Shortly after joining the US Army Infantry, I was deployed with my unit to Panama to participate in "securing American interests" as part of the invasion force tasked with removing Panamanian President Manuel Noriega. As young as we were, most of us knew this was a clean up mission. We'd been sent, along with two other divisions of infantry, airborne and mechanized, to clean up the mess that then President George H. W. Bush had made when he was the Director of the CIA. See, Bush the First had installed Noriega, and Sadaam Hussein (wrap your head around that one) as a way of forestalling or combating anti-American sentiment and action in other parts of the world. We had, and still have, drug lords in Colombia using Panama as a gateway to the Yucatan, and on into the US. So, in December of 1989 we went to clean up the mess that was created when Noriega learned he could actually get paid a lot more by siding with the druggies rather than keeping loyal to the US, who had curiously stopped paying him much of anything in the later years of the 1980s.
My squad was stationed in Panama City, at the top of a bank building. We were the scout unit for one battalion. While I was on guard duty, at the top of the stairs that led to our position in the penthouse suite, a Panamanian man came walking up towards my position, motioning with his hands and speaking in Spanish. We'd learned how to say 'drop your gun' and 'put your hands up' and 'stop'. We didn't learn how to listen or understand Spanish though. I just kept shouting "Alto! Alto!" until the man finally stopped and my squad leader came out to shoo him away. Looking across the sights of my M-16A2 that day, I realized what I'd signed on for. That one time was as close as I ever came to killing another human being.