As a frequent observer and generally active member of this forum, I've noticed a trend as I've scrutinized posts made by candidates and cadets as they attempt to decide what path they want to take in the Army (or any service, really). More often than not, I see young folks who are just beginning their journey toward service as an officer proclaim, in some form, a desire to "be in combat." That viewpoint is no doubt the product of youthful vigor and bravado, as well as a desire to be a part of what the military ultimately exists to do. It's admirable in some ways. In some ways it's troubling. So I address what follows to our candidates and cadets... No doubt you have heard some permutation of Sherman's famous quip that "war is all hell." It has been rehashed and parsed and flown aloft on countless political banners for a multitude of purposes, both for and against the act of waging war. Drawing from my own experience, it's my conviction that the reason the old general made that remark is because it's absolutely the bare-knuckle truth. That is not, in my mind, a condemnation of the warfighter or the ultimate necessity of making war. It is a condemnation of the glory we place on warfighting in our personal and collective consciousness. "I want to be in combat," a candidate says. What does that mean? In our minds, it means pushing the fight. It means placing effective fire on the heathen enemy and saving the lives of the innocent. It means standing tall in the face of danger. It means CPT Dick Winters sprinting across a Dutch field, scrambling up a dike, and firing the first shots in the eradication of a company of German SS troopers, because books and films really do a wonderful job of capturing our finest moments and helping us define our heroes. It means SFC Paul Smith standing atop his track, furiously and fearlessly engaging an enemy that outnumbered him 100 to 1 and earning his Medal of Honor. But the real Dick Winters had nightmares. Paul Smith is dead. Make no mistake. This is not an attempt by a guy who thinks he's "been there and done that" to dissuade you from your goals. Far from it. Your choice to serve is noble and laudable. America will always offer up her best and strongest youth to protect our ideals. As Kennedy told us, we will bear any burden and pay any price to ensure the survival and success of liberty. I think there is value in having some idea of what that price might be. It is easy to believe that the invisible and sinister hand of fate will not touch you in combat. I know because I labored under that delusion for two years of fighting. We all did, and in some ways we all still do to one degree or another. Few things can make a young man feel more sure of his place at the top of the food chain than riding a jet-powered steed bristling with rockets and missiles and all the bullets you can carry. The moment you find that the enemy's bullets are just as effective as yours is a cold and sobering point in your life, because the theoretical and ethereal consequences of losing become very real and concrete. For me it was the sight of a HMMWV consumed in flames with a brand new female 2LT trapped inside. They rolled over 100 lbs of explosives. She couldn't get the heavy armor door open fast enough. Those moments of realization come in any number of ways, like a random mortar round into a chow hall, or hearing your best shouting across the net that they're taking fire from three directions and just went winchester. You wonder if you're hearing the prelude to his death. I firmly believe that our young men and women, whenever able, should seek to serve in the fighting branches of our military. I have said as much on here time and again. I will always believe that those formations are where the bulk of the mission is accomplished and where the true crucible of leadership is found. You will love your soldiers as though they are your flesh and blood (for the most part). Please, though, do not wish to be in combat. To want to serve in combat is to want to take someone's son our daughter there with you. MacArthur opined that the "soldier above all prays for peace," though we may mask that fervent prayer with bravado and a vocal desire to get in on the action. War is all hell. Actually, I take that back. Perhaps to call it hell is to give it too much credit. War is sad, and lonely, and degrading. It's often senseless, and almost always brutal. It brings out our worst as often as it brings out our best. Combat is neither glorious nor horrendous. It's merely a cold calculation. Which round finds its mark first. Which footfall triggers the explosive that rips a body apart. An invisible scythe that cares not about the unique and beautiful creature that you are, or the years and memories that make up your life. That brutal math is meted out on both sides of the dividing line. Our weapons and training tilt the odds in our favor, but they cannot stop the dice from rolling. You get a vote in a good fight. So the does the enemy. There are many more folks on here who can tell you far greater tales of the bravery of our servicemen and the human cost of war. None of this is intended to scare you off. These are merely my thoughts from a narrow and purely personal perspective. My hope for you candidates, as we glide toward the close of another year, is that you'll enjoy continued successes in your endeavors and end up on the pathway to a bright career. I hope that none of you join the military "get in on the action" or "be in combat." Join to be a leader, to give the very best to your superiors and subordinates, and to do a service to your nation. Don't wish to be in combat, though. Too often the wish is granted.