There exists a population within America's bravest. A culture of warriors who heard and answered the call throughout history- American warfighters.
The military is an expansive network, full of various roles and professions. While any service is honorable, there's no arguing that some join for the battle- to run as fast as possible toward the danger.
We call upon these warriors in times of conflict, to utilize their fighting spirit, ready to charge into any battle without hesitation. During times of peace, this subculture faces rejection when the focus shifts to training for a mission in the unknown future instead of the dependable cycle of deployments during surges. To the warrior, who gains self-worth in their ability to live through combat, the blank space where a deployment slot belongs destroys the mind and soul. War rages on within them, awaiting the time when they can again serve to their true potential.
"I don't have an answer for why I keep going back, why 'getting into it' is what I feel I need to do. There's nothing else to do with the intensity or specific skillset I've acquired, so I guess it's more like- why not" explains Staff Sergeant Bradford Fong, Army Infantryman and aptly known warfighter to those who served with him.
With several combat deployments, he is among a rare breed of active-duty leaders today – those who embarked on combat deployments to remote combat outposts.
"Yes, I'm intense, but I have a good damn reason for it. Training soldiers now is frustrating, to be honest. I was 'raised' through a lineage of leaders who when things varied slightly from the books, you knew it was due to their fresh combat experience." The aggravation was clear in his tone when he explained how this once invaluable knowledge has become borderline unwanted and potentially misunderstood by leadership and peers without the same background.
"The Army has this tremendously valuable crop of soldiers- as we age, we clearly aren't the fastest, but we damn sure have a lot to offer mentally, developing other combat leaders and the kind of knowledge you won't find in any FM guide" he states. "I wish there was a space where that's all I could do because anything less feels a bit meaningless."
Training those in his command specifically for combat as an Infantryman is a conversation that brought an audible smile to his face. "I'm not here to train them into textbook soldiers," he says. The training of his men clearly means a great deal to Fong, who has no problem with discussing the blunt reality of the job.
On his second deployment to Afghanistan, Fong was one of the only members of his platoon that had seen combat before. While the other Soldiers awaited their own baptism by fire and showered him with questions about combat and how to react, Fong knew what was coming. The men around him naively prayed for a chance to prove themselves. Toward the end of their tour, they got their wish.
"I'd been there already (Afghanistan), seeing and experiencing what this new platoon had waited ten months for. After it happened, there were a lot of them who didn't come back mentally," said Fong while recalling his 2010-2011 deployment.
Operational tempo changes during times of drawdown or withdrawal pose a significant risk to the warrior culture. Schedules are intense but intently purposeful with a clear goal in mind- to remain a highly capable and rapidly deployable unit. The aftermath of coping with what is witnessed in war remains a struggle, one which Fong admits he's put away, but not packed neatly enough to never surface.
"A lack of empathy is required to remain in this profession. It's not nice to say, but it is true." Fong explains how shutting off parts of himself for his job has become slightly problematic with the new dynamic of adding a family in the last few years.
Stories like Fong's remind us all of the reality of what's being asked of soldiers. We sound the horn for these men and women to rush in when we need it most. We will always need true warriors, unafraid and unapologetic of their calling. And now, during a new era, we must find an honorable space for them to thrive, for their purpose to continue to feel fulfilled within the ranks- creating the next line of warriors within.