Soon after I retired, a member of my immediate family joined the Marines, eventually becoming a junior officer, and he was mentored by the NCO who is the focus of my story. One of the most important things he learned from his mentor was how to stay alive “down range.” Soon after training, their unit deployed to Iraq, where they faced significant danger. Firefights. House-to-house combat. Everyone came home from that tour.
The NCO then went on to another unit and was promoted to sergeant major, the highest enlisted rank. He served additional combat tours with distinction, having dispatched many of the most despicable of our enemies, some at very close range. Tough, utterly unforgiving of any lack of discipline or preparedness, and utterly selfless, the NCO embodied what every service needs in its ranks.
We communicated frequently during his many combat tours and agreed to a visit in the future. Ultimately, his e-mails became more distant, then they stopped altogether. Why? Because “don’t ask, don’t tell” would not permit him to talk about what was really happening in his life.
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