The Things We Carry...

The Things We Carry

There is a great novel about Vietnam written by Tim O’Brien. It’s called “The Things They Carried,” and one of the main themes is the superstitious ways soldiers dealt with the war.

In his essay, “Thoughts on The Things They Carried,” Jason Voegele writes, "The things that the soldiers carry with them are both tangible and intangible items and what these things are depends upon the individual soldier. They carry the basic "necessities" for survival (if one can consider such things as M&M's a necessity) and the bare minimum to make life as livable as possible. But they also carry memories, and fears, and it is intangible items like these that are the prime focus of the story.” I agree.

And some things never change. Most soldiers around here carry their weapon, ammunition, knife, a pen, a notebook, their shot records, and perhaps a few other items. Some carry only what they must. Many soldiers in my Battalion are Mormon, and they wear their “holy garments” under their uniforms. They may also carry a small metal ampoule which basically holds consecrated olive oil, which is used to give blessings. Many of us wear “support bracelets” or “freedom bands” that our families gave us before we left. Others, like me, have certain artifacts or good luck charms that give them some modicum of comfort, however silly or unfounded (depending on your own beliefs or lack thereof). Many of the soldiers I spoke to said they don’t carry anything special, because it has a reverse “jinx” effect, as if by carrying something for good luck they welcome the bad.

I thought I’d share some of the superstitions of the soldiers in my unit as they live, work, and fight here in the Al Anbar Province. Here are some examples from just a handful of soldiers that I asked:

- SGT Brandon Boyle

-A folded American flag in his right shoulder pocket

-A souvenir coin the Chaplain gave him

- Quotes from his scriptures

- A plastic green cap from a bottle of Coke. He says in 7 years, it’s the only time he’s ever won, so instead o cashing it in, he held onto it.

- SSG Robbie Mitchell

- Lucky souvenir coin given to him by the Elks Lodge in Cedar City

- SSG Adam Larson

- Keeps a brass pendant of Michael the Archangel hanging above his bed

- SPC Paul Hansen

- Michigan state rock sent to him by his brother

- SGT Kyle Swinney

- Keeps a stone with the “Footprints” prayer on it in his left breast pocket

- Carries his sister’s bracelet and his grandfather’s cross in his right breast pocket

- CPL Steven Poulos

- Wears his lucky Pittsburgh Steelers watch

- MAJ Cody Marsh

- A chaplain’s souvenir coin with a reference to Ephesians 6:11-18, which talks about putting on the “whole armor of God.”

- Lieutenant K

- Right breast pocket: Folded balloon my daughter gave me last Halloween

- Left Breast pocket: Metal train my son gave me before I left home

- On dogtags: My mother’s favorite heart pendant with an angel inside, and her St. Peregrine medallion

- MSG Con Roberts

- Carries his scriptures in his calf pocket on his left leg

- Wears a St Barbera (protector of the artilleryman) pendant on his dog tags

- Wears a metal bracelet that his kids gave him

- I once saw a soldier tell MSG Roberts that the metal bracelet constituted improper uniform. It’s safe to say this MSG Roberts didn’t flinch, and you would probably have to hold him down and cut the thing off with a welding torch if you wanted it gone. It’s not coming off until he delivers it personally to his kids. This I can guarantee you.

- SFC Kyle Thompson

- Still wears the “lucky” leather watch band that he received when he was 15. It still doesn’t fit.

- SPC Sage Farmer

- Always carries a small piece of paper his daughter wrote on and put a little sticker of a star on.

- SGM Rick Brown

- Wears a dog tag that has a flag and part of the pledge of allegiance on one side, and the Old Testament scripture, Joshua 1:9 on the other. Incidentally, Joshua is also his son’s name.

- LT Dave Anderson

- His wife gave him an "Elastigirl" (from the movie The Incredibles) keychain, which hangs from his tactical backpack whenever he goes out on a mission.

This is a tiny cross-section of our soldiers, but I thought a few examples would give you perspective enough to consider something you perhaps hadn’t thought much about before. And that’s the way human beings, and your soldiers living in the shadow of adversity, or a prolonged, heightened possibility of adversity, have their own coping mechanisms. We all carry the intangible things – memories of a loved one’s face, images of a particular moment in time and space on which we can hinge this hiatus from the life we knew, a song, a sadness, our faith, a loss. And some of us, like me, are just plain superstitious or religious, which are related in more ways that many realize. We have certain actions or behaviors we repeat. We pray before missions. We carry good luck amulets, pictures, and countless other relics of our lives which have a certain magic in them that only we need to understand. And we hope it is enou