As a medic, rogue assignments were becoming more common in the later part of the Vietnam War, compared to the earlier activities by the American forces assigned there from the end of the Indo-China War and the beginning of this conflict. Being rogue was diverse from being a unit medic.
The role differed extremely in many areas and was designed to keep you mobile and unattached to anyone or anything you were attached to during the time of duty. To some it was extreme and for others it offered them a false or pseudo personality to hide behind a mask sort of speak.
Wearing a mask, a term used as a metaphor for a different face, was never meant to disguise or reveal your real identity but instead, it was created for an instant of convenience to serve a purpose and then discarded, disposed of in a manner of speaking, and move on to the next assignment.
No two masks were the same and no job assigned was the same. I am not sure in particular purposes, what mask I wore but I knew that I had put on a different mask for different people and places.
One can imagine how hard it is to match up your own traits to those of others but these rogue assignments were meant to shape shift or change your role as the medic assigned. Certain people may bring out certain traits, but that's because they also have those traits, so there's a resonance. It's not hiding part of myself, it's that part of me becomes a bigger part of my personality.
This was a basic necessity to handle the role given. If I was assigned to infantry units, I adjusted to their means and mode of travel, sleeping, eating, fighting and movement. The same was true for being with the mobile armored cavalry and the stationary artillery units.
Every unit had its own behaviors. In the manner speaking, as a rogue medic, I had to adjust my personality to theirs whether I liked it or not because I was the temp and they were in command so this adjustment or adaptation was done so not to cause an unwanted conflict or situational indifference to the mission and roles demanded.
Which mask I wore at the time was imagined to be somewhat or rather disconcerting, when around people that emphasize different parts of my personality or in this case, my medical skills or purpose of the assignment given. Luckily, I was more or less not too “self-centered” as a person then, then I once was before arriving in Vietnam, so it shouldn't cause an unwanted situation.
However, there was a legitimate reason for the mask. A mask that I wear for a particular role or person (I hate that mask), and another that I wear for a particular situation. I'm going to focus on the situational one. As for what it would look like if made physical... well, you could picture it as a role shifting ever changing façade that was genuine but never really the true face I wore.
Whenever I feel that I'm in a dangerous situation, whether physical danger or danger of hurting someone's feelings or something else that I want to avoid, I stop doing whatever I want and start simply watching, and reacting accordingly.
From what I can tell, most people don't notice that I'm not reacting normally, so it's a good thing it's not physical. It is fair to say that because my stay with them hardly ever lasted more than two months if that long, they really never knew the real me as I was constantly changing masks to fit the needs of the outfit I was with.
I didn’t like the poetry of my masks, by the way, I always felt it was fake. A stage of pretending and flawed in design and purpose but being rogue, you don’t make friends, you don’t get attached to individuals you want to socialize with and you don’t ever reveal anything personal about yourself.
Anyway, using the mask allowed me to deadens my emotions, which I can actually do whenever I want. I don't like doing it, though. I like my emotions, and cherish each one that comes along. It is useful to be able to dismiss them, but what would life be without them?
However, in wartime, emotions are considered weaknesses. The showing of your feelings was strongly discouraged and the mask concealed many tears that I shed while doing my job. Anyway, the only purpose for even using a mask was to help me cope with the different situations faced with in combat, or while were standing down waiting for the next set of orders.
I had a couple masks simply for the purpose of field performance, and I suppose I also had a mask that would manifest as a frame with puzzle pieces that were never removed, while in the presence of others, allowing me to hide or show what I want.
It was never fun wearing the various masks -this type of concealment never allowed me to show everyone exactly who I was. If you wear a mask, someone will eventually call your bluff and then there is the deeper loss that comes from the inside of you – the freedom to be who you really are.
But this isn’t reality, because we do care. And because we care we’ve developed habitual masks to satisfy and influence others who looked to you for certain skills and duties, under the most stressful times in your life. There came a time in the year while I was there I changed masks so many times by habit, I didn’t even notice I was doing it.
There is no doubt in my mind that I never stopped hiding behind a mask of some sort, even after the war ended for my part of it. How I felt about my real face was irrelevant. I was assigned to portray the role of a medic. As long as I was true to myself and doing what I was trained to do, I felt that I was being me and no matter what kind of situation the Army put me in, I adapted my face to suit the role given.
There was never a fear of the mask coming off and reveal the real me. My intent was never to deceive but to remain anonymous and unknown to those around me. I am certain that as sure as I was wearing my mask in front of them, they were wearing their masks in front of me. Imagine a strong wind gust sweeps through the outfit assigned, blowing all masks off. It’s mayhem, faces are exposed, and for maybe the first time for many, their real personalities and features are now there in plain sight to see. Can you feel the level of vulnerability if exposed?
Can you see how you are encouraged to meet, and mingle and socialize with each other and then lose them the next fire-fight or ambush engaged in with the enemy? What is the emotional cost of such suffering and how do you endure than more than once or twice in your life?
We were all so afraid to be authentic so we wore masks. Even if our skin was irritated by the mask worn, we could hardly take it off and relax or be ourselves, as we would end up resisting the change in character or role being played and expose the soft tissue of the belly sort of speak.
This epic performance is a huge drain on our minds, bodies and souls. It’s a hard act to constantly pretend to be, or feel like you need to be, someone else. Similarly, it’s very draining to regularly act like you feel one way when you really feel another.
However, the stress was greatly reduced when the time spent was short and the need to pretend was only a pseudo process to allow us to remain to be ourselves and maintain our own personality traits, behaviors, values, beliefs and needs. It’s having the courage to acknowledge our limitations, and embrace our own vulnerability.
Wearing a mask protects us from vulnerability. I fear that if I stand tall and exposed, someone will perceive me to be “weak” in some way. But when you wear a mask you stand in resistance to your true life and end up attracting realities that conflict with who you really are but that protects you in the long run by the avoidance of relationships and feelings for others. As a human being, we all perform all of the time; we all pretend some of the time. As a medic, you have to reflect the image or vision that we have it all together to give the men the confidence they need to depend on you when they need you.
I often looked at my own profile and never felt any shame for the roles I was portraying to suit the needs of the men, the unit and the situation at hand. Trust me when I say that my performance was focused on the role as a medic, not as a warrior or anything else resembling another job or occupation within the team assigned to at the time.
I remember one time, while being assigned to a long range reconnaissance patrol aka LRRP, how imperfect I was for their role and their needs. These men were dare devils, skilled to fight, kill and dominate any situations encountered. There was no room for weakness with them. They were nearly perfect and far more superior than I was in my training but I couldn’t admit to them that I was a lesser man to keep up with their needs. So I wore a mask to step up the game with them. I was not going to admit that I was imperfect compared to their level.
Although I knew my imperfections made me human, unique and relatable, there was no such purpose at hand to show such traits. I had to be like them and suffered a great physical pain doing so. Life is life, it will never be perfect. But exposing your true imperfections in a war, makes you more vulnerable to more stress and anxiety and opens you up to a world of deeper, meaningful, and supportive relationships that you could ill afford to take or make at the time of such circumstances.
I learned to cope with everything they threw at me without complaining. I pretended to be as strong as them even when everything was falling apart inside my body and outside as well. The fatigue, stress and wear and tear on the body and the rigors of this kind of association almost killed me.
We all get to the point too, when we can’t take another step. There’s no shame in that, and you don’t have to pretend to be strong but let me warn you, once you show that weakness, your role has been compromised and as a medic, you never ask for help for yourself but only for the treatment of others. That’s the standard we were taught, that the training we received and that’s the message that you make when you are assigned to a rogue assignment somewhere in the middle of Hell.
So the mask I [you] wore was determined by the circumstances demanded on me [you]. One could ill afford to throw that mask away and let others into your life or mind when given the tasks assigned to be the strong one, the smart one or the durable one. Hell, there were even times, where you had to be the grumpy or the funny one if the situation called for it.
There will come a point in life, when we are sick and completely exhausted of all the masks we have been juggling in wartime or in peace.
For some it’s when death is approaching, and at this time you realize the futility of the masks. However, you do realize it was a matter of being practical and necessity, although it was wrong to act that way, you survived it and it protected your inner sanctum up to a certain point. I was very fortunate to be come down with any sicknesses as it was realized that during such episodes, our minds can be so tired that it no longer has the energy to create and hold up the different masks we sought out and wore so often; so we finally appear in our true being.
Some will tell you that masks are signs of weaknesses. That it misaligns your true self and your own personality. For them I would say, walk a mile in my shoes and tell me if the mask is a tool for weakness or strengths. When you reduce your vulnerability to life, your efforts are so much stronger and your confidence and your courage becomes unquestionably your best assets to overcome adversity.