Fiction by Joseph S. Pete
Thank You for Your Service
Thank you for your service. Thanks for burning your own feces and urine and the feces and urine of your platoon mates in a sawed-down barrel with a sloppily calibrated mix of gasoline and diesel when you were stationed at that radio outpost in the middle of nowhere. Thank for you for filling HESCO barriers with flinty Iraqi soil until your E-tool broke and your arms gave out. Thank you for pulling unending guard duty, pointing your M-4 carbine at a vacant desert landscape until your eyes were so bleary that the instant MRE coffee you dipped wasn't enough to keep you awake or make you think it was worth it to “stay alert, stay alive.” Thank for you guarding those hajji detainees and eating all their halal rations for variety's sake and recoiling when that sergeant kicked them off the back of the 5-ton with their hands zip-tied behind their backs, as though they weren't rounded up on bad intel or because they were generically military-aged males and wouldn't just be turned loose in a few weeks.
Thank you for your service. Thank you for going on patrol after patrol, with such regularity that it must have been planned when that IED erupted and sent Sgt. Gutierrez home, scarred grotesquely. Thank for taking mortar fire on the FOB, and running out to the concrete bunkers at zero dark thirty in your brown underwear, K-pot, flak vest, and the carbine that you spooned with like a lover and carried with you always. Thank you for trying to apply a tourniquet to PFC Gregory's shrapnel-shredded leg, which he'd ultimately lose and that would be replaced with a space age polymer prosthetic. Thank you for watching a VBIED kill your squad leader and then laying down indiscriminate “suppressive” fire at buildings and windows and rooftops. Thank you for subsequently drinking case after case of Stroh's and bottle after bottle of Three Buck Chuck while you tried to blot out that image of dark blood in the gravel and a metal-riddled Opel in the background.
Thank you for confusedly shooting that Iraqi policeman you were out on patrol with after he started unloading his AK-47 on a snake while you were in the middle of town. Thank you for punching that liquor store clerk across the counter after he asked you if you ever killed anyone when you showed him your military ID, and for fleeing, hoping and praying you weren't caught on CCTV security footage and that the police wouldn't be too motivated to track you down. Thank you for being haunted by the blood-flecked image of that dead child, the one who had been regularly pleading to your unit “mister, mister, give me chocolate.” Thank you for being troubled when you heard the hajji shop owner, the one who sold you souvenir Iraqi Dinar and shaky bootleg DVDs, got his throat cut from ear to ear for collaborating with the Americans.
Thank you for your service. Thank you for watching your friend die after an IED tore through your convoy, charring him to where the medic seemed unsure how to proceed. Thank you for losing more friends after getting home, to motorcycle crashes and heroin overdoses. Thank you for drunkenly crying in the middle of the night wishing that you died, not them, and that you weren't such a worthless piece of rotten fetid garbage who should have died over there, who really should have been the one to die over there.
Thank your your service. Our nation owes you a debt of platitude that can never... blah, blah, blah. We'll repay you with phony NFL pre-game tributes, treacly post-deployment reunion viral videos and free appetizers at chain restaurants once a year, on Veterans Day.
Thank you for your service. Here's 5 percent off at J.C. Penney this weekend.
Joseph S. Pete is an award-winning journalist, Indiana University graduate, and Iraq War veteran. He was named poet laureate of Chicago BaconFest 2016, a feat that Milton chump never once accomplished. His literary work has appeared in Dogzplot, Pour Vida, Fictitious, The Vignette Review, McSweeney's Internet Tendency and elsewhere. He once Googled the Iowa Writers' Workshop.