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Dealing with Military Mortality

by Liz Brown

Part I

My husband wanted to go back to Afghanistan during his last career deployment. It's not something I've told my family. It's certainly not something we'd tell his. It would be impossible to ask his mother, the woman who chose to give him, to understand.

It's hard enough for me, the woman who simply chose to love him, to accept. But I try. I ask questions and he answers them honestly. Truth is the foundation of our marriage. I wanted to get to know him, all of him, and more than a third of his life was forged in the fire of the SEAL Teams.

Membership in The Brotherhood is exclusive — it's earned with blood, sweat, and pain. They are professional warriors. But for many, it's not just a job. It's an identity.

"The struggle, the bond, the calamity, the chaos, and the joy of the hunt… for the serious warrior, all of these things are primary. Death is secondary," he once explained to me. "Death is a thing that is not really to be avoided, but neither chased after. If he should die, it is his right as a warrior to spend his blood that way."

That's why, when Rob knew he was getting out after more than a decade, he wanted to go out with a bang. He wanted to operate in combat at the highest possible level.

For as much as I try to comprehend that, I'm glad he didn't tell me this during the deployment. I need him. I need him alive and I need him to be okay. The idea of Rob staying in the Teams after we got married was something I wrestled with constantly.

Happily, he found something he didn't want to lose after we became a family. His final deployment took him to nine different countries, but none of them was Iraq. And when he, a platoon Chief, chose who rotated into Afghanistan, he kept himself out. There was an eager young frogman more than happy to take his place.

And they are eager. It's something else I've fought to understand.

"What other, better, nobler purpose could there be for a warrior, who identifies his sole purpose in war? If his own blood gets spilt on the battlefield, he would consider that a blessing," Rob said. "Anyone who says he has nothing to prove is lying. They've trained to be the best and need to prove they are the best."

I asked if some professional warriors feel invincible.

"They might even fear death, and know they'll be caught by it. Invincibility is more like a coat you can put on. Sometimes, it's appropriate to put on your mortality. Other times, it's appropriate to don the coat of the invincible.