I’ve been acquainted with a number of different veterans and soldiers through the years, but there was one specifically—a person I don’t know, and never met—that sparked the beginnings of this story and was the avatar of the spirit behind him.
Late in 2009, I stumbled rather deliberately upon the website of photojournalist Michael Yon and delved into the dispatches from his 2005 embed with deployed troops in Iraq. One of them stopped me in my tracks. Entitled “Gates of Fire,” (click here for the link to Yon's full dispatch) it recounted an incident involving the Deuce Four’s Lt. Colonel Kurilla and Command Sergeant Major Prosser which Yon witnessed, camera in hand.
CSM Prosser saved the officer’s life and later earned a Silver Star commendation for the incident. The career soldier in this photo provided the spark that lit the bonfire of Mike’s character.
|CSM Prosser, photograph (c) 2005 Michael Yon.|
In the beginning, it was so difficult to get inside Mike’s head. The various military personnel that inspired him weren’t known for their intimately engaging demeanors. Or, they’ll talk for hours, and not truly say anything. How do I go about delving into the mind of a combat-hardened career soldier? And get the juicy bits?
I sat at my desk, staring at the screen, not knowing where to start, or how to work around to getting him to tell me his story. I had to get him buzzed, relaxed enough to let the words flow. I fueled that with a rum-spiked mixture of grapefruit and cranberry juice. It required a straight shot or two, as well. Ever tried to get a soldier buzzed enough to relax while still sober enough to be coherent? Yeah, well. There may or may not have been some white merlot and cheesecake involved in the bribery too.
I ended up writing a number of stream-of-conscious vignettes, digging around in his past, before things clicked into place. Those pieces will be highlighted over at Amara’s Place in the coming week.
For Mike, the concept of honor’s dark edge is the deviation between personal interest and professionalism. There are many, many times when a soldier—whether in a literal uniform or only a figurative one—must take actions or make decisions that, while professionally necessary or required, are in direct conflict with their personal perceptions, emotions, or desires.
I must do this because it is the right thing to do. I must do this because duty demands it. I must do this, because it is the honorable thing to do. I must do this, because not doing so would cause greater harm.
Throughout DEoH, I never take choice away from the character. There is always a choice. It is the journey of rationalization that I’ve strived to share with the readers. Mike’s logic, the series of small baby steps that lead down a road he never imagined he’d have to travel.
The goal in walking this road with him was to reflect back on the struggles that everyone has in their lives. The series of choices we make, seemingly innocuous, that lead us to an ethical struggle against principles and prejudices, socio-cultural stigmas, assumptions, and double standards, in a battle to acknowledge and embrace our authentic selves.