American Soldier

Yankee Whiskey, Mike

by Lauren Hembree

I wrote a poem once.

It was about you and how you had decided to run off to the military instead of marry my cousin (or me, for that matter). The poem asked a simple question: Why did it have to be you? 

Why not some other 18-year-old?

Why not some other boy looking to be a man?

Why not someone faceless?

I never shared that poem with you. But I can assure you the words were selfish, ignorant, childish... and received rave reviews from my high school classmates.

I remember the day I wrote that poem just like I remember the day you left.

It was the day of your graduation from Basic and you were leaving — in several senses of the word. That was almost four years ago. 

I hated you.

Mainly for leaving but also for only saying, “I like your bangs.” Here you were, leaving for a completely unknown amount of time and the only thing you could say to me was about my post-breakup-from-my-first-college-boyfriend- and-now-loathing-in-low-self-esteem haircut. 

But don’t worry. I’m not bitter about it or anything.

I now realize we speak two different versions of the same language. You say: “Rog, so brief me on the sitrep.” I say: “Tell me what’s going on.” 

Scratch that. We speak different languages. 

You can spout off “Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta, Echo, Foxtrot, Golf, Helo, India, Juliet, Kilo, Lima, Mike, November, Oscar, Papa, Quebec, Romeo, Sierra, Tango, Uniform, Victor, Whiskey, X-Ray, Yankee, Zulu” as fast as I can say the alphabet backwards (and if you remember correctly, that’s one thing I’m better at than you). 

But now there’s more than our languages.  

I think cat videos and grammar puns are funny. 

You think telling me you’re deploying to Kandahar — as an April fool’s joke — is hilarious. It’s not.

I can apply extra-black, lash-lengthening mascara to one-and-a-half eyes in about 45 seconds. You can dismantle, reassemble and function-check a 9mm Beretta in less than 30. 

I have allergy attacks when the weather changes. You were diagnosed with PTSD. And flagged for alcohol dependency. And self-medicate with a daily pack of cowboy-killin’ Marlboro Menthols. 

You got “shwasted” on your birthday last summer and told a bar full of Air Force guys I was your wife. To me, you explained “drunk me” is braver than “sober me.”

 Obviously.

You also texted me: “Drillbkv sayijg are sober thiughts!!!+419-“5*7.” 

I understood what you meant when you told me your plan: Come home, find me, pick me up, spin me around ”just like the f-----g Notebook.”

You’ll be happy to know I have learned a lot since my naïve high school days.

First, I’ve learned you are in a wholly different world. You’re in a world where wide-eyed boys are quickly grown into tattoo-clad men. 

Second — for the record — my bangs were quite unflattering. Thank you for trying to be kind. In the moment you were leaving, I think a realization smacked you in the face and heart:

You won’t be here to see the graduations, the weddings, the births, the funerals…or even the new haircuts. 

Third, if I wrote a poem about you now, it would make high school kids’ heads spin. But I wouldn’t ask a faceless, nameless boy to take your place. I wouldn’t accuse you of running away.

I would — instead — write about how you took the place of another. How you ran full speed ahead into the chaos. How you exchanged your young adulthood for machine guns, death, night terrors and loneliness.

How you sacrificed your freedom for mine. 

I want you to know that your bravery and sacrifice does not go unappreciated or unnoticed. I see your pain and heartache. And jealousy. 

I want to tell you Thank You for the thousandth time because you are important and worth a million thanks.  But even after spilling my heart on these pages, you’ll probably respond with “I’m just doing my part.”

But maybe you’ll respond with “Yankee whiskey, Mike.”

I’ll try to translate your language into mine. 

I’ll fail.

You’ll help me. 

“You’re welcome, ma’am.” 

May 22, 2015. “Yankee Whiskey, Mike” is the property of author Lauren Hembree. The article is reprinted here with permission.

plate 1. U.S. Marines with Combat Logistics Battalion 22, 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit wait for a CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter, April 25, 2014.

“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” — John 5:13

American Soldier

plate 2. U.S. Army Spc. Anthony Buono with the 787th Ordnance Company, 3rd Ordnance Battalion. Oct. 15, 2014, near Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan.

“They were men. They crept upon their hands and knees. They used their hands only, dragging their legs. They used their knees only, their arms hanging idle at their sides.

“They strove to rise to their feet, but fell prone in the attempt. They did nothing naturally, and nothing alike, save only to advance foot by foot in the same direction. Singly, in pairs and in little groups, they came on through the gloom, some halting now and again while others crept slowly past them, then resuming their movement.

“They came by dozens and by hundreds; as far on either hand as one could see in the deepening gloom they extended and the black wood behind them appeared to be inexhaustible.

“The very ground seemed in motion toward the creek. Occasionally one who had paused did not again go on, but lay motionless. He was dead. Some, pausing, made strange gestures with their hands, erected their arms and lowered them again, clasped their heads; spread their palms upward, as men are sometimes seen to do in public prayer. — excerpt, Chickamauga by Ambrose Bierce

American Soldier

plate 3. U.S. Soldiers disembark a landing craft at Normandy, France, June 6, 1944.

“Instead of darkening, the haunted landscape began to brighten. Through the belt of trees beyond the brook shone a strange red light, the trunks and branches of the trees making a black lacework against it. It struck the creeping figures and gave them monstrous shadows, which caricatured their movements on the lit grass.” — excerpt, Chickamauga by Ambrose Bierce

American Soldier

plate 4. U.S. Marine Corps Gen. James F. Amos salutes the colors during the passage of command ceremony at Marine Barracks Washington in Washington, D.C., Oct. 17, 2014.

“The fire beyond the belt of woods on the farther side of the creek, reflected to earth from the canopy of its own smoke, was now suffusing the whole landscape.

“It transformed the sinuous line of mist to the vapor of gold. The water gleamed with dashes of red, and red, too, were many of the stones protruding above the surface. But that was blood; the less desperately wounded had stained them in crossing. — excerpt, Chickamauga by Ambrose Bierce

American Soldier

plate 5. U.S. Air Force swimmer August O'Neill kisses his service dog, Kai, during the 2014 Warrior Games in Colorado Springs, Colo., Sept. 30, 2014.

“He went slowly to his tent and stretched himself on a blanket by the side of the snoring tall soldier. In the darkness he saw visions of a thousand-tongued fear that would babble at his back and cause him to flee, while others were going coolly about their country's business. He admitted that he would not be able to cope with this monster.” — excerpt, The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane

American Soldier

plate 6. Pfc. Johnny Allen, 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment places American flags at headstones in Arlington National Cemetery, Va, May 21, 2015.

The Old Guard has conducted “Flags-in,” when an American flag is placed at every headstone, since 1948.

American Soldier

Lauren Hembree, College of the Ozarks Graduate (with degree in English) lives in Springfield, Missouri.

Plates 1 through 6 courtesy of US Defense Department.

dogwood petal Brandon Britton, Spoken 4 Quartet

“But God Moments” with Brandon Britton, Spoken 4 Quartet

(Branson, MO) “I gave them my CD and little did I know they were gonna be looking for a tenor singer,” relates Brandon Britton, originally of Warrenville, South Carolina, now an integral part of long-running Branson quartet Spoken 4. It was but one of many “But God” moments the artist described recently.

“God has allowed me to be with these guys for six years and they are more than just fellow singers or friends. They really have become like family.”

Britton also regularly shares his own testimony — a testimony that might strike some as too raw and honest for Southern Gospel.

“I battled depression pretty much my whole life,” he explains. As a teenager, he “went to bed every night thinking how I could kill myself and [that] no one would care.”

The tenor believes his personal struggle to be an integral part of his ministry.

When he shared his story to a youth group while still a teenager, Britton realized his story was, ultimately, larger than himself. “There was one girl in our youth group who was so in touch with God [that] she always managed to call at just the right time. When I preached for the first time, she was in the youth group, listening.

“I remember looking up and saw tears just steaming from her face.”

Today, Britton shares his struggles from stage regularly, finding solace in those he helps. “I began to share how I was bullied in school. A little girl, probably about 14, came up to me and asked, ‘How do you do it? How do you deal with being picked on in school?’

“We talked for about 45 minutes and I told her, ‘I came to a point where I had to ask myself, What’s more important? What all these people think of about me or what God thinks about me?

“The bottom line is He thinks so much about me He sent his only Son to die for me, that I could have everlasting life and become a child of the King and that means more than what anybody else thinks about me.”

Upon returning to sing at the same church several months later, the gospel artist was met with a changed person. “I honestly didn’t recognize her,” Britton notes. “Her face was so different and she was carrying herself so differently. ‘I just want to thank you for talking to me,’ she said, ‘Everything is so much better and so different.’

“I told her how glad I was and started to walk toward the stage and her mom stopped me. ‘No, you don’t understand. She is night-day-different.’

“It’s those things that make everything worthwhile.”

As part of Spoken 4, Britton sings with Jon Charles (lead), Cecil Stringer (bass), and Steven Hickinbotham (baritone / pianist). “Anybody can get together and sing but to actually sing together and with such tight harmonies? It is difficult and I’ve been blessed that we have Cecil and Jon. I’ve been able to say, ‘Okay, what am I doing. What can I do differently?’

“Ultimately you have to be content with what God has given you. I have to know who I am and know my limitations.”

Spoken 4 currently performs around 150 dates a year, traveling throughout the United States and into Canada. They have developed a GoFundMe account to assist in the purchase of a Sprinter van. “We do ask readers to pray about it and seriously consider partnering with us,” says Britton.

The group is scheduled to perform at Silver Dollar City’s Opera House on September 1 and will perform in the 4,000-seat Echo Hollow Amphitheatre (also at Silver Dollar City) on October 28 through 31. “We’re really excited about performing at Silver Dollar City,” shares Britton, “and anytime we can be home and near our families, it is a blessing.”

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June 4, 2015

American Soldier

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