Traveling Heroes: Respect and Gratitude to our Armed Forces

There are roughly 1,445,000 active soldiers in the collective United States Armed Forces and 833,616 in reserve. Regardless of the war they fight, the outcome of their battles, or the characteristics of the individual (white, black, gay, straight, men, women, old, or young), these people deserve our respect.

I’m privileged to have traveled around the country. While I have road-tripped a great deal, most of my travel has been on airplanes, jumping from airport to airport, city to city. It can be exhausting at times, feeling like I don’t have a home-base, that I’m always on the move, drifting through a sea of unfamiliar faces focused on their own paths. Often, as I walk down long sterile corridors lined with quick food and stiff chairs, I wish I was curled up under some heavy blankets in my old bedroom in suburban Chicago, away from the daily grind and indifferent surroundings.

It is usually at this point, when I feel downtrodden and travel-weary, when I see a lone uniformed man or woman, rucksack slung over one shoulder, tan boots laced up tight and ready to carry their owner to wherever s/he is sent. I see their faces as they read their boarding pass, faces I easily could see belonging to fellow students or teachers, though there are obvious differences. Instead of casually styled hair, I see close-cropped professionalism. Instead of jeans and a polo, I see a camouflaged outfit, clearly marking them as separate from the rest of the bustling crowd. Instead of a boarding pass to school, I see a ticket to some far off land I have only seen in televisions and newspapers.

I feel my back straighten, my burden suddenly lighter. While I sit in a commercial plane headed for a safe haven, these men and women sit in bombers and cargo planes waiting for the approaching drop zone. When I sigh and check my watch, silently fuming that the plane is minute late, they hold on to every minute their feet are on friendly soil. While I wade through indifference, they push through hostility.

I make a point to walk up to the lone soldier, back straight and hand out.

“Thank you for your service. It’s truly appreciated,” I say earnestly.

They smile and shake my hand, sometimes moving on and sometimes staying to talk.

“Shipping out or going home?” I ask, wondering where this one will be in a few hours.

I can see the determination and controlled nervousness when they are leaving, the relief and excitement when they are going to see their family and dog at home. Regardless of how interesting they are, or what they look like, I am willing to talk as long as they are. Maybe I’m the last person they speak to in the United States. I think it is damn important they know that I appreciate it.

Soon enough, it’s time to board the plane, I thank him/her again and make my way forward. I continue my life, a journey much different from the one I just touched on. These men and women fight for the most important parts of our lives, the parts we can’t see or touch. Freedom, liberty, life, safety. It doesn’t matter if we disagree with the reasons for the war, or the man who orders them to fight it. The soldiers fight for us. I look back as I walk down the gangplank and see my grandfathers, my great grandfathers and great uncles, men who served their country and won it great prosperity. I see people who have the courage to leave home, possibly for the last time, to ensure that others have a home to which to return.

Because of these brave people, my load is lightened. The least I can do, the least any one of their protected can do, is shake their hand.

One Response to “Traveling Heroes: Respect and Gratitude to our Armed Forces”
  1. Karen says:

    Wonderfully written, insightful, and fills me with pride and humility.

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