The Transition Home

For Anne

"Poages," "Fobbits,"Legs,"…the internal name calling in the military is an aspect of our culture that few civilians really know about. The guy on the front line getting shot at and blown up receives the same handshake, the same "thank you for your service," and quite frankly the same pay as the other soldier who sits in the safety of the airfield and drives a forklift around post. One soldier eats MREs, the other gets Mickey D's. And yes, a bit of a rivalry develops, some chest beating occurs, and often times, certain branches of the military are regarded as civilianized.

Aviation is certainly a branch that, at least in my unit, had reputation as being a comfortable life. Mandatory eight hours a day sleep!? You get to live on the airfield where there's always great food, internet, phones, and a PX?! And on top of that, you get to fly helicopters! Of course some jealousy ensues. And when we get back home, the feeling of a lack of societal utility overcomes some of us. It's hard to feel like you're contributing anything to society when there are folks in your profession who are overseas on their third or fourth tour, still kicking down doors and taking lethal fire. It's hard to feel like a soldier when people around you are more worried about the shaping of a beret rather than the actual problems people face day to day.

But then I read this article about my good friend Anne Rockeman from West Point ’08. Annie was my friend from my plebe year differential equations class. We both had absolutely no idea what we were doing, but we managed to keep ourselves entertained through some very dry subject matter. She had intense freckles, bright red hair, and some horrific braces she was terribly self-conscious about at age 19. But it didn’t stop her showing off that million dollar smile and making everyone feel like they were her best friend in the world. Annie was one of the most down to earth and normal kids at a school where the dominant alpha-male mentality made me feel like a fish out of water. Annie was amazing at disarming even the most intimidating soldier.

When Annie and I received our branches on Branch Night, we celebrated at the Firstie club with the rest of our classmates…I got Armor, she got Aviation. we were both very excited, and it put life in perspective: four years had gone by so quickly. And they weren’t going to slow down. I zipped off to Ft. Benning and Ft. Knox, then Ft. Lewis and Afghanistan. And coming home from war, I finally felt safe. But seeing Annie die in a helicopter crash at home humbled me. It’s unbelievable to think how dangerous the military profession is, even in training. I think to myself how many amazing experiences I’ve had in the military where I never felt in tremendous danger because it was a “controlled environment”. I repelled out of helicopters, I climbed over intensely tall obstacles, ran around the woods with guns, and spent four months playing war games with 70 Ton M1 tanks at Ft. Knox. I run through the countless times in my state-side military career where I could have gotten hurt and killed. And I just can’t believe that all that internal fighting we do as a force still happens.

The military profession, whether at home in the U.S. or in a combat environment; whether it’s on the front lines or in a forward operating base…what we do is dangerous. Though we do a good job of controlling as many variables as possible, there’s no such thing as an operation without human error. This is a dangerous line of work, and I have a new found respect for those who bear the uniform, independent of the brand of service they provide. Putting your life on the line can take many forms in our profession, and I hope that we as a military–and better yet, as a country–can start having the humility to understand that the surface of person’s life is rarely indicative of the contribution they actually make.


4 responses

  1. May God embrace Annie and all those like her; who were taken from us far to early. May He embrace her loved ones who grieve for her and
    may the families of all our fallen soldiers be given comfort from Our Almighty God.

    15 December 11 at 20:27

  2. There are no adequate words at your loss… our loss…. her loved ones, friends and colleagues… those who have gone before and those still here who will carry the scars.

    She and the others were a microcosim of what gives me hope for our Nation. As long as we can keep producing men and women like you and her, we will survive.

    God Bless you, Captain. And God Bless her, the others, their families and their friends and loved ones in these hours of need.

    We are all less because they are no longer here.

    16 December 11 at 04:52

  3. Collin Smith, USMA '07

    Ran across this post when looking at all of the pictures of Annie on google images.

    I was in E-2 and she was in F-2 when I was at West Point…she was a class year behind us in ’07 but through her team leader the next year we became fast friends. She had exactly the qualities you mention – a smile and a hug from Annie could break down any forcefield you thought you had put up.

    She was just a gem, man. Guys from ALL walks of life wanted to be around Annie…you couldn’t count on both hands and feet how many guys probably had a crush on her and wanted to date her. She was just awesome.

    We lost a good Soldier and a good friend this week, and the world lost a great soul. My heart goes out to her husband – I can’t imagine how he must feel.

    Thanks for this post, man. I really enjoyed it. Took me down a pretty awesome trip down memory lane at Castle Greyskull… 🙂

    Miss you & love you like a sister, Annie.

    16 December 11 at 05:46

  4. So sad for your loss, Annie’s folks and friends. With gratitude, and, God Bless!

    10 March 12 at 19:43

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