I had a demanding career as a reporter when I met your father, while he was away for months at a time in the wilderness, training young men for battle. A former drill sergeant, he had a strong sense of duty. He was so devoted to his troops, many just out of high school, that he bailed them out of jail, taught them to balance their checkbooks, and even advised them about birth control. I learned to live with his long silences and ambivalence toward newspapers. But I struggled to understand what motivated the man who had for so long dreamed of your birth but chose to miss it because he believed his soldiers needed him more. He refused to take his leave from Iraq until all 105 of his men had gone home first.
Your father was bound to the military not only by a sense of duty, but because it had expanded his world. The soldiers he trained, and trained with, came from coal mining towns in West Virginia, the Bronx in New York City, seaside villages in Puerto Rico. He met former surfers, men who shared his love for the Bible, and women he revered for excelling in a male-dominated institution. He traveled through Europe while stationed in Germany. He practiced his Spanish while working with Cuban refugees at Guantanamo Bay. He wrote in the journal:
Enlisting in the army was one of the best decisions I had ever made in my life. God blessed me above all I could imagine. Like anything, you have some challenging days, but when I look back I have no regrets. The army even recognized my artistic abilities. I also met a lot of great people. It's been an awesome experience. Thanks, God.
But those were peacetime experiences. The military had also introduced Charles to killing and death. The sight of blood gave him flashbacks. Chemical sprays he received during the First Gulf War left permanent splotches on his arms. For years he was haunted by images of combat, unable to speak about them even to me.