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Making soldiers: Making killers of regular guys

During the Vietnam War era, many of my friends were drafted into combat. They went away for training duty, came home for a brief visit to say goodbye to their families, then off they went. Seeing some of those guys while on leave, there was a big change in them. Some were more combative and aggressive. They were nervous and high strung. While they may have been reluctant warriors, nonetheless, they had become trained killers. This didn’t sink into me until I underwent infantry training at Fort Dix and Fort Polk Louisiana as a National Guardsman. Yes, I was a lucky one.

Grief stricken soldier at Fort Hood
Photo by Erich Schlegel/Getty Images

Training for me was alongside bunkmates most of whom would be in active combat duty in just a matter of months. The drill sergeant used to ask us a question, “What’s the spirit of the bayonet?” The correct answer was “to kill, Drill Sergeant.” Outside the barracks was a sign that read, “ I want to make sure the enemy gives his life for his country.” The entire focus was to make us killing machines. We were trained to lock and load our M16s and to stand up and assault the enemy, firing shots as each alternating foot hit the ground. In actual combat, soldiers were hugging the ground and holding their weapons over their steel pots (helmets), firing at anything out there.

Some of my friends who were on combat duty didn’t come back. Many were the tall guys whose bodies made the best targets. Many were the most aggressive guys who were surely heroic in their assaults. Some came home again, but they were never the same. One friend and I were walking across a parking lot when the lightning struck nearby. He was on his belly as that was a natural reaction. He had post traumatic stress syndrome that never went away. Now, when you hear news about tragedy at Fort Hood, or wherever, about soldiers killing people, you have to wonder and to realize that their behavior is a response to something learned. It isn’t an excuse, but we made them killers.

“At Fort Hood service, Obama calls for renewed attention to wars’ toll on those who served

By Scott Wilson, Published: April 9

FORT HOOD, Tex. — President Obama arrived here again Wednesday to console a mourning military community that has carried the burden of the nation’s post-Sept. 11 conflicts, marking a turn from the wars abroad to the one now looming at home.

As a dry wind blew across this vast Army post, Obama eulogized three soldiers, all veterans of the Iraq war, who were killed last week by Spec. Ivan Lopez, a fellow Iraq veteran who was being treated for mental illness.

The president’s words were hopeful, drawing on Scripture. But they also included a call to better receive the millions of troops returning from the post-9/11 battles, many of them suffering in unseen ways from their tours.

“We must honor these men by doing more to care for our fellow Americans living with mental illness, civilian and military,” he said. “As commander in chief, I’m determined that we will continue to step up our efforts to reach our troops and veterans who are hurting, to deliver to them the care that they need and to make sure we never stigmatize those who have the courage to seek help.””

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