We’re Still At War

Updated: March 5, 2014


By Jack Mandaville

Earlier this evening I was at dinner with my girlfriend, enjoying a large plate of Texas fajitas with a tall, cold glass of water to wash everything down. As I was finishing my plate—and loosening my belt after eating more than I probably should have—we somehow got onto the topic of the plastic crate sitting in our closet.

“I know if there was ever a fire the first thing you’d want to grab is your Marine Corps tub,” she said.

“Hey now, I’d grab you first then the tub,” I responded jokingly.

This crate, nestled under a bunch of boxes in the corner of our walk-in closet, is the only visual reminder in our entire place that I served. All of the most important physical items from my active-duty years (photographs, uniforms, war loot, letters, etc) sit in that nondescript tub that was purchased for less than $5 at Walmart. It’s a vital, yet hidden, link to my past.

At thirty years old and seven years removed from the Marines, I’ve outgrown the majority of the post-service readjustment obstacles that many encounter. I’m settled and happy with my professional and personal life—thinking more about tomorrow than yesterday.

Our conversation quickly progressed from a rare Q&A about my time in service to one about the guys I served with and where they’re at now. I talked about how I respect them more now than I did while were young men on active-duty, how they’re all doing well in life and looking to the future.

marine2These are a group of men who served in one of the toughest jobs in one of the toughest time periods of the Iraq War and, contrary to the popular media narrative, none of them are felons or living on the streets. In fact, among them, there are successful contractors, cops, lawyers, med students, businessmen, and even a PhD candidate at any Ivy League school. The ones who stayed in the military have advanced within the enlisted ranks and some have even taken commissions. They’re family men, as well. Hell, at this point, our peer group has gone through a mini baby boom, causing me to lose track of all the new names in our family.

Yes, they did some incredible and impressive things in uniform. But the talented professionals and doting fathers they’ve become has driven my respect for them through the roof.

Within that conversation I also casually mentioned that we were involved with the Global War on Terror in its early stages. I mentioned the fact that some of the young men and women deployed to Afghanistan now were barely learning to read when the Twin Towers were hit—not even old enough to comprehend the enormity of that day.

That conversation was six hours ago. It’s 3:20 in the morning and, in a bout of insomnia, I just checked my Twitter feed. One of the first things that popped up was a tweet from a Twin Cities news anchorman.

–RIP Caleb Erickson– Marine from Waseca, MN killed by suicide bomber in Afghanistan Friday. 20 years old.

This wasn’t the first tweet of its kind that I’ve seen. But something about it struck my soul. It was undoubtedly a combination of the earlier conversation with my girlfriend—again, that is out of the ordinary these days—and the fact that this young man was from the same home state as me. Additionally, the tweet was accompanied by a picture. It was that same backdrop mixed with the American and Marine Corps flags that I had once sat in front of. A young, straight-faced man halfway through bootcamp with a white barracks cover resting atop his head as he stared into the camera.

Twenty years old. He wasn’t even in double digits when we crossed the LOD into Iraq ten years ago. It’s heartbreaking. It’s a terrible reminder that we’re still at war. It’s a terrible reminder that this young man will never have the same opportunity to live the life of peace the men of my generation have enjoyed. He’s the same as those we lost ten years ago, who should be where we are–eating too much Mexican food and chirping away with their loved ones about different subjects. He’ll never have that memory crate to stuff away in the corner of his house as he goes on with life.

And now we have one more Gold Star family in America. We have one more platoon missing a brother. It’s year twelve in Afghanistan. That conflict is on its second president, its eighth CentCom commander, its 2,313th US death, and its 3,425th Coalition death.

Even for those of us whose job revolves around supporting active-duty troops and Veterans, sometimes we need these hard reminders. Because knowing the troops are still in Afghanistan and wanting to see a logical conclusion to the war are two different things. I can no longer carry on with a “I did my time, glad I’m not there” mentality. My own cousin has been in Afghanistan for months now and the only time I give it any thought is when I see occasional pictures of him on Facebook. I owe him more. We owe the young men and women still serving more.

This country is still at war. We’re still losing our people. We have an entirely new generation of war vets that will have to encounter the trials and tribulations of post-war adjustment until they settle into their groove.

What are we doing?




  1. D

    March 5, 2014 at 9:31 am

    Good article! MSgt Aaron Torian who I believe was with MARSOC was killed on 02/15/14 in Afganistan. MSgt Torian completed I believe 6-7 combat deployments. He was a Husband, Father, and from what I have heard a bad ass operator. I didn’t know him but I had friends that did. It was kind of a “oh shit moment” when you hear about a guy like that getting killed this month. Like hey! are brothers are still dying over their, made me sick to my stomach.

    • hyder

      March 5, 2014 at 12:17 pm

      what your doing is living your life. the life you deserve to live. the life of freedom that you know all to well the cost of. im in aghanistan now. I appreciate what you wrote. sometimes it feels like too few realize were still here.

      • Jeff Coulter

        March 7, 2014 at 10:51 pm

        Amen to that, brother! I was over there in 08. Keep your head down, watch your ass and that of your brothers and sisters. Come home safe because God knows there’s nothing there worth any American’s life. Sad, but true.

  2. J

    March 5, 2014 at 10:39 am

    We’re trying to gain closure on a challenging part of our lives and that may hear us say, “I did my time, glad I’m not there”. It’s not callous; it’s human. It’s not OK for Vets to judge Vets – we were all in it together and we’re all trying to survive together. Don’t tell me how I/we should feel, do, act, or carry ourselves as civilians. We all lost a lot (time, friends, mental/physical/spiritual) and we’re trying to gain that back, if ever.

  3. Z

    March 5, 2014 at 10:45 am

    It’s easy to forget with a society that wants you to just blend back in. Very unlike the post WW II society, with 2 percent serving/have served we can easily be forgotten unless some social welfare program needs money.

  4. SFC (Ret) Valle

    March 5, 2014 at 11:31 am

    You know I am humbled by this article, now that I am retired I am living the Civilian life and trying to stay healthy and adjust to the ways. I do not keep all my stuff in a closet, most of my career is hung on my wall in the Den. But as you have stated, I’m not doing enough to consciously think, and acknowledge the Men and Women that still serve in harms way. Yes I do post things, and am a big supporter of Grunt Style, and you guys too, but I ask my self after reading this article, am I truly thinking and supporting our Service Men and Women enough? I was asked the other day “So, you think we’re going to Russia?” I replied with a very non caring answer as it was something I wouldn’t have to actually deal with it. Thanks for getting me back on track, and the reality check. “It is the true Soldier who prays for peace, and prepares for War.”

  5. v

    March 5, 2014 at 11:36 am

    Excellent and sobering reminder and call to action. With all the pettiness that fills so much of media and news nowadays, it’s too easy to lose sight of the fact that we’re still fighting and dying over there in a hot conflict.

  6. Joseph Belt

    March 5, 2014 at 11:51 am

    Thank you Jack! I am currently in my fourth deployment and my 12th year of service in the Army. I am not a Marine, but a brother in arms none the less. I often am humbled by the support we still receive today as the first veteran’s of this conflict receieved when they returned home. I cannot thank you enough for your support.It is the support we receive that keeps me going sometimes. I am a medic by trade but platoon sergeant by grade and position. I don’t do what I do for congress, praise, and definately not the money. Lol I do it because I care about those I serve with. Again, thank you for all that you do to support us! God bless you and God bless the USA.

  7. TC

    March 5, 2014 at 4:09 pm

    I agree…. lets not forget, that the battle is still going on. Let us honor those who are still willing to make that ultimate sacrifice.

    I don’t have any bad feelings about taking joy from this next chapter of life, and reflecting on the time I have served. Being thankful that I am not in harms way on a daily basis. So thankful that I don’t risk taking that ultimate sacrifice daily. These things I am grateful for. Many of us have sacrificed, and we were willing to pay the ultimate sacrifice, but made it home, and have our box full of military stuff, or an area of our home to remember our service. I don’t forget those who continue to serve. But I am very glad that my time in service is complete and I am off to other things in my life. I do feel for those who never made it home. That could have been me. I take the cards I have been dealt and be thankful for this next chapter. Lets not forget they still serve, but let us not forget that we should LIVE our lives and stop living in the past in which has shaped us so much. In 2005 I served, and passed the torch to those who serve now. I can’t help but be living my life, just as I hope that others before me have done after they served. What am I doing? I’m living the best possible life I am capable of, using my gift and talents to make a difference in the world. In my family, in my community, in my workplace. I am thankful and grateful for the life I have. I am enjoying my freedom…That I fought for, now my brothers and sisters in arms are fighting that fight. I remember them and Thank them for their current sacrifice!

  8. Bryan Dayton

    March 5, 2014 at 5:35 pm

    Outstanding jack so proud of you and the honor of saying that I served next to you. That box is priceless we all have them and can’t let them go.

  9. leftoftheboom

    March 6, 2014 at 7:20 pm

    In peace, sons bury their fathers. In war, fathers bury their sons.


    We live in a disposable age. I do not hate my fellow citizens, those who have known no fear or danger. It takes a great tragedy to get their attention. They do not understand that the loss of one brave man is just as tragic as the loss of a hundred lesser folk. Not because he was worth more than them, but because the courage and compassion for his fellows was awake in him and he was prepared to give the full measure of his life for them.

    Rest to the fallen.

  10. Jake

    March 8, 2014 at 2:57 pm

    It’s good on you to still think about the men and women still out there. I’ve been out a couple years myself and I still feel naked without the Army, but I need to move on with my life. I’m glad there are other people out there like you and me who felt the need or the want to raise their hand and go into harms way for our country and do what they think is right or what has to be done. They’re always on my mind whether I know them or not.

  11. John Garrett

    March 10, 2014 at 7:49 pm

    We’re still at war. America is at the mall.

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