I'm up before the dawn.

Kenya AA in an ugly gold-rimmed mug stolen from the officer's mess at some shitty European-run FOB, something post-rock on the stereo as background noise. I'll be goddamned if this doesn't feel just like waking up in country.

Pacing. Pondering my navel. This is my last morning. I have to go sign a few papers, say hello to the skeleton crew in the office, thank my boss for leaving me on such a long leash these past few weeks, and turn in my security badge.

I knew this day was coming soon the first time I laughed about a human being's death. War is an ugly business, full of killing and heartache, and I was responsible for a good deal of it - but it was never supposed to be funny.

Sure, we as humans laugh for all kinds of reasons. I've heard speculation that laughter evolved as a sort of threat de-escalation. Non-human primates smile as a form of aggression, showing off their teeth, a little like waving a gun around as a human. Supposedly, humans developed laughter as a way to take back that smile after being startled or taken offguard.

Whatever the case, the first time I laughed at the sight of an (insurgent, terrorist, freedom fighter) getting shredded by 30mm autocannons I realized that I had crossed a line I had never wanted to bridge. I had dehumanized my enemies.

There are two major problems with that. One: Dehumanizing my enemies lessens the gravity of the struggle, and forces me to cheapen my perspective on killing. Two: It relegates my position to that of dogcatcher or exterminator, an unacceptable parallel when dealing with other people in any capacity.

I knew that continuing in this line of work would swallow me up. I've already lost or given away so much to this war. I am not unique in this. THESE are the sacrifices that many unknowingly "thank the troops" for:

Sacrifice of family. I have been deployed for every major holiday for four years, save one Thanksgiving - and among my peers I am fortunate to have had that. My mother, father, grandparents, siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles - all have spent four years having no idea where I am on a regular basis, or whether they should expect a telegram and a visit from the closest chaplain.

Sacrifice of friends. I've lost touch with all but a handful of my pre-service friends. We have diverged on the path so many times that when I catch them again, we hardly recognize each other. And it's hard to make new friends when you're gone again before you're even comfortable enough in each others' homes to grab your own beer from the fridge.

Sacrifice of love interests. Other than a select special few who are only after a child support check, and a few who for some reason can tolerate it, who wants to share a home and a future with a photograph and a weekly telephone call?

I have given a good portion of my life over towards this fight, but when I realized that my very perception of self was at stake, it was time, as they say in the vernacular, to punch out. Pull the red handle, drop canopy, and escape.

I am conflicted. I feel that by taking off this uniform now - or rather, by declining to wear it any longer, I am abandoning my fight, and my brothers. But then again, perhaps I'm bowing out gracefully before I become a burden. I do not feel a coward, but I do feel that I have more to give. But then, there's always more to give, and Uncle Sam will take it from you not only gladly, but with a sense of entitlement.

"Sauve qui peut, motherfucker," as I was told once on a shitty European FOB, when asking where to grab a cup of coffee. Every man for himself.

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