*I’d like anyone reading this to know that I thought long and hard before posting this. It seems intensely personal (and not entirely mine to write) but at the same time, this is the reality of war at its most intimate, and more prayer can never hurt a situation.
Last week, on the fourth, Fort Drum issued a statement about three 10th Mountain men killed by a roadside bomb in Nerkh, Afghanistan. A fourth was reported killed, but his name wasn’t released at the time. Thankfully, I wasn’t obsessively checking the NY news at the time, or I would have been beside myself until the next day, when the fourth name was released. Jasper K. Obakrairur, 26, from Palau.
As my sister Ember has pointed out before, there’s always a sense of guilt associated with the relief every time one of those names isn’t Rueben’s, because you know, even if it’s not our boy, it’s someone else’s brother and father and husband and son. I didn’t read these names until sometime Saturday morning, buoyed up by coffee and a good run, mentally prepared for the names and the faces. I read about the four guys, prayed for their parents and sisters and brothers and wives and daughters and sons, and then went on with my day. I knew that Obakrairur had first been deployed from 06-07 in Afghanistan, the same time as Rueben, so I knew that they probably knew each other, but I didn’t give it a lot of thought. It wasn’t until later, when my sister called to talk to me and asked me if I’d read about the recent 10th Mountain deaths that the way she asked made me suddenly realize. That was Obie. Rueben’s base roommate, Obie, whose name they shortened because no one could pronounce his huge Palauan last name. One of Rueben’s closest friends in the Army.
I haven’t talked to Rueben since before he left in January. I’m never at Mom and Dad’s when his two minute calls happen, and I probably won’t talk to him until he has (Lord willing) leave late this summer. When he is stateside, talking on the phone with Rueben is like speaking to someone in a completely different culture. A lot of the time I have no frame of reference for what he’s talking about. The last time he was stateside, I used to ask a lot of questions about what his days on base were like, which I think he finds amusing. This week, I remember in particular one conversation about his day as a Sgt. and Team Leader. He told me about getting up early, doing his paperwork, and waking up Obie. Then he would do some of Obie’s paperwork, and then wake him up again (because he didn’t like to get out of bed, can’t say I blame him.) He would wake up his men and Obie’s men before running one last check to make sure that Obie was out of bed before the day started.
My brother doesn’t do stuff like that for you unless he really cares about you. If he feels like you’re lazy, he’ll let you suffer. If he feels like you’re taking advantage, he’ll leave you high and dry. He only pitches in for people who are embedded in his heart.
I remember the last time I talked to Rueben, a day or so before he left. It was one of those long phone calls, I couldn’t seem to get off the phone. Every time it would go quiet for too long, one or the other of us would say “Well, I guess…” and then the other would quickly grab a new topic of conversation to stave off the goodbye. You know, every time you talk to your soldier, that this could be it. Every word you type or send in a letter, could be the last thing he hears from you in this life. And while I am confident that my brother and I will worship together in heaven regardless of what happens this deployment, I am not ready to say goodbye here on earth, on any level.
So this week, I mourn for a fallen soldier and a lost friend. Someone who gave a sacrifice that I cannot even imagine offering to my country. My tears this week are for a family missing a son and brother, and for my own brother, who has lost a piece of his heart in a situation where your heart is the last thing you have time to think about.