The Pocket Knife

first published on April 10, 2017 by

“Where the fuck is it?!” I exclaim a little louder this time, shuffling through a box in the very back of my closet, nearly dropping its contents while juggling the awkward, if not handy, light on my iPhone. “I know I put it in a safe fucking place!” The annoyance, now merging with anger at my apparent misplacement of a family heirloom, is in response to a text message received just a short time before causing the overwhelming feeling that I needed to find it. A member of my family had just joined the service and suddenly, events in the world that I spent hours a week reading about, just became considerably more important.

knife

The Global War on Terror and its subsequent phases have eclipsed all other American wars in terms of duration some time ago. The multiple focuses, and refocuses of Afghanistan and Iraq through changing political climate and administrations, and the added chaos of the Arab Spring still raging throughout the problematic region show little signs of subsiding anytime soon. With another new administration and refocus on the region, a second consecutive generation of Americans will find themselves all too familiar with camel spiders, moon dust, and stories from “the sandbox.”

The enemy often sees this generational warfare as an asset. Simple withstanding the West will suffice, even if it is their grandchildren who reap the rewards. “You Americans own the clocks, we[Taliban] own the time,” is a frank but highly accurate assessment, as Americans on the other hand, like their wars short and decisive, however unlikely it is.

The recent uptick of troop deployments and publicized airstrikes in Iraq and Syria possibly indicate a new strategy towards ISIS and the anarchic region by the US. It’s hard not to see that since the appointment of “Chaos”, or Gen. James Mattis, to the Defense Department that a certain level of competence and forward thinking has taken root. Elite troops, conducting critical missions in Syria and Iraq are the first sign of hope in a long time.

The earlier message had informed me that just four days after his 18th birthday, my oldest nephew had just enlisted in the Army. Swearing the oath that day, he had ignored all familial advice and desperate strategies conspiring to lure him far from any potential combat rolls or failing that, placing him behind as many layers of armor as possible. Unusual for his generation, he insisted on an 11(X) contract; he not only wants to serve, but he wants to be a grunt. An intense pride overcame me, that is, until an even more intense concern set in. Hypocrisy notwithstanding, he might end up patrolling down the same streets I did one day and see the same things that I saw.

The simple “Buck Knife” that had eluded me, would eventually be found in an old box of uniform hardware in another closet, much to my relief. The simple folding knife made of wood, bronze, and steal, still worked just fine. The humble knife is by no means unique, nor would I label it “high speed.” However, this seemingly antiquated piece of gear happens to carry quite a bit of my family’s history, and soon that history would continue into the next generation.

My old man had received the Buck Knife as a gift from a childhood friend in Queens, NY just prior to his tour in Vietnam. Serving as a combat engineer during his tour, it stayed in his pocket through the bloody end of ‘67 and into the Tet Offensive and the infamous battle for Hue.

Safely returning home, the knife would eventually pass on to me before my first tour to Iraq in 2006, and I would carry it through the rest of my career overseas. Combat troops are notoriously superstitious, and with the additional family legacy, I knew I must pass the now cherished knife on to my nephew.

I don’t believe I am singular in my feeling of sadness to see a consecutive generation head off to fight in the Middle East. It’s something I’ve heard from many others over the years and always felt very strongly about during my time in the Corps. As is often the case, good intentions have done little to bring a solution, and we must be prepared to send our next generation of warriors.

I’ll get my nephew the knife after he completes his basic training, infantry training, and gets to his unit. It’s not mine to keep; the knife, like service, must be passed along generation to generation as tough as that might be. Hopefully, the family luck follows him, and the next few years of wisdom in the Defense Department produces a better outlook for our interests in the region. If not, the knife and generations of America to come, will continue to shoulder the burden of service in this country.

~Sean

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