‘Support our Troops’…’Honor our Fallen Heroes’…’Thank a Veteran’…these phrases speak for themselves. Instinctively, in our hearts and in our guts, we feel pangs of pride, of sadness or anguish, of gratitude for sacrifices made in the cause of freedom. But unless we have been there, we really cannot know…
I have had the inestimable honor of working with an Afghan/Iraqi war vet these last few months. Words cannot adequately describe my response to being in this young man’s presence. I have felt that I have been visited from on High, that God has graced me with a word in the flesh, the very topic about which I ‘ve often written, alive, in my space. Often, I’ve felt stupid, not knowing what to say, or how to help.
I went against my better judgment, and asked this young soldier if I could interview him at some point, because I wanted to know, first-hand, how a soldier felt about this war. We all sit over here and expound on this & that, we bloggers, sounding off in posts, forums, etc., but how do they feel? What are a soldier’s thoughts on the kind of brutal experiences that most of us will never know?
The red flag that was gently waving in the back of my mind, warning me that it might be too soon for Ethan (not his real name) to re-live combat events by speaking of them, proved accurate. Ethan still had trouble sleeping, though he’d been home over a year. He is still trying to fully recover. I backed off, and promised not to mention my request again. And I haven’t. But in some of our conversations, I learned bits & pieces about this soldier’s life now, and then. I don’t feel that I should go into details, but what I want to convey is that, when one of our warriors comes home from the Middle East theatre of war, it isn’t that fairytale, balloons-and-parade-with-flag flying! and now everything is OK! that we might mistakenly think. These men and women are forever changed.
As a civilian, I was most certainly deluded. But watching and working with one of our nation’s heroes has opened my eyes. You don’t just ease back into society after fighting jihadists, or having your vehicle blown up by a roadside bomb. You carry it with you, and it can take a long time to regain at least some of your former mentality. On top of that, most people around you are clueless. Nobody gets it. The only reason I got any of ‘it’ is because God had been at work, expanding my awareness, so that every time I see Ethan, or speak with him, I’m so affected that I feel like a fish out of water. I am humbled, speechless, and, like I said, I feel stupid.
Ethan is returning to Afghanistan. Though he served three years already, he will return for at least six more, and may opt for a military career. A soldier is who he is, it seems to me, not what he’s done.
I will miss him.