TBR 23 – A Journey a Decade in the Making

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My most recent trip to the Pacific Northwest was unlike any other. Sure I was enamored by the beautiful scenery of the mountains in Montana, the prairie in Idaho, and the beautiful Japanese garden in Portland. However, these weren’t the mains reasons why I went. These were really just luxuries more than anything. The primary objective of this trip was something that I should’ve done years ago. And that was visiting my best friend from the Marine Corps who had passed away nearly a decade ago. My brother-in-arms, Sergeant Abraham “Abe” Kaschmitter.

This was a difficult trip for me. Not only because he was my best friend who had died, but also because I was ashamed of myself. I was ashamed that it had taken me this long to come visit him. Now I could say that it was because I didn’t have the time, or the money, or fill in the blank, but it would all be bullshit. That fact is that I failed to come see him sooner when I should have. For if it had been me, he would not have waited nearly as long to come visit.

This weighed heavy on me when I arrived at the cemetery in Cottonwood, Idaho where he was buried. When I found his grave, I just stood there for five minutes not saying anything. I was at a complete loss for words. Just what do you say to your best friend who died nearly a decade ago that you are now finally coming to visit. Eventually, I did bring myself to start talking. And I sat with him for a good while catching him up on what has happened since our days together in the Corps. I also brought up some good memories that we shared. Also, I apologized several times for having taken so long to come see him, trying to hold back tears as I did so. It was painful because I really felt that I had let him down. It breaks my heart even writing about it.

Now I won’t get into detail as to how he died. I’d rather reflect on the time I’ve spent with him and what I’ve learned from him. Though many of the life lessons that I’ve learned from him were done posthumously. As back when I was a Marine, compared to how I am now, I wasn’t really into personal development all that much. However, looking back on the things that he’s said and done, and the overall quality of his character. There is definitely much to be learned. So I’d like to share a couple of memories that I have of my friend and the life lessons that he’s taught me as well.

Although he was my best friend, Abe and I were actually quite different. Towards the end of my service, I was more than ready to get out of the Marine Corps, pursue college, and continue my life as a civilian. Abe, on the other hand, was the complete opposite. He had his heart set on staying in the Marine Corps all the way through retirement. He wanted to serve his country, to be valuable, and to be the best Marine that he could possibly be. Anytime there was a chance to take a training course or work some other duty to get more experience, Abe jumped at the opportunity. And that was one thing that I really admired about him. He was a man who knew exactly what he wanted and was prepared to do whatever it took in order to get it.

The greatest example of this was shortly before Abe deployed to Iraq. What was interesting about his deployment, was that at first he was not allowed to go. Now I’m not sure if he had a certain condition, but there was something unique about Abe. And that was that his head was larger than those of most people. Because of this, no standard-issue Kevlar helmet would fit his head. And because he couldn’t be issued proper head protection, he was not allowed to deploy. Now there may be some service members who would be relieved to hear that they didn’t have to deploy. Abe, however, became very frustrated.

The thought of not being able to deploy made him feel like he wouldn’t be fulfilling his duty. His commitment to the Marine Corps and to his country was that unwavering. Therefore, he wouldn’t accept being told that he couldn’t go.

Now I may be a bit fuzzy on the details of this next part of the story, but here’s what I remember. After being told that he couldn’t go, Abe wrote a letter to a senator telling about his situation. This senator then provided funding to manufacture a custom-made Kevlar helmet that would fit Abe’s head. After Abe received the helmet, he was given the green light to deploy to Iraq with his unit. That was another thing that I truly admired about Abe. That no matter what, he would never give up. Even if the odds were stacked against him, or if he experienced failure, he would press on and find a way.

He truly possessed amazing characteristics that made him an outstanding Marine. I have no doubt that he would have gone on to become an outstanding leader that would teach and inspire countless Marines along the way. Beyond that though, he was also an outstanding friend. One who was loyal, one whom I could trust with my life.

Even though I made the decision to leave the Marine Corps and pursue a different path, he had my back 100%. That’s something I really miss. Because I’ve made other rather crazy decisions in my life later on as well; like joining the Peace Corps and going to grad school in England, among other things. During these times I don’t feel as though I got a lot of support from some of my loved ones. But if I were to have told Abe, he probably would’ve responded with something like, “Fuck yeah man! Go and get after it!”.

Needless to say that this was a difficult and emotional trip for me. I really miss my friend, but I’m grateful and honored to have known him. For he’s impacted me in more ways than he could’ve known. By looking back and thinking about our time together, I was reminded of many things. Such as to know what you want to achieve in your life, and to be relentless in your pursuit of it. Also to never give up, no matter what obstacles you face or how many times you get knocked down. Just get back up, brush yourself off, and charge forward. Also to be of service to others and to be valuable was another lesson that I’ve learned. That was something that he was prepared to do until the very end.

As difficult as it was, I’m glad that I took this trip. I’m glad that I got to visit Abe and reflect on some great memories. It also made me proud. Proud that there are others out there like him. Those who have stepped forward to serve our country, so that we can have the freedom and the opportunity to pursue what brings fulfillment to our lives. By living an amazing life and doing what I can to add value to the world is one of the best ways that I feel that I can honor Abe’s memory. And that’s exactly what I intend to do.

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