My old friend Jon

Tomorrow is Veterans Day. Most wonâÄôt remember. ItâÄôs the type of peripheral holiday that is easily forgotten. Just as the holiday can be easily overlooked, so too can the people itâÄôs honoring. On this Veterans Day, as a new generation of combat veterans are bred in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, I thought it an appropriate time to discuss the consequences of the wars we fight. It would seem a daunting task and any 1,000-word summation would be rather paltry and diminutive, so I think itâÄôs better to simply offer an example. I would like to pay tribute to my old friend Jon. He can be counted as one of the casualties of war. He was lost in Iraq and I miss him dearly. Our friendship took shape in basic training at Fort Jackson, S.C. We often found ourselves together; face down on the cold concrete, counting off push-ups for an angered drill sergeant. Our bond was built upon our mutual disdain for military stringency and an unruly affability. The times when I felt most like a misfit, Jon was there to remind me that it was okay to be a nonconformist. He was there to offer comic relief and consolation, all with the nonchalant manner that made him so great. When things felt least amusing, Jon could always bring me to laughter. Man do I miss my old friend Jon. Jon is not dead but the man I just described is definitely gone. The young man I met at basic training is now only a shadow; captured through foggy, far-away memories. For the Jon I came to know and love is no longer with us. He vanished in a moment of tragic misfortune under the hot Iraqi sun. Five years after basic training we would both find ourselves in Iraq, different locations, but on the same seemingly endless deployment. In the 21st month of our 22-month deployment, Jon, as I knew him, would depart. It was a day like any other, that is to say, anxiety-ridden with a high chance for tragedy. On June 28, just 15 days before he was scheduled to leave country, Jon was riding in the back of an LMTV âÄî Light Medium Tactical Vehicle âÄî with the soldiers designated to replace him. Their convoy was besieged by small-arms fire coming from an indeterminate location. Compulsively, Jon reacted to the attack. As he prepared to dismount the LMTV, he lost his footing and fell nearly ten feet from the vehicle, his head breaking the fall. Witnesses describe it as cartoon-like and surreal. All 160 pounds of Jon and an additional 80 pounds of body armor absorbed at a single point by a cracking Kevlar helmet. There were immediate doubts that he survived the fall. He was unresponsive for hours. At one point, he was pronounced dead. When he awoke inside a CAT scan, seeing only white, Jon thought he had passed away. It would be days before he finally understood what had actually happened. The CAT scan revealed that Jon suffered a traumatic brain injury. The exact details are hard for Jon to describe, he explains in plain terms, âÄúI dunno man âĦ my brainâÄôs just brokenâÄù he tells me. Unlike a regular injury, this wound wonâÄôt heal with time. Quite the reverse: itâÄôs degenerative in nature and will only become worse. With each passing day, Jon slowly loses his ability to retain memories; his capacity for reason and judgment diminishes as well. Already Jon cannot recall major events in his life; he cannot even remember the joyous and monumental homecoming that followed shortly after his accident. Like grains of sand in an hourglass, JonâÄôs memories slowly fall from his consciousness. Ultimately, he will lose his ability to retain new memories, along with his capacity for rational thought. You can imagine how one might react to such news âÄî knowing that you will one day become a vegetable, knowing that each day brings you closer to that dreadful end. For Jon, he finds his relief from reality in a bottle. He openly acknowledges that he is running from his wounded brain, doing whatever he can to distract his attention away from the bleak fact that he is slowly losing his mind. HeâÄôs chasing the good times while he can still distinguish between good and bad. I observe all this with a sympathetic, bewailing eye. I ache in frustration as I watch him make poor decision after poor decision; knowing that I can only offer my compassion, but not any meaningful solution to his problems. The Veterans Administration is of little help to Jon. He has been to the VA hospital countless times; IâÄôve personally delivered him to their doors. But Jon is now easily confused and frustrated, and the vast bureaucracy that is the VA is just too much for him to deal with. Besides, they only serve to tell him how severe his injury is and can offer no real help. They attempted to drug him, but Jon says these drugs were only a distraction, not a solution. He sees alcohol as a more agreeable diversion. I was with Jon earlier this week. His propensity for alcohol highlights his tragic condition. He has become increasingly unpredictable and dangerous to himself. Each time I see him I am reminded of the subtle, immeasurable cost of the wars we choose to fight. IâÄôd like it for this column to end with some grandiose point or gratifying conclusion. But it wonâÄôt: The consequences of war are sometimes irrevocable and sad and without reassuring rationale. There is no moral to this story, only the cheerless recognition of a veteran who is beyond repair and an aggrieved understanding that veterans like Jon are easily forgotten. Tomorrow will come and go, most people wonâÄôt remember. Jon will surely forget and be forgotten. Ross Anderson welcomes comments at [email protected]