The Crossroads of Special Operations

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Op-Ed: Mayhem and the Superhero Ethos – Gwen Raczkowski

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I came across the SOFX article about the Department of Mayhem and it struck a chord for several reasons.

There is this mentality and mindset that goes with being a part of this small percentage of the population, whether connected by service or by marriage, of a superhero ethos.  It’s the unstoppable and unbreakable spirit that comes with this world as well as with the jobs and roles that come with it. How could you purposefully choose to run headlong into danger day after day if you weren’t unstoppable?  How can you place yourself in harm’s way, knowing it may mean your spouse and children spend the rest of their lives without you and that you may be ensuring the men standing next to you will be there for their families as a result, if you’re spirit is not unbreakable?  How else would you be able to get up every day declaring that today is a good day to die?

The problem with this mindset is that being unstoppable and unbreakable is an illusion and believing any of us to be so is a pedestal upon which it is impossible to stay.  None of us are infallible. It isn’t enough to come out of war with all limbs attached because none of us can experience trauma and hardship yet come out unscathed, untouched, or unaffected.  War is ugly and brutal, and despite the stories we tell ourselves, none of us are able to withstand or carry all that comes with war without being impacted or without ever stumbling.  

Nevertheless, there’s this unspoken taboo about showing any sign of weakness.  On the surface we talk about the 22 soldiers who commit suicide each day and we talk about reaching out to our battle buddies, but it is rare to actually openly admit we ourselves need help because if we admit we need help, then we may also be admitting that we are weak.  

The other piece that comes with being unbreakable and unstoppable is the piece that diminishes and downsizes one’s own needs and one’s own injuries.  “I’m fine, but my buddy needs help.” The number of times I’ve seen men willing to forego treatment and assistance in case someone else more in need comes along is astounding.  It’s beautiful because of its selflessness but it is also tragic because none should feel their wounds, whether physical, emotional, psychological, or spiritual, are not enough to warrant care and healing.  Nevertheless, we take a knee, drink some water, and charlie mike.

In this military community, we see the best of us.  The small percent who are willing to be the sheepdogs and keep the wolves at bay see and experience the worst humanity has to offer and we expect them to be unbreakable, leaving one another to sit on pedestals or remaining there ourselves, until toppled or until someone has the wherewithal to do the work to climb down.  We praise them for having shoulders strong enough to carry it all and when we discover they can’t actually do so, when the inevitable happens and another hero falls from grace, we have to choose how we will respond. Unfortunately, it’s human nature to stop and watch a train wreck when we can so easily ignore the train speeding by without issue one thousand times.  Nevertheless, if we do not watch and start to learn from what caused the fall, nothing will change within this culture that sets us up to fall. If we do not create a dialogue about such things — dialogue and conversation with a mindfulness to change, not judgment, complaints, and blame — nothing will ever change. 

We have to give ourselves the permission to get down off the pedestal.  

We have to create a culture that allows us to do so.

You don’t know me.  I have seen the ugly side of what war brings home and when a hero falls from grace.  I’ve seen it dozens of times played out in friends within this community since I first became connected to it myself, and I’ve seen it in my own life.  I’ve seen others fall from their pedestals and I’ve fallen from my own. When the fall happens, it is much easier and much less painful for the rest of us to judge the one who fell or to wish to turn from them because we know that we, all of us, are better than the worst actions of one of us.  Everything from day one of basic training teaches us that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and every fallen hero is a reminder of that sentiment despite the strength we see in the remainder of the chain. We also know that outside of this community, we are collectively judged by the actions of the few.  Nevertheless, the story behind how a fallen hero got to where they are is essential, as are the stories of those who were caught up in the fall. If we silence the stories that come from the fall, from those who have fallen and those around them whose lives were equally impacted by the fallout, we are actively choosing to silence a source of intelligence that can help us create a space for change.  

We are not individually or collectively strong enough to absorb all of the hell that comes with war and not have it impact us, and it is unreasonable for us to expect to do so.  

We are human.  We can be broken and brokenhearted by what we see and experience even when our bodies remain physically intact.

I appreciate the willingness to open dialogue enough to start to impact a change by not hiding those stories even when they sting and even when they shine a less than flattering light on the 1%.  The willingness to foster open dialogue to impact change highlights one of the best qualities we have, and if we can harness that, we really can create a space for change.

Gwen Raczkowski

Gwen Raczkowski is the mind behind The Kintsukuroi Life blog.  As a former DODEA teacher and military spouse, Gwen is passionate about enriching the lives of those within the military community and bringing positive change in the ways we address and approach physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual trauma that come as the result of war.  What began as a philosophical unwillingness to see brokenness and injury as the end has become a passion for writing about the beauty that comes when brokennes is not hidden but rather accepted as a part of the journey through life. Gwen can be reached via thekintsukuroilife.blog.



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