“Detachment 3, Air Force Flight Test Center, Groom Lake, NV; Distance ~ 26 miles” (2008) ©Trevor Paglen

It’s 4:47 am, and he’s wide awake. It’s an hour and 13 minutes before he sets out once again for his designated cantonment. Back to war, back to the mind-numbing silence of guns and grenades.
His wife still asleep right beside him, keeps her fingers tightly entwined with his, even in her slumber, scared to let him go. He on the other hand, is too afraid to even look at her, for he fears that his heart might urge him to give in and stay. Funny thing love is, how it acts as a weakness and a strength both at the same time.

Laying still as a rock in his bed, his eyes fixated on the ceiling; his mind has been wandering for what seems like an eternity.
There’s not much time before the alarm goes off. But somehow these last 13 minutes fleet by much faster. He can feel normalcy slip away from him. He’s grasping at little pieces, and willingly letting them go. The comfort of a home, his family, and potentially his life. This is what he signed up for. Turmoil flakes in and confusion supersedes his rationality. Two of his most dominant qualities, love, and patriotism, constantly try to win over each other. He’s yet to go to battle, but his mind’s already at war.
He finally musters up the courage to look at his wife. He primes his mind and takes a deep breath of preparation. Though he knows that all the readiness in the world is futile when it comes to matters of the heart. He slowly turns his eyes to her face, and his heart melts on impact. In a flash second, he has lived every moment with his dear one once more. He lightly caresses her protruding belly, swollen with life. He leaves as a husband but will come back as a father. Her face glows luminously, ablaze with motherhood. The sound of her breathing is serene music to his ears. She holds his attention with an almost hypnotic force. He is completely ensnared by her beauty.
Almost as if his mind is a camera, he captures and imbibes this sight perfectly as it is. He creates an intangible photograph like he does every time, so he can skim through the pages of his mind and look at it in times of nostalgia. He wants to make a memory and etch it into the deepest corners of his soul. For just a split second, love wins the internal battle.

The tranquility in her expression calms the mayhem in his mind. He is mesmerized by how peaceful his wife looks. A new line of reason appears. To think that what he does on the battlefield can bring, or much rather preserve, the same expression on the faces of countless other families reassures his devotion to his call of duty. It makes everything seem all the more worthwhile. He remembers that he is the son of his country, and this beautiful illusion of a feeling that he was formerly having while admiring his wife is what he needs to save, amongst all civilians.
He realizes that he is willing to give up his today, for a thousand other tomorrows.

And the cards on the table of the internal battle are once again in the hands of patriotism.
But now it’s time. The last hour. 5:00 am, and the alarm goes off, breaking the silence in the room and the noise in his mind. But he doesn’t even do so much as flinch. His eyes continue to be glued on his dear one.
She slowly opens her eyes. She looks at him wistfully, knowing what day it is today. In her heart, she knows that it is his bravery to go and her bravery to let him go. She is as much of a warrior as he is. Taking a courageous sigh, she smiles and emits a long blink in the way of saying that it’s okay. He responds by nodding. The first glance they exchange, they have said a thousand words without even speaking.
She then makes her way to the kitchen, to prepare tuck for his voyage.

Meanwhile, he washes up and dons his uniform. He shines his boots and tightly laces them up. He double-checks to see if all his identity cards and documents are in place and zips up his duffle bag. Positioning his cap, he pauses to take a long hard look in the mirror. Constantly oscillating, he’s uncertain about who the person staring back at him really is. All he’s certain of is that it is a hardened stranger. He’s in the process of forming a chrysalis. A shield over his mind and heart. Locking down all that he could possibly blot in those thirteen minutes. He begins steeling himself. This is his metamorphosis.
He walks to the front porch and watches as his wife stands and waits for him, with one hand lovingly placed on her belly. The bus would arrive any minute now. This, he knows is the toughest battle he’d ever fight. Walking away. But that is his ultimate sacrifice. Walking away.
From a hazy distance, the pair sorrowfully sees the bus. She proudly turns to him and blesses him with a kiss. He wishes he could promise her the return she deserves, but unfortunately he is not at liberty of such a privilege. In her eyes, it is the most painful, yet the most glorious sight she’s ever witnessed.
He painstakingly steps down from the porch and begins to tread toward the bus. The wound in his heart underneath the armor, he knows, is greater than any physical injury. He will fight to the death, not because he hates what’s in front of him, but because he loves what he’s left behind. Resisting the unbelievably powerful urge to turn, the braveheart walks and walks.
The bus brakes, and stops with a creaking sound. As he climbs the steps, he crosses over, transcending into the world of abdication and martyrdom.
“Wars may come and go, but soldiers stay eternal.”