by Michael Vining

Over my lifetime of 59 years, I have had many experiences. Recently, I sent a friend off to the Middle East. The strangest thing about this is that he is one year younger than me. One of the points of having a volunteer military is that older people can be sent to a war zone. When they reach 60 years old, the retirement age for military people, they are shipped back home.

His name is Charlie Clancy. He has been a friend of mine for nearly 40 years. He and I attended, and graduated from, what is now the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn. We have kept in contact all these years.

He was one of those people who had received a low number when the U.S. transitioned from a military of conscripts to an all-volunteer system. He enlisted in 1970 after graduating from college. He served five years in the active military, in Germany. He came back to live in the Twin Cities, and joined the Army Reserves. He has been in the Reserves for 28 years. In 1979, he accepted a civilian job in Milwaukee, and later transferred to the Twin Cities at Fort Snelling. His duties dealt with administering the reserve unit during the week, still remaining in the Army Reserves.

He missed being called up for the first Gulf War in 1990. However, he received his orders in mid-November, this time for Iraq duties. He left the Twin Cities on Dec. 11 for training and possible deployment to Iraq. With his permission, I am summarizing some of his thoughts as he heads off to the desert.

He wants to go and serve. The military has trained its forces well, and pays them well. They see it as a business trip. Yes, there are the thoughts of danger, and of being away from family and friends; however, he knows what has to be done. When you see co-workers in your unit being deployed, you want to help. He has felt this way for years. One of his duties during the first gulf war was administering fitness tests to those who were going to the Middle East to make sure they were physically fit to go.

Getting ready to leave was hectic for him, as well as the other soldiers. Dealing with phone companies, power companies, and insurance providers has its challenges. This is because the soldier has a short period of time to get all his/her affairs in order before leaving. These and other vendors do not have an appreciation of what people in this situation go through, or the short time they have to deal with these affairs. He is a persistent person, and with help from Senator Coleman's office, everything was taken care of.

Saying goodbye to friends and family was difficult; he went through in a whirlwind two-day trip to Milwaukee to see friends and stepchildren. I was with him on one of these days. He met me at the light rail station in south Minneapolis, and we drove over to a mutual friend's house, who, along with his brother and sister, were going to watch and maintain his house while he was gone. He and I then drove to St. Paul to visit our bowling teammate, who is in a convalescent home recovering from a brain tumor. After a half-hour with our teammate, we made our way to downtown St. Paul to meet with another friend of ours, whom we had not seen for several years. Charlie and this person both graduated from Cretan High School, and the three of us graduated from St. Thomas. Charlie had gotten in touch with this person at the Cretan reunion in October. This meeting was planned before Charlie got his orders. Add on the fact that he was still doing some of his regular civilian job until he left. No wonder one of Charlie's comments was that he seemed to have lost all track of time.

In the Middle East, he will be doing support work with contractors. He could be in either Iraq, Kuwait, or Afghanistan. That is all we know. He feels that he will be as secure as a person can be there. There are 170,000 troops there, 70,000 to be support, and half of those to protect the support troops. He will have a wet trailer, that is, he will not have to use the latrine outside.

At my age, this whole experience is somewhat crazy. We are supposed to send our children or grandchildren off to the conflicts, not our same-age friends. But that is how it goes. Being a visually impaired person, this is the closest I will get to having the Iraq War affect me. I have known some acquaintances who went in the military in the '60s. I also remember helping friends in college send Charlie off with a drunken party in 1970 when he joined the Army. But, at my age, doing this again! He promised to call and e-mail, so we may have news to share of what life is like over there in future issues of the Forum.

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