The Story

A Veteran’s Day reflection on the day that brought me here, and the renewal of a promise I have no right to break.

Jeff Suwak


Me, a lifetime ago.

I wrote the following story shortly after getting out of the Army because I didn’t want to forget. I publish it this Veteran’s Day for the same reason. No, that’s not true. I publish it now because I HAVE started to forget, and that simply is not permissible.

All names, and some details, have been changed.

No one should mistake this for a political piece. It’s just my story. Like most veterans, I have a whole mix of feelings about it. The strongest one of all is gratitude for having served alongside the best people I have ever met. I have no idea how I managed to get by in your company for as long as I did, but I’m grateful for, and proud of, the experience.

Happy Veteran’s Day to all you salty war dogs out there.

I knelt in the hot, dusty street scanning rooftops through my rifle scope, waiting for the call to load up and move out. Nothing stirred that I could see, but that didn’t mean that nothing stirred.

The city was still, but stillness in Mosul didn’t mean calm. Moments of peace there, no matter how long passing, always felt to me like nothing more than preludes to some shattering force. Like the seconds between the lighting of the dynamite wick, and the dynamite exploding.

It didn’t matter that we rarely made contact in our missions. Unlike most the other guys, I never lost that edge of fear. To this day I don’t know if that’s a good or bad thing.

The air hummed with heat. The pavement pulsed with it. The earth itself seemed to reverberate with some throbbing presence.

Our Strykers were lined up along a road at midday in Mosul. We’d been holding the position for maybe ten minutes. I knelt where the main road intersected with a side street whereon an old woman stood facing me holding back a herd of children.

The kids peeked at me around her sides. Every now and again one would make a halfhearted escape attempt, but the old woman’s hand would whip out and grab him by the scruff and throw him back into the crowd. The children laughed every time. The old woman did not. She just stood…