The last time I met him, he was sitting at a table in an Army Green tent. The floor was dirt and gravel, and out side the wind blew hot and dusty. His Kevlar helmet sat on the table in front of him, and leaned against the side was his M-4 carbine. He sat in his body armor, hot, sweaty, a neck gator around his neck, not for the warmth, but to keep the sand and dust out. Sunglasses lay on the table near the Kevlar, a grim reminder of the bright, hot desert sun that awaited outside of the tent. Sweat and dust had marked his face in grimy runnels that left his face oddly streaked orange and pink. He held a cup of coffee in his hand, an odd choice for such a hot place, but there it was. He stared off into the distance, not really looking at the green walls of the tent, or the orange dirt of the floor, but almost onto some other plane of existence, one where the profession of arms was an unneeded one.
His clothes were that of an Army Soldier; ACU top and pants faded from the desert sun, black gloves ripped in some places and worn in others. Battered, coyote colored knee pads hung around his ankles, partially covering the desert boots with the worn soles. At home he had stood an inch taller in those very boots, but the months of treading the hot, oppressive streets of a foreign country had worn them down. His body armor was worn, as well. Covered with loops, and festooned with pouches of various shapes and sizes. Pouches that held things to save lives, and pouches that held things to take lives, as well. In the center of it all, though, was the insignia of rank. Three chevrons, pointed up. While only black thread embroidered onto ACU patterned cloth, and only weighing an ounce or two, the weight of responsibility rested heavily on him.
At his feet lay a bag. Green in color, it weighed twenty pounds, and was filled with life saving things; dressings, both traditional and the newer trauma dressings. Tourniquets, IV's, airway adjuncts. All this and more. The bag looked as worn as the soldier it sat next to, but it was ready to go. Everything in it's place.
As I watch, I see the man I knew in the man I now see, though the one I knew is worn, tired, huddled. The man I now see is distant, apart from this world, and not a part of the next. Blood, both visible and not, stains his hands and uniform. Some of it soaked into the knees of this pants, some in his pads, some on his boots. Lives have been held in those hands, and some have been saved, and some have been lost.
I have seen him before. His uniform was green, his belt tan. He wore three days of stubble on a face that had seen far too long without a bath or shower. Coffee sat on the table in front of him, along side a pack of Lucky Strikes, and a steel pot he called a helmet. Across his lap lay an old companion, his Thompson M1928 SubMachine Gun. His boots were brown, leather, cracked from salt water and rain, mud and dirt. His hands and uniform are still stained with blood, though through the dirt and grime it is hard to see. He wore a vest, then, instead of body armor, with pockets for the long magazines of his weapon.
His sleeve is bare to common eye, but the practiced eye will see the spot that is a shade too dark, a shade different where he used to wear his stripes, until the German snipers got too good at picking out the leaders. You can't lead if you are dead, and somebody has to bring his boys home alive, he figures, so better to lose the symbols of station and keep his troops alive.
Outside the shattered building he rested in it rained. Grey clouds blocked out the sun, leaving the world around him in a pseudo dusk. Somewhere out there his enemy waited, watched, hoped for the next opportunity to match wits and luck against him.
I've seen him sitting outside of a white canvas tent. He wore a beard then, his face worn from the sun and wind, scarred from the spark of his weapon against his cheek. His jacket was butternut, fastened with wooden buttons. A black belt wrapped around his waist, and a cartridge pouch was handy at his side.
He sat outside his tent, near a fire, his boys nearby but not sharing in his quiet contemplation. He had a sword next to him, and on the other side a rifled musket. Both were clean, the sword sharp, and the musket scoured. His shoes were worn, the leather holed in some places, and his pants no longer had a defined color, more of a mottle of colors from the many patch works done on them. A metal cup of chicory steamed on his knee.
His sleeve was marked with the chevrons of his office, marking him as a sergeant. A man among the boys who fought for their country, the man who promised to stand for what he believed in. The man who would encourage them when they wanted to run, who would push and prod them into line for one more volley. And he would be the first to take up the colors and lead his men in a charge in the face of them enemy. Anything to bring his boys home alive.
One time he was clean shaven, nearly bald. The metal bands of Lorica Segmentata surrounding and protecting him. A large shield nearby, his pilum at hand, and gladius at his waist. He wore sandals that wound around his feet and ankles, with metal cleats on the soles so that he could push back against his enemy, so he wouldn't lose his footing in battle. His helmet was polished with a red spray across it.
He sat outside a tent, his legs stretched out as he drank wine. He could see his troops, the men who he led in countless campaigns across Europe. The men whom he fought the Gauls and the Celts, and more barbarian tribes. They are the men who would follow him into the mouth of hell, should he ask, because he leads them well.
He is a Sergeant. He is a leader, a professional, dedicated to the craft of destroying his enemies and protecting his men. In times past he was apart from the men, risen by selection, education, or birth. In all times, he knew that he set the example for the other soldiers to follow.