Duty Calls

War can free the enslaved, destroy tyrants, redraw borders, and advance human knowledge. But it does nothing so well as intrude on the lives of ordinary people—people like Rick and Melissa Noriega.

NO ONE HATES WAR MORE than a soldier’s spouse, and yet, had it not been for war, Melissa Noriega might not have gotten married or become a member of the Texas Legislature. She remembers the frantic days before the Persian Gulf war in 1991, when her life was in the hands of—she could hardly believe it—a sheikdom on the opposite side of the globe. She was living in Houston, and her boyfriend, Rick Noriega, was a member of the Texas Army National Guard. The situation was this: If the United Arab Emirates elected not to join the coalition against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, Rick’s unit would be called to war. Anxiety rushed into their lives. They had been dating for a while and had contemplated marriage, but now there was a sense of urgency. Melissa called her mother. “We’re going shopping,” she said. “I’ve got to be ready to get married on two days’ notice.” By the time the Emirates joined the coalition, Rick and Melissa were husband and wife. Twelve years later, another war half a world away, this one in Afghanistan, would change their lives again.

This special issue of Texas Monthly is devoted entirely to Texans at war. Some are currently engaged in combat. Some have returned. Some never left. Some will never return. The rest of us have it easy—perhaps too easy. We are fortunate enough to be able, if we choose, to keep the war at a distance, to think of it mainly as a political issue that is fodder for cable news shows and weekly polls. The people you will encounter in these pages have no such luxury. For them, the war is the all-encompassing fact of their lives. War can free the enslaved, destroy tyrants, redraw borders, advance human knowledge, enrich and impoverish nations, spread the word of God, and free from all restraint the most- and least-noble impulses of mankind. But it does nothing so well as intrude on the lives of ordinary people, people like the Noriegas. The good—and evil—it does on a grand scale is remembered by the many; the rearranged and often shattered lives it leaves behind are known only to the few and the forgotten.

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