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As 99 red balloons go by…

April 10, 2008

When you play a game such as World of Warcraft, you get to learn about your online friends in a different way, much like you learn about your coworkers. As you work together toward your common goal, you first learn about their ‘on the job’ strengths and weaknesses. Eventually, hints of humor (or the absence thereof) come poking through. And when you get some downtime, you start opening up about what you do.

With the exception of the few minors in our guild, we all have “real world” jobs. We are systems technicians and teachers and customer service representatives. We work for software companies and newspapers and coffee shops. And one of us is a soldier.

When he’s not working at his base on tasks he’s not allowed to tell us about, he plays his warrior.

When we hit the battlegrounds and dungeons of Azeroth, his character is on the front line. He wields a sword and shield and his job is to get the bad guy’s attention and take damage so that the rest of his group doesn’t have to. The healers in the group are constantly casting magical shields and healing spells on him so that he can continue to fight. If he falls, chances are the rest of us will too. He is our first line of defense.

This Sunday, April 12, he is shipping out to Iraq.

Unfortunately the real world isn’t magical at all. You can’t cast spells to protect your front line guys. If things look dire, you can’t run away, or teleport yourself back to the sanctuary of an inn. And if something goes horribly wrong — or if you just have crappy luck — and your raid “wipes” there is no resurrecting of the dead.

He’s 23, married, and the father to a 3-month-old daughter.

This past weekend, we gave him a ‘send-off’ the only way gamer people can…we spent nearly 8 hours together on Sunday, plowing through Karazhan (we couldn’t down the Prince this time, but the failure seems so trival), laughing and just hanging out. The laundry piled up. Too much junk food was consumed. But I couldn’t bring myself to care.

He promises us he’ll be okay, and he’ll be home in just six months. I’m a daughter of a Vietnam veteran and the cousin of a soldier wounded in Afghanistan. I work at a newspaper. I know better.

What I wouldn’t give right now to be able to cast one real-life magic shield spell.

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