From the water, beneath the truck, I could see the person that most of the rescue effort was aimed toward. A sergeant had landed on the concrete wall of the reservoir before the vehicle did. His left leg was bent at an impossible angle, pinned by the weight of the Humvee. He had already been put on morphine and was muttering incoherently, whispering either sweet nothings or frantic pleas to his invisible wife. I couldn't bear to see his leg twisted well past its limits; the image of a layer of blood painting the concrete below him assaults my mind occasionally, and I cringe at every invasive thought.

The five minutes I spent in the water passed at a glacial pace. Eventually, the call was made that everyone was accounted for. I made my way toward the edge of the reservoir, but I couldn't lift my arms high enough for my friends to grab hold. It took a man on each of my arms to finally drag me out of the water. Nobody had been lost. I was left blessedly empty-handed and with a supreme sense of accomplishment. I had done well; I had contributed to a successful rescue mission and faced a challenge few others in my platoon were able to. I was a good man, a selfless servant. I thought the worst was over, but I was wrong again.

Combat can be explained and retold by any number of fellow combatants—the blood and gore, the anxious anticipation of explosions and bullets, the overwhelming boredom between missions. All of it in some way is translatable by others in the martial fraternity. But none of the glamorous depictions and romantic sentimentality we put on war could prepare me for what came after the rescue of that cold November night.

Up until the rescue mission, I was more or less caught up in the generic feelings of patriotism that crystallized around the time I entered the military. I wasn't rampantly patriotic, but I also had no problem with conducting violence on behalf of freedom, democracy or America itself. I was a suspended pendulum, sitting comfortably on the patriotic side of the war and peace spectrum. Soon everything holding me in place, all the cultural and political assumptions I didn't even know I held, would fracture and break, sending me on a foreboding trajectory into unknown territory.

From Movement One, "Rescue Mission"