On a Veteran Soldier

Saeed sits wearily in his family’s kitchen on a stool. The Yemeni soldier has been granted leave to visit home for the first time a few months from the fighting in his country. Yemen’s civil war rages on, and Saeed has witnessed more than his share of the fighting. He’s a veteran of several battles by now and has been in the service of the government (loyalist) forces for over two years. The war has been destroying the nation since 2014, and he is unapologetically pro-government, Saeed is. He feels that his service is important, that his participation will help to pass on a good, safe, and prosperous Yemen to the next generation.

His family is, of course, relived to see him come home if only for a few days. The fighting is fierce, and, even though the government forces for which Saeed fights has the advantages of better training and equipment, they still face high odds of being captured, injured, or killed by the rebels. Yemen has a population of around 30 million people, and over 20% by some estimates have been displaced by the war. The rebels uses IEDs, booby traps, and often work clandestinely to maim or kill government soldiers like Saeed. So, there’s the added tension for him that death could be lurking under a car he walks past or from an open window he walks under.

Yemen, for those who don’t know (and most people outside of Yemen probably don’t) is located at the southwestern end of the Arabian Peninsula, on the coast of the Red Sea to the west and the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea to the south and east. Unlike their wealthy neighbors like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates, Yemen is largely poor, and the war is not helping that situation at all. And that is also why Saeed fights.

He’s seen death close up. He has killed men and women. He has dreams, he says, nightmares of the deaths of friends and the corpses of his enemies. He tells the story of coming across the dead body of his older brother, a story he doesn’t recount to his mother, but one that he tells his father in secret.

Saeed’s dad had been a veteran as well a generation ago. And Saeed’s third brother also fought in the war. Bravery runs in the family, it seems. “Brave men become martyrs on battlefields,” Saeed says as as if it were a matter of fact. “But cowards die in their homes.” His dad echoes this idea. “If a man has a brave heart, he can fight.” Saeed’s dad is proud of all of his sons, but he’s especially proud of Saeed.

And that’s because Saeed’s situation is a little different than some other soldiers. You see, when Saeed first entered the military and joined the government forces in their struggle against the rebels, he had left his education behind to do so.

And, like the other more than 100,000 child soldiers around the world–and fully 1/3 of the soldiers in Yemen’s military–Saeed’s childhood was lost forever when he joined the army at the age of 15. The news story from which this post has been taken is a few years old, and there is no way of knowing what has become of Saeed today, sadly.

February 12 was Red Hand Day, the day we remember that these children should not have to fight and die in wars.

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