This Veteran’s Day everyone will remember their war time experiences and the friends they lost in slightly different ways. The veterans of a past war will no doubt recall the jungles, the crack of AK-47 fire, and the chopping of a Huey’s rotor blades as some gutsy pilot came to pull them out of a killzone.
Our war came with its own sights and sounds. Most of us will remember the heat and the claustrophobic nature of stalking down third world streets filled with garbage, the smell of rot, looking through a narrow green tinted tube that limits your field of vision, all while burdened with body armor, weapons, and other equipment.
We will also remember our friends and team mates who patrolled those same streets and hit those same objectives with us in the middle of the night. One of those who I remember is my former Platoon Sergeant, Jared Van Aalst. He was the kind of Ranger who was always looking for an edge, a way to improve the platoon’s performance, and become even more proficient at the dangerous Direct Action raids that he led his platoon on night after night.
A lot of people called him “VA” for short, but I called him Sergeant while standing at the position of parade rest because I knew that it was in my best interest to do so. I had the unique experience of working with Sergeant Van Aalst for two years as he was my Platoon Sergeant in both Sniper Section and in Alpha Company’s First Platoon (we called ourselves the Glory Boys behind closed doors) within 3rd Ranger Battalion. How we worked together twice in two different platoons is somewhat humourous in retrospect although it certainly didn’t seem like it at the time!
We worked together for a year in Sniper Section before I got called into his office. Yup, I was getting my walking papers. No use in rehashing all the details. You could say we had some personality differences, but you could also argue that I had it coming. One way or the other there were no hard feelings then and should be none today.
There was no screaming or yelling, Sergeant Van Aalst was very professional about it, he said that I wasn’t being fired but just laterally transferred back to my old company, which was nice of him to say but it didn’t feel that way at that moment. He wasn’t kicking me out of the unit or sending me to the mail room but helping me walk on to a Team Leader position in a Rifle Company. In my experience in Ranger Battalion, it is very, very rare to be given a second chance like this. Rangers get Released For Standards and booted from the Regiment almost everyday. We shook hands like grown men are supposed to and we both moved on.