A friend goes off to war — for a second time

It's hard when a friend goes off to war, especially when the president is envious.
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Captain Aaron Bert, U.S. Army National Guard.

It's hard when a friend goes off to war, especially when the president is envious.

A few nights ago, at a dinner at my house, a friend emerged from the bathroom and passed a photograph in the hallway. "Wow, that's cool," he said. It was: a sharply detailed black and white photograph of a pilot directing his Grumann Avenger torpedo bomber above the Pacific. If you looked closely, you could see the face of that pilot: my dad in the 1940s. The photo freezes my dad in a perfect moment, young, handsome, transformed for the better by the Navy, yanked from the Philadelphia ghetto, and ultimately destined to meet my mom at the Officers' Club at the Sand Point Naval Air Station. There's undoubtedly a romance about Navy pilots. Just ask President Bush, who's own dad flew an Avenger. But to say war is something cool and to openly envy those who experience it is surely a sign of immaturity, or worse. I thought Wilfred Owen answered that sort of talk, yet that's what our Commander-in-Chief said a few weeks ago. Referring to Afghanistan, President Bush said this: I must say, I'm a little envious. If I were slightly younger and not employed here, I think it would be a fantastic experience to be on the front lines of helping this young democracy succeed. It must be exciting for you ... in some ways romantic, in some ways, you know, confronting danger. You're really making history, and thanks. Bush, of course, could have gone to the Vietnam war but instead spent time with the Texas Air National Guard. As it happens, I have a friend who just went to Afghanistan, Aaron Bert, a guy who just a year ago was a planner in the Seattle Parks Department. And now, as Captain Bert of the United States Army National Guard, he's about to go out on night patrols, leading a company of soldiers into killing grounds that broke the will of the British and later the Russians. Two years earlier, Aaron was in Iraq, where the worsening situation was measured this way: When we first got there, they scattered when we fired at them; then they started shooting back, but when we opened up with the .50 cal, they ran; then they didn't run but stood their ground; then they figured out ways to ambush us. In no way am I speaking for Aaron Bert. You can get his views from the blog he writes. (The Seattle Times this week began carrying his pieces.) But there's nothing romantic about leading people into combat and having one of them die in your arms — just one story he told of Iraq — then to come back and feel guilty that you're safe and other soldiers are still there. I feel awful that a good guy like Aaron is back in war. But I'm glad the Army has him; our military is better with people of his quality. He's decent and dedicated, and it's just awful he's spending another year away from his children. He misses them terribly. Decades from now, those kids may have a photo of Captain Bert on their walls, looking like a muscled badass holding his rifle. I want him to get back, hold a beer, and laugh with them about that photo. I wish our president had a clue.


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About the Authors & Contributors

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O. Casey Corr

O. Casey Corr is a Seattle native, author and marketing communications consultant.