Three Details

by Eddie Dzialo


During the time I was in the Marines, units deployed for seven months, then they trained for seven months in preparation for going back. When I returned to the United States in October of 2008, it was a statistical certainty that I would be back in the Middle East by May of 2009—and I was. Before my second deployment, I was assigned a new platoon. A platoon usually consists of 40 Marines, give or take, and when I took command of it, I had less than 20. People had been sent off to specific schools for training, others had been moved to other units, and the rest had started the process of being discharged because their contractual obligations had been met.

Every few weeks, new Marines would check into my platoon. Shaved heads, rigid, nervous. They’d stand in front of my desk as I went over their files, figuring out where they were from and how well they had performed at the School of Infantry. Most of them were young. They’d just graduated from high school, or they’d left college to join up. I would try to draw out three details about them during our initial conversation. They were married.  They had kids.  They had slept in a van when they were homeless. This way, they were not just machine gunners or riflemen, they were kids who carried pictures of their children around with them in the same shirt pocket every day.

Once, when a new Marine was checking in, I looked through his file and noticed that he was 27 (I was only 24). Because he was several years older than most Marines of his rank, I asked him why he joined at an unusually late age. Without hesitation, he said, “Because I was sick of bagging fucking groceries, sir.” Afterwards, when I would see him during a field exercise, I would think about his answer, and I was proud of him for his conviction.

It’s been nine years since the day I checked that Marine into my platoon, and his response is no less powerful now than it was then. For as complicated as war can be, it’s the tiny moments that become so important.

Before leaving for Afghanistan, I was transferred to another platoon. When we deployed, I wouldn’t be in charge of the person who had quit his job as a grocery bagger to risk his life overseas. And on July 11, 2009, he was killed. He’d been driving a vehicle, and an IED detonated underneath him. His lieutenant, a close friend of mine, had been thrown from the vehicle by the blast. Another Marine lost both his legs and bled out in the helicopter while being transported to a medical facility. Of the three, the lieutenant was the only one to survive.

When I think back on it, I think of all the things that had to happen for that person to be in that vehicle on that day. Four feet to the left, and the vehicle wouldn’t have rolled over the IED. Had they chosen a different route, would things have been different? Would they have been worse? I don’t know, and there will never be anyone to tell me.