By Josh Beavers
It was between Sibley and Doyline, on that peaceful stretch of road with a railroad track on one side and the waters of Bistineau on the other, when I got the call. Our voices connecting through the radio waves despite the thousands of miles between us.
It was the first time we had spoken since he was a Minden High Crimson Tider. Years ago. Now he was a man. A soldier. A defender who chooses to put his life on the line for my sake, your sake, his country’s sake.
“Ian?” The words in the ether.
We knew each other. I taught his brother years ago. Noah, also a soldier, was a special young man. Near and dear to me. I was never fortunate enough to have Ian in class; he was a Minden man; but every time I saw him in the community, he was kind, respectful, and always said “sir.”
This time though, that “sir” came with a hint of caution. You see, I’d already communicated with Ian. I’d heard a comment from a friend at MHS that Ian, a 2018 grad, knew some of the 13 American soldiers killed in Afghanistan. The tragedy underscored the mismanagement of the war by the White House and the power vacuum left after our boys and girls bid adieu to that hard desert country.
A madman with a suicide bomb killed those 13 along with 90 innocent Afghanis.
These are our fallen heroes per Stars and Stripes:
Lance Cpl. David Lee Espinoza, 20, of Rio Bravo, Texas
Sgt. Nicole Gee, 23, of Roseville, Calif.
Staff Sgt. Taylor Hoover, 31, of Salt Lake City, Utah
Staff Sgt. Ryan Knauss, 23, of Knoxville, Tenn.
Lance Cpl. Rylee McCollum, 20, a Marine from Bondurant, Wyo.
Cpl. Hunter Lopez, 22, of Indio, Calif.
Lance Cpl. Dylan R. Merola, 20, from Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.
Lance Cpl. Kareem Nikoui, 20, of Norco, Calif.
Sgt. Johanny Rosario Pichardo, 25, of Lawrence, Mass.
Cpl. Humberto Sanchez, 22, of Logansport, Ind.
Cpl. Daegan William-Tyeler Page, 23, from Omaha, Neb.
Lance Cpl. Jared Schmitz, 20
Seaman Maxton “Max” Soviak, 22, of Ohio
Two of those names were special to Ian Ruff, a corporal in India Battery of the 1st 10th Marines, and I wanted him to share some thoughts today, on the anniversary of the worst terror attack in American history.
“Lcpl Shmitz,” he told me. And then after a handful of heartbeats, a few thoughts I imagine he was having about whether he could trust the journalist asking him questions, he added the second name. “Lcpl Espinoza.”
“They were both boots.” The words were distant. Full of memories. Contemplation. Consideration of a soldier’s mortality and purpose.
He was clear with me and wanted me to be clear with you, the constant reader, that he was not best buddies with the fallen. He wasn’t the Best Man in a wedding. He didn’t exchange texts or snaps or fight in a foxhole with them.
But he knew them well enough that they knew each other’s names. They would nod during off time at Camp Lejeune. They spent time doing what young people do when they are off the clock and being young and alive. Espinoza in particular was special because he and Ian were junior Marine friends from boot camp.
They were brothers in arms. Joined forever in common bonds of dedication, desire to protect, and the will to do what people like me, the too fat, too comfortable, too consumed with wants rather than needs, would never do.
“In the Marine Corps we all have a tight connection no matter our backgrounds,” Ian told me. “It’s hard to talk about these Marines. I can’t shake it out of my head.”
Their deaths. He means their deaths. He can’t shake their deaths.
We talked for a while longer. He told me things that I don’t think I should share here. Thoughts of a young man who lost a lot. Thoughts of a soldier who knows the deaths in Afghanistan could have been any of his brothers and sisters in arms. There was anger in his voice as well.
He asked me why I cared what he thought? The question shocked me, and it was my turn to be silent.
“People need to be reminded of what is going on,” I answered. “It doesn’t matter if you just say ‘hey’ to them. This story is about the sacrifices of our people in the Armed Forces. Nobody gets that anymore. People say they do, but the names will be forgotten. People move on. I just want to remind them.”
He opened up a little more at that and began to tell me what was next for him. He’s about to be redeployed to deal with the refugee crisis that the White House has exacerbated. My words. Not his.
I say “my words” not his because a soldier doesn’t speak ill of those in command. That’s not a soldier’s job.
Talking to Ian reminded me of the words of General Douglas MacArthur in his 1962 speech to the grads of West Point.
“Others will debate the controversial issues, national and international, which divide men’s minds. But serene, calm, aloof, you stand as the Nation’s war guardians, as its lifeguards from the raging tides of international conflict, as its gladiators in the arena of battle. Let civilian voices argue the merits or demerits of our processes of government. Whether our strength is being sapped by deficit financing indulged in too long, by federal paternalism grown too mighty, by power groups grown too arrogant, by politics grown too corrupt, by crime grown too rampant, by morals grown too low, by taxes grown too high, by extremists grown too violent; whether our personal liberties are as firm and complete as they should be.
“These great national problems are not for your professional participation or military solution. Your guidepost stands out like a tenfold beacon in the night: Duty, Honor, Country.”
That last line: Duty, Honor, Country.
That’s the soldier. That’s the 13 who died in Afghanistan. That’s the local Minden boy, a product of the Tide ROTC and MSGT Larkin.
While we care about Frosted Flakes and football, baseball and Bitcoin, the soldier dies in the frozen fields and fire of the desert wastes. Such is the way of us who pretend evil doesn’t exist. And evil isn’t the liberal or the conservative. It’s not Barack Obama or Donald Trump. Stop thinking so small. Real evil Exists. And the soldier lives it. So on the 20th anniversary of the Terror Attacks of September 11, 2001, I say thank you to the soldier – the politician’s tool, the fat man’s protector. I’ll likely forget within an hour as our problems take precedence. We are the center of our universes no matter how little water they contain (shallow). But I know, even if I won’t remember, that the soldier is there. So thank you. And forgive us for the way we are. You are the best of us. And the best of us always do their job without much thought. And that is why (the most important reason why) you exist. Thank you my protector.
Thank you to the 13.
Thank you to Ian Ruff.
Thank you for making the world a little bit better.
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