by John Sweet
The trooper had been raised a cowboy
On a dozen western ranches,
But he come of age and joined the Army
Ready to take his chances.
He wasn’t the first to make that choice
In his gnarled family tree,
Which had produced a number of troopers
For the frontier cavalry.
Nobody’d ever told him
But one old-timer had fought the Sioux,
Another had chased Geronimo.
Heck, Grandma was half-Ute.
You could say it was his destiny;
It had dealt the cards to him.
He was a cowboy and a hunter
Like so many western men.
The burning sun was setting orange
through a dusty desert sky,
and the trooper brushed his rifle off
and brushed away the flies.
He’d hunted the Rocky Mountains
In Arizona’s deserts too.
He’d bagged some elk and mule deer,
And cougars, he’d chased a few.
But this kind of huntin’ was different,
Though the basics were the same,
‘Cause this was a different country
And a different type of game.
This hunt weren’t no holiday,
No break from school or chores,
And the trooper wasn’t relaxin’
‘Cause basically, this was war.
He had some good men with him,
though some might call them boys.
(They didn’t have to do much shavin’
and they loved their noisy toys!)
They were city guys, mostly,
though a few came from the land.
The el-tee’s name was Yellowhorse,
his sergeant was from Cheyenne.
They were far from home together.
Like brothers, you might say.
Troopers didn’t think of color or birth,
and that’s the Cowboy Way.
Like the old-time trooper on the old frontier,
(the ones who’d fought the Sioux)
they’d learned respect for “Hadji.”
But to them he was “The Muj.”
The Muj weren’t no hand at shootin’
with those old Kalashnikovs
but just let him get his paws on you
and he’d lop your head right off.
If the Comanche caught a trooper, he
got tortured awful, don’t you know.
But Muj will do you just the same
And get it all on video.
The Muj don’t use no Winchesters,
Or wickiups or tepees.
But they know the land and know just where
To plant some IEDs.
So the trooper minds his business
‘cause it’s instinct from his birth.
And the eyes that glassed for antler tines
look for wires and fresh earth.
Sometimes they catch ol’ Hadji
and then they “light him up.”
They call-in Apaches or Kiowas
then Blackhawks to get the PUCs.
And sometimes the fight goes the other way
and the trooper’s friends get hit.
Then each guy handles it alone.
They might cry a little bit.
‘Cause the Tigris sure ain’t the Gunnison,
(though it looked like Yuma, out west)
When he thinks of fall without aspens
he feels hollow in the chest.
The trooper dreams of going home.
(Heck, who would want to stay?)
But first he wants to finish the fight,
‘cause that’s the Cowboy Way.
John Sweet is an educator, historian, and outdoorsman who has returned to the open spaces of the American West. He joined the Colorado Army National Guard in November, 2001 at age 35, and served two tours in Iraq as a Field Artillery officer. When he’s not deployed he lives in Palmer Lake, Colorado with his son Caleb and daughter Sheridan. These poems were written while in-theater during long nights.