Thursday, March 02, 2006

Perspective

Over the past few years since 9/11 there have been many arguments for and against war. There have been even more arguments about how best to honor the service of our troops. The conservatives believe that we honor the troops by supporting the President and the mission. Liberals believe we can best honor them by bringing them home immediately. Both sides steadfast in committment to their beliefs. With the exception of the lunatics on both sides who take the arguments to the extreme, both have their merit.

During all of the arguing does either side truly take time and think about the veterans of these campaigns? Sure we thank them for their service and we thank them for their sacrifice. In many cases we thank them for doing something that hopefully our children will never have to do. But do we have empathy? Can we even pretend to empathize? Not many of us can. Only those that have experienced combat can truly understand.

I am not a member of the Armed Services nor am I a combat veteran. However, in my current line of work I have witnessed many tragic scenes. Scenes that I cannot forget nor talk about unless to others in my profession that understand. The talks are rarely theraputic. In our bravado talking points are picked out from the scenes that can be told with an air of jocularity. For those outside of my profession it is quite hard for anyone to understand why we do this. Suffice it to say it is much easier to laugh than to cry.

Recently my job brought me into contact with a veteran of the Iraq War. A young Marine that out of uniform looked like any other early twenty something. Hardly the picture of a warrior and nothing like the image of our troops, in full combat gear, emblazoned across our television screens every night. During our time together we had a very lengthy conversation, not about anything important just general conversation. At one point during the talk this young man became very quiet as he stared at the blue tile floor of the room we were occupying. He quietly, almost imperceptibly muttered the words "blue tile floor". I excused myself and asked him to repeat what he had said. He repeated the words "blue tile floor." He stood up still staring at the floor and backed against the wall. "In Iraq, me, my Staff Sergeant, and another buddy were in a room with a blue tile floor. There was a guy in an adjacent room with an AK trying to shoot us. He couldn't get enough angle on us and the bullets were hitting a cinder block wall just like this one. I remember there were concrete chips hitting me in the face." As he sat back down in his chair still staring at the blue tile floor he said, "my Staff Sergeant got us out of there, but my other buddy...he...he got killed later. I haven't thought about that...I haven't thought...until I saw this blue floor." He kind of half laughed, half sighed to himself and softly said, "blue tile floor".

The pause that occurred after his story seemed like an eternity. Me, not knowing what to say and he, still lost in his thoughts. He suddenly seemed to come back to the present and he apologized to me. He said, "guys I'm sorry you don't want to hear anything about that." Although still taken aback I quickly told him that there was no need for an apology and I profusely thanked him for his service. Even as I uttered the words that were meant to assure him of my gratitude I noticed the complete and utter hollowness of my statement. Rest assured my gratitude is truly sincere. After witnessing a moment like that the words just did not seem sufficient. Not a day has gone by since meeting this young man that I have not thought about that night.

There is no doubt that each of us should express our gratitude to these brave men and women. There is no doubt in my mind that one of the best ways to do this is to support the President and the mission. From now on I hope that each of you after reading this will do as I have done after meeting that young Marine. I hope that when you are arguing with your favorite liberal or conservative about the merits of our efforts in the Middle East and against Terrorism that you temper your thoughts with the realization that this is not a game of Risk. Although I believe that the cause is noble and necessary the fact remains that people are dying and lives will forever be affected. Not all scars are physical and sometimes the pain doesn't go away. To our veterans of the Afghanistan and Iraq campaigns, it is OK to remember and I for one don't mind listening.

Linked at Stuck on Stupid and Blue Star Chronicles and Pirate's Cove and Mudville Gazette
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