cut out for us.

We trained for many hours after work each day to try and get it just right. We had three days to get good. My fingers were sore from working the rifle so many times I couldn't begin to count. It was the first time my rifle has fired in country and if I have my way, it will be the last. For three days I had to hear the songs and see the images scrolling across the screen as the ceremony was rehearsed over and over to work out the kinks and make the service worthy of honoring these two soldiers that were on their last mission. They were due to be going home this week.

I was so nervous I couldn't eat because I knew I wasn't perfect. I messed up, forgot my next move, was too fast, and was too slow. I was so disappointed in myself when I made a mistake because the 21-gun salute is the ultimate tribute to a fallen brother. I have so much more respect for the honor guards that do this for a living.

One of the saddest parts of the ceremony for me was the last roll call. The First Sergeant of the soldier calls out the names of the other soldiers and each of them acknowledge they are present. Then he calls the name of the fallen soldier. He does this three times, then turns and salutes the display of boots, weapon and helmet. That's when the guns salute in a thunderous boom, boom, boom. I tried to put it out of my mind and concentrate on getting the timing perfect. Seven soldiers all trying to synchronize every movement, every sound. Every sound shall sound as one. We did okay but were a little off on the last volley of shots.

I was sad that we practiced so hard and was still a little off our timing. Something I had to realize though is that for me it wasn't about being perfect, it was about giving it my all. It was about not taking the job lightly. For me, the discipline was standing in the heat, as motionless as possible, staring at an empty sky; one hand holding the rifle by the tip of the barrel, the other held tight to the small of my back.

There I stood with flies biting and my arm gone numb, waiting for the cue to spring into action. It was an action that we waited 45 minutes to initiate and took less than 30 seconds to complete. That was my tribute to them. My performance was not worthy of the Marine Corp Silent Drill Team, but it was an honor and privilege just the same.