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The Rocket's Red Glare

It's been a strange summer in Austin; cooler and wetter than usual, with long stretches of grey, rainy days.  The Fourth of July found my family, not boating on the lake or watching a fireworks display, but camped out in my parent's living room, watching the water level on the patio creep up.  It felt more like the dead of winter than the height of summer.  The kids watched movies and played board games, and the grown-ups drank wine and watched Band of Brothers and a History channel special on the Revolutionary War.

Military talk dominated the conversation.  My brother, Ben, who enlisted in the Army last spring, has a stress fracture in his leg and is home on convalescent leave.  Prior to joining the Army, he was an actor in New York; he's a born raconteur and a spot-on mimic.  He entertained us with funny stories about military life: the bureaucracy, the grueling training, his buddies, and their drill sergeants, complete with funny accents and walks.  We talked about the recent car bombings in London, and a bit about politics.  What we didn't talk about much was the war.

None of us wants to think too much about if and when Ben will be sent to Iraq.  I do the math in my head: thirty days of convalescent leave, which will be tacked onto the end of his term of duty; that's thirty days he's not in Iraq, and who knows, in four years, the war might be over.  We all enthusiastically recommend that he sign up for any extra training for the same reason; every day he's in training in the US is one day he's not in Iraq.

But there's a grimmer side to these calculations.  Every day Ben's not in Iraq is a day when someone else is, when someone else's brother or daughter or husband or mother is putting his or her life on the line.

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I've written a lot about the war in Iraq, about my frustration with the way our government has handled it and about the injustices to the Iraqi people as well as to American soldiers, who have been sent to do a difficult job with inadequate equipment and misguided leadership.  For all that my anger and my fear have been legitimate, they've also been primarily academic.  Although I grew up in an Air Force family, I only know one person who's spent any time in Iraq.

Now the war has became much more personal for me.  I pray that Ben will be safe, that, as my father-in-law says, he will neither be killed nor have to kill anyone, and when I worry about Ben, I try to remember all the other people who are praying for their loved ones as well.

In the past, I've bombarded senators and representatives with letters, emails and phone calls.  I've participated in peace marches and protests.  But it all seem futile in the face of our government's relentless insistence that we will continue to fight, that we will increase the money and bodies we feed this fruitless endeavor.  And yet we can't give up hope, we can't stop working for peace.  It's not enough for each of us to hope that our family members and friends will be safe, that they'll be the ones to dodge the bullets.  We have to unite and work together to bring all the soldiers home and to end this war.

On the Fourth of July, the rain stopped just before dusk.  We took the kids out to mom and dad's driveway and let them light some sparklers and spinning flowers that hissed and whistled.  Adam had also purchased a box of little cardboard tanks.  Each kid lit the fuse on one and the wheels spun, propelling the tanks down the driveway a scant few inches before they lost momentum and ground to a stop, then spewed smoke, exploding in a shower of sparks.  Alec said, "When I grow up, I want to be in the Army, just like Uncle Ben!"  I tried not to cry.
About the Author:  
Melissa Lipscomb
lives in Austin with her children Drew, Franny, Alec and husband Adam. Some days she feels like she's figuring out, and others she's just waiting for the other shoe to drop. Visit her blog.



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