By MERRIT GEARY/Montana State News  

I don’t think war when I look at Kyle Wyatt. I don’t think of the Marine Corps. I don’t think of a war veteran. I don’t even really see a hardened Marine. I see a 23-year-old college student who started late and works random shifts at the Montana State Gym as a lifeguard. I talk to Kyle Wyatt, though, and I see a Marine. I see it all even if he doesn’t say it all.

Kyle was always a quiet kid. He never really played any sports, cause any mischief or even have his first sip of alcohol until he was well into his career with the Marine Corps. He liked Xbox and silence when he was in high school. His seasons were never filled with sports, and he rarely found himself enjoying school. He liked it this way.

Kyle is a tall guy, with sandy brown hair. He wears solid color clothing, earth tones. He looks like he doesn’t really try to look any type of way. He has a long figure, tall. He smiles like he doesn’t know what else to do. There’s a lot Kyle doesn’t share but you can tell he likes it that way.  

“When I was in fourth grade I exchanged books with a classmate. I got this really intense war book, it was filled with graphic images and violent text. I couldn’t put it down. I am not sure how or why a fourth grader got a hold of that book and how I ended up with it, but it gave me insight into a completely different world.” I just looked at Kyle as he spoke about this story. The calm in his voice but the confidence too—I knew this book was far more than just a minor memory.

Kyle was a heavy equipment operator. He hated his job at first, claiming, “You never really get what you sign up for. You will if you want combat, but if you test higher than that it makes more sense to do something else.”

He spoke and I quickly tried to get everything written down. “I never really thought I would actually go through with being a Maine, I just knew it was something I really wanted to do,” I looked up at him at this point. His hands lightly touching the table directly in front of him. He lifted his left hand to scratch the back of his head and the imprint of his fingers still stayed on the dark wood table.

He told me about the first time he got drunk. He was out on an operation, Red Beach Ops. He was with a bunch of guys who he categorized as classic Marine dicks. Red Beach was a training facility around Camp Pendleton, the objective of the Ops was to reconstruct an airway that had eroded away.

The entirety of the project took about three months. They all slept in grey tents big enough for about six guys. The work continued until Saturday evening every week. There was a Friday during the Ops where someone brought a 30 rack of beer.

Kyle said, “Ya my soon to be best friend got me drunk for the first time. I threw up outside the tent all night. The next day may have been the worst day I remember.” I looked up from writing at this moment and laughed to myself. With the strange thought of who gets drunk for the first time at 20 years old, but I allowed us to move on.

A few months after Red Beach, Kyle was deployed to Afghanistan. He didn’t share too much of his time there, which I understand. He was able to share funny stories, stories that would make him laugh as well.

“It was so hot there. At the end of the day when you would take your armor off you would have an outline of it on your t-shirt. Sometimes you would sweat so much you would have salt on your undershirt. So much salt that if you brushed it off you could see the white on the floor beside your feet.” I wanted to ask a million more questions, but I felt it was best to let him do the talking.

“I remember flying there. The anticipation of actually getting to Afghanistan. We made a stop in Texas, Maine, Ireland, Romania, and finally we made it. I don’t know if I had never felt more anxious in my life.”

Kyle was a quiet talker and he showed very little emotion. I rarely saw him move his hands when he spoke and he really never moved his body. His voice stayed strong the entire time, but not over powering.

“While I was there I thought about that book I got back in the forth grade. And I really did wonder if I had never received that book if I would have been where I was. I mean I always thought about the military and I somewhat always wanted to do it, and my dad was in the Marines; but there was something about that book and I still cannot figure out what.”

Kyle went on telling me stories, and laughing about mistakes he made. He got up to get water and sat right back down, in the same kind of awkward position he was in before. He slowly stopped talking about his time in the Marines and began speaking of his life now.

Kyle started college a few years after his deployment, Fall 2016. Going in as a freshman at 22 wasn’t easy, but as Kyle puts it, it was worth it.

“I wanted to do better, I promised myself that.”

Kyle stared at his hands as he said this, partly because I think he knew that’s exactly what he was doing.

He may sit beside the pool and watch as students swim back and forth but Kyle is so much more than that. Kyle is the reason we all can do what we’ve done all these years. Kyle Wyatt is the reason we have our freedoms, and Kyle Wyatt is still as curious as that fourth grader who got his favorite book by chance—but now Kyle Wyatt is a man.

– edited by Zachary Coe

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