Life as a Combat Veteran: What I Miss the Most 

War brings traumatic experiences that stay with soldiers & marines forever. War has been the cause of personal wounds, loss of friends and destruction of relationships. Yet a week doesn’t go by without me seeing someone post about how they miss being “over there”. How can that be? What in the world could they be missing? Here are the 3 things that I miss the most: 

1. My Innocence 

We were so young when our journey to the battlefield began. Most of the guys I served with being fresh out of high school or in their early 20’s. Our training was the best in the world and tactically we were prepared for everything we would face on the streets of Fallujah. We were excited about the chance to take the fight to the enemy and couldn’t wait to get on the ground. At this point in our lives most of us were unaware that we were not invincible. The political back and forth that determined our ROE (rules of engagement) and mission approval was not part of our thought process. We were the good guys going after the bad guys and it was as simple as that. The older I get, the more I wish I could go back to the innocence we all carried as we boarded the plane for the Middle East. 

2. My Brothers 

If you are a veteran and you are reading this then the names have already started going through your mind. For me it is Doc, Snider, Stadelman, Kozak, Nevins, Stygar and the list could go on for awhile. These names and so many others are ones that I will never forget. I will also remember forever the stories that go along with these guys. The care package of gum where Stadelman fit about 300 pieces in his mouth at once, Kozak saving our lives by staying on the .50 cal when any sane person would have taken cover or Snider being the best friend a guy could ask for. 
For over a year we found ourselves eating, living, sleeping and fighting together every second of everyday. We came to know each other’s families as good as our own. We heard about the favorite fishing holes back home, each other’s reasons for joining the military and so much more. We got to see a side of each other that only comes out when you find yourself beside a brother day after day, fighting a war that seems will never end. 

On bad days we saw a helicopter land and take a brother away as medics worked to save his life. We would secretly pray that he would be okay and that we would see him again soon.  On the worst days, a body would be placed in a bag and that soldier’s friends would start praying for a family they had never met but yet knew so much about. While combat brought the most horrific moments most of us have ever seen, I don’t know of anyone who wouldn’t go back in a second to spend a few more minutes with the brothers that we miss every single day. 

3. My Purpose 

According to the official Army website, this was our job description: “The infantry is the main land combat force and backbone of the Army. They are responsible for defending our country against any threat by land, as well as capturing, destroying and repelling enemy ground forces.

In our minds it was summed up even more. Our job was simply “to close with, and destroy the enemy”. 

Our missions were usually very clear, a certain person, house or force was laid before us and our job was to kill or capture. During the operation of the mission, many obstacles would present themselves but our purpose remained obvious and we would give everything to see that our goal was met. 

After combat, personal purpose is a moving target that is impossible to hit for many guys. They find themselves searching for goals and wishing they simply had an enemy that they could go after once again. In their desperate search, too many guys decide that they can look no longer. 22 veterans a day make the choice to end their life and in doing so make it even harder for their fellow brothers to go on without them. 

I wish that each of us could forever live in a place where we all have a clear purpose for our days. It hurts so bad to see some of the strongest men you have ever known, suddenly find themselves without goals and direction. Over the next few months I hope to begin a program that will help each of us gain a clearer purpose to our lives. 

War is ugly, but it brought me some of the best friendships and memories that I will treasure forever. To all the guys I served with in A Co 1-32: I miss you everyday. I hope you are well. I look up to you more than you will ever know. 

*Pictured in the above photo is our medic, Doc Winkel. Everybody needs a good medic in their life. Thanks for taking great care of me, Doc!

-Andrew Smith

Andrew Smith is an Executive Coach and Leadership speaker with the John Maxwell Team, as well as the Director of Rooftop India, an organization that seeks to train leaders internationally, as well as care for orphans through the ministry of the Azlynn Noelle Children’s Home.

Smith served as an Infantry soldier with the Army’s 10th Mountain Division from 2002-2005. Wounded in Fallujah, Iraq in 2003 by shrapnel from an IED, he is the recipient of the Purple Heart.

Because of his military experience, he now assists as a mentor with Honor & Courage (Operation Ward 57), a non-profit organization that financially assists Wounded Warriors and their families.