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The average age of a soldier is 19 years. He is a short-haired, tight-muscled kid who, under normal circumstances, is considered by society as half man, half boy. Not yet dry behind the ears, but old enough to die in combat. 

He never really cared much for work and he would rather wax his own car than wash his father’s; but he has never collected unemployment either.

He’s a recent high school graduate; he was probably an “average student”, pursued some form of sport activities, drives a 10-year-old car or is making  payments on a new one, and has a “steady” girlfriend that either broke up with him when he left or swears to be waiting when he returns from his first deployment.

He listens to country or rap and 155mm Howitzers.

He is 10 or 15 pounds lighter now than when he was at home because he is working or fighting from before dawn to well after dusk. He has trouble spelling; thus, letter writing is a pain for him, but he can field strip a rifle in 30 seconds and reassemble it in less. He can recite to you the nomenclature of a machine gun or grenade launcher and use either one effectively when he must. 

He digs foxholes and latrines and can apply first aid like crazy. He can march until he is told to stop or stop until he is told to march. He obeys orders instantly and without hesitation, but he is not without spirit or individual dignity. At some point, he wants it all explained.

He is self-sufficient. He has two sets of uniforms when deployed. He washes one and wears the other. He keeps his canteens full and his feet dry. He sometimes forgets to brush his teeth, but never to clean his rifle. He can cook his own meals, mend his own clothes and fix his own wounds.

If you’re thirsty, he’ll share his water with you; if you’re hungry, his food. He’ll even split his ammunition with you in the midst of battle when you run low. He’ll die for his friends. 

He has learned to use his hands like weapons and his weapons like they were his hands. He can save your life – or take it, because that is his job. He will often do twice the work of a civilian, draw half the pay and still find ironic humor in it all. He is, after all, a volunteer. 

He has seen more suffering and death than he should have in his short lifetime. He has stood atop mountains of dead bodies, and helped to create them. He has wept in public and in private, for friends who have fallen in combat and is unashamed. Just as did his Father, Grandfather, and Great-grandfather, he is paying the price for our freedom.

Beardless or not, he is not a boy. He is the American Fighting Man that has kept this country free for over 200 years. He has asked nothing in return, except our friendship and understanding. We owe far, far, far more to him than that. 

Remember him, always, for he has earned our respect and admiration with his blood. 

I wish these words were mine. They are not. But I feel every one of them. I bet there’s a slightly different version for our women. 

Lee Baxter is a Former Fort Sill Commanding General