By James Brereton

We all have that friend, the one who knows you better then most… good and bad. If you are like me, you keep in touch and that deep connection resumes seamlessly, as if the absence were hours, not months. You catch up as usual and that is even more fluid then most as you listen and share, rather then wait and run down your own list. Again, if you are like me, you catch up on those long ago days as well…good and bad. It doesn’t come from a lack of anything substantive to talk about, and it goes beyond “shop talk” like you have with other Vets. Together you have shared some of the best and worst humanity can throw at you and together you have relied on each other. You listen and share…good and bad.

John is that guy I spent almost my entire career with, both at work and on our off time. We shared a similar background in very unique ways, and yet we are polar opposites as well. I am the “Yankee” and John is the “Redneck”… one from New York City and the other from the hills of Virginia. Both had been Marines prior to becoming Soldiers and we both had connections to New Jersey… oh it get’s weird, trust me. But the guy I want at my side in a fight, and the guy I know who will shoot just as straight when I ask him his opinion or advice.

Like I said earlier, the one who knows you better then most…good and bad. So during this most recent conversation, there was just that… the good and the bad. I only came to this after we had hung up, but John had asked me a very direct and honest question that only a friend who know’s you on that deeper level can ask. He already know’s the answer, but it made me take stock, only to confirmed something that I had only recently come to understand, but it has tied into this journey. Also, that no matter what I may have believed, he honestly took my well being to heart. It was that day, after I had been wounded and I was chomping at the bit to get back into the fight. It is the prime motivator for so many of us to return for multiple tours, over and over. There is a sense of having not done enough, of being next to your brothers and facing experiences that leaves an indelible stain upon our memories. John knew me enough to break my heart and take me out of the fight. He knew enough then that although my heart was in the fight, the IED blast had altered my ability to effectively lead and he wouldn’t accept anything less then 100% medical clearance. I knew he was right, but it was a bitter pill to swallow. We just had the bad part of the conversation and there wasn’t a negative reflection on that event, but a complete agreement on my part as to why I had needed to sit on the sidelines. Only because it also took me on a path that I might never have seen, my road less travelled.

I started talking to John about IAM23 and how we are seeking to change the narrative, about so many of us wanting more then this “new normal” that many of us have expected to live with. About my own post traumatic growth and soon John found out that I was on a roll when I started talking about this new direction, and as brief as it was this was the good part of our conversation. Simply said, John stated that there was a purpose in my voice that he had not heard in quite some time. That was it.

We all have that friend, and they can hear our true selves better then most others. They pick up on the subtle because of that connection, that bond you share. It is also the part of your own narrative. A friend that can ask those deeper questions is an invaluable tool for us to regulate ourselves and take stock of who we are and who we strive to be. Shoulder to shoulder we shared an experience that forged a reliance for our very survival, and I challenge everyone to continue that support now. We stood for one another in the worst of times, and that also should never be forgotten now that we are home.