Chris from Susanville, California.

In a few hours the alarm will go off and G and I will get dressed in the dark. We’ll pretend not to notice each others sleep deprived and crickled faces as we make our way to the Anzac Dawn Service in Doha. The event will be run by the Qatar Australian and New Zealand Business Association, it will be at the Hyatt Hotel, thank you Hyatt people for getting out of bed so early.

Anzac Day obviously started with the Anzacs, but it’s also a time to remember all of our soldiers. Whoever and wherever they may be. I only know a handful of soldiers, but one in particular keeps popping up in my mind.

His name is Chris and he’s from a little town called Susanville, in California. He’s tall and blonde. He speaks quietly and has impeccable manners. Manners, I imagine, his mother is incredibly proud of. He is in love with the idea of travel. He likes to ask questions about where you’re from and what happens there.

He is a boy. He is nineteen years old.

I know he’s technically an adult but he looks like a boy to me. The young son of any one of my friends.

When we met him, he was stationed in Iraq, in the Infantry. He was on his first break after a six month stint. He chose to spend the break in Doha, I guess the options were limited.

We were on our first ‘Desert Safari’. Aunty Suzie was in town so we were trying the touristy dune bashing trip, this involved driving sideways up and down sand dunes in a Landcruiser while gripping the handrail in a white knuckle fashion. Thankfully, after about 45 minutes it was time for lunch at the camp by the beach. The campsite had a traditional Bedouin tent, and a makeshift kitchen in an air conditioned trailer. There was a volleyball net, a very old and tired camel, and some chairs with shade on the beach. Iran, in the distance across the water, Saudi Arabia a little further down the road, we were out in the middle of the desert, just us and about twenty generators.

Aunty Suzie and I stifled a school girl giggle when our driver and guide for the day asked if we minded sharing the facilities with a group of American Soldiers. With expectations of the usual American soldier, you know, a mixture between Private Ryan, Matt Damon and Jake Gyllenhaal, we felt the day had just got a little more interesting.

For about the first hour of sharing the camp, the soldiers kept to themselves, they were busy having a laugh, playing volleyball or smoking the Shisha pipe. They were all young, a mixture of men and women, all of them were incredibly fit. Six pack abs and serious tattoos were the theme of the day, they were on a break and our little family unit was of little interest.

There was one guy though, who was hovering, wherever we were he was usually about ten metres away. We went for a swim, he went for swim. We sat down at a table by the beach, he sat at the table next to us. We looked at the camel…

“Have you noticed this guy” I said to G, “I think he wants to talk to us”. Greg gave me that look, the one that says “I’ve seen this before, you want to adopt him don’t you.”

At lunch time I asked if he wanted to join us, he quickly smiled and nodded and that’s when we got to meet Chris. Fascinated by Australia and how it worked he had question after question, when we mentioned our travels his eyes lit up “that’s what I want to do!” He explained how after joining the army, he’d been sent to the other side of the US to train for a few months and then it was time to go to Iraq.

As a mother, I was interested to hear what his mother had said when he broke the news about joining the army. “Oh, she was still trying to talk me out of it on the morning I was leaving” he said. It was said in the same dismissive tone a teenage boy would use to tell you of his over protective mother who didn’t want him to drive late at night. I winced as I looked at my two little boys. I wanted to ring his mother, tell her he’d eaten a good meal, looked healthy and was okay. He laughed and assured us all that she knew he was fine.

For the next hour or so I found myself struggling not to get too emotional while we were chatting. I’m not sure if it was the fact that he was so sweet? Perhaps it was from our time living in North America, seeing the young faces, the names that came up on the news each night “we will remember them”. Every night, more faces, more dead. We’d lived in North America for five and a half years, every night, more faces. Maybe it was just that he was so excited about the size of the Mall we had in Doha “we don’t have anything like that in Susanville”.

There are soldiers all over the world currently fighting or peace keeping in situations not many of us understand. The details over the years have become very fuzzy around the edges. Remember when people took to the streets in protest against going to Iraq? That was eight years and thousands of lives ago. Eight years.

Each evening many of us watch, completely desensitized to the news of nine more killed in a roadside attack. “Geez, that’s terrible” we say as we tap on our remotes to see what else is on.

So Chris, wherever you are, I will be thinking about you today and hoping that you made your way back to Susanville, California. I hope you told them all about that enormous Mall you saw you in Doha. I will be thinking about you and many others.

Lest we forget.

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  1. What a beautifully written piece. I have a 17-year-old son, and some of his friends will be entering the military after they graduate in May. Hard to believe that they are old enough to go, that they aren’t still the same little boys who once trooped through my house, eating all my food, and strewing their enormous shoes hither and yon. I’d never heard of Anzac day before. Thank you for writing this, and thank you for getting up in the dark to remember those who serve.

  2. Oh this is the most beautiful thing you have ever written Kirsty. What a wonderful young man. I have a seventeen year old son and worry about him when he’s out with friends at night, but the thought of him going to war in a couple of years…too awful to contemplate.

    Both my grandfathers were actual Anzacs, but I never met either of them – both died as a consequence of the war, years and years before I was born. Anzac Day will always be a special day for me – it’s my connection with those grandfathers I never got to meet. Keep up the writing. xx

  3. I often watch SBS and the American news has a section of silence where they put pictures of the soldiers who have died there..I imagine that in wars with Aussie soldiers the faces would have looked similar..too young, too many with families and friends back home, too many with lives still to be lived…to young to die!

  4. What a beautiful story to share with us. You’ve got me in tears here.

  5. Really sweet story. It would be hard to let my son (or daughter) walk out that door – I’d be the mom attached to their ankles at the recruiting office.

    Have a great week XOL

  6. This is absolutely lovely, so beautiful. Thank you for writing about ANZAC day, and broadening it to include others. My nephew serves in the US Army, made it through Iraq and leaves later in the year for Afghanistan. Every soldier is someone’s son or daughter, brother/sister, loved one and friend. Thank you for not forgetting.

  7. Gorgeous post Kirsty. I really hope Chris is alive and well. I really hope. We’ve had so many young Australians die recently – soon we will have to start questioning what we are actually doing.

  8. That was beautiful Kirsty.

  9. Bah! Now I’ve got a lump in my throat! Every time troops deploy from around here, those young men and women look so earnest and hopeful and yes, a little apprehensive on the local news. I just want to reach through the TV and hug them!

  10. Ciao Kirsty, i was temporary in Beijing for 25 days as the husband was able to pack along me and the 6 months old daughter for his worktrip…spent a lot of time visiting and very little on the internet but I missed to read from you, as the blogspot is censured there…
    as this morning started very early (the 6 months old wonder is still fighting the jet lag) i was so happy to find so many posts to read!

  11. Happyinspain says

    I’m sure his mom would be glad to know there was another mom halfway around the world watching out for her little boy…

  12. Wow Kirsty,
    That’s a really emotional insight putting a story to just one of the many young faces we see during the news before glossing over to the weather. My Anzac day morning I worked as a nurse and saw the other end of the spectrum. I helped dress an old veteran in his military jacket complete with rows of medals from his own career and that of his father and grandfather. Seeing the individual behind the uniform puts a perspective on each and every life lost.

  13. Oh boy, this is moving, and so much I can relate to here. Great post, great blog – looking forward to more!

  14. Very emotional start to the day for me. My eldest son joined the army as a seventeen year old, and the next three years turned out to be a nightmare for him. Several years later he’s out of the army and doing well, but still fighting his own internal battles. If I knew then what I knew now, I’d have fought to keep him out.

    • This particular boy has really stayed in my heart. He was very different to the others. The other soldiers (both men and women) were part of a group and were all laughing, smoking the shi sha pipe and pushing each other around – he was an outsider. He seemed gentle and kind and almost naive whereas they were tough, harsh and loud. I found myself wanting to take him home and give him a bed, a good dinner and a lot of love. When he talked about his family and how his mother didn’t want him to go it took all my strength not to cry. I hope your son gets through this and he can put it behind him. xxx

  15. Thanks Kisty.. He’s doing much better these days. My son, like the boy in your story was naive and different to the others. Physically he looks like a perfect solider; he’s an amazingly strong, giant of a man. But he sees the world differently, while his comrades were playing drinking games, he would charm the birds (feathered kind) into his hands and wonder about philosophy. I know the army can be a great place and a brilliant opportunity for many young people, but it’s just not for everyone. xx
    Btw, I love your work… the simplicity of your writing, shields an incredible talent for tapping into simple human emotion.

  16. What beautiful words…..they brought tears to my eyes. Just as you think of him often, I have no doubt, he thinks of you just the same! May your holiday weekend be of rest. I enjoy your blog!
    An American living in Moscow

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