A young man was assigned, along with the rest of the class, to tell me a story. On paper, of course. (He's young compared to me, but appears to be about ten years older than most of his classmates.) The story he told was about the time he and another soldier were manning a checkpoint outside Fallujah. A car came barreling down the road toward them. The two soldiers raised their arms, a signal that the car should slow down and stop, but it did not. When it became clear that the occupants were determined to crash the checkpoint, the soldiers opened fire. The car, riddled with bullet holes, finally rolled to a stop. When my student and his comrade looked inside, they found two adults - a man and woman - and two children. All were dead and very shot up. Later investigation would show that the adults were parents to the children. Both the parents and the car had been rigged with explosives.
Most of my vets are very good students. Even when they can't write very well, they attend regularly and punctually, participate, turn their work in on time, and tend to call me "sir," which I like. They expect order, and have little patience with indiscipline. This one even barked one day at the whole class, that they ought to shut up and not all talk at once. (It's true; I have to keep my boot on this bunch's collective neck.) It was pretty funny because they all shut up.
There were other occasions on which he might have done the same, but on this day he was not dealing well with any kind of sensory overload. I have noticed something about him that seems high-strung. He appears to be listening intently, but after class has to ask me to repeat something. It turns out - as his story made clear - that he's still dealing with the fact that he killed two children. In private conference, I asked if he has people to talk with about it. He said yes. But it doesn't help? No. Surely you realize, I said, that whoever strapped those children into the car is responsible for their deaths. Right? Yes, he realizes that. But still, it happened.
So he can't get past the existential fact of the matter. He's a good guy, sincere, and wants to make sense of the world, but also among the walking wounded. He needs peace, which is always just out of reach.