They group had a video camera with them and filmed both battle scenes and downtime. They spoke of their friends, only to tell how they watched them die. They spoke of their families back home - their dreams, aspirations - how they were looking forward to returning. Yet all came back profoundly changed.
I myself have not served in the military - my grandfather was the radio operator in a B-17 in World War II. He was shot down in Belgium and recalled how happy he was to see an American flag as they crashed in between enemy lines.
My father has worked for the Navy for 25 years or so and impressed on me a love of my country and knowledge about combat aircraft that bewilders my wife.
Part of my job is to work in a store that sells boots to marines at Quantico. I also oversee our website which sells to anybody, but mostly military folks of all branches make up our client base.
The new officer candidates that will walk in our doors in a couple weeks will be younger than myself. I see corporals and sergeants walk in along with captains and majors who I know have seen combat in some form. I wonder what their stories are - where they are from, where they've been, what they've seen.
More often than not I'm not given an opportunity to ask these questions, mostly due to my reserved nature, but also because I hear myself repeating "don't let your heal slip, that's how you get blisters" and explaining the advantages of a stitched sole versus a glued sole. Out of respect the only conversation I initiate starts with "are you looking for anything in particular?".
I have several University of Oklahoma shirts that I often wear while I'm manning the store, and they have always proved to be great conversation starters. Mainly it's a Texan who reminds me of UT's football championship, only to have me remind them of 2000. I can ask them where they're from, if they went to school or hope to some day, and if they have a wife/girlfriend. The biggest compliment is when they walk out and shake my hand and thank me for their experience in our tiny store.
I don't appreciate these encounters simply for business purposes - yes I want them to come back again so I can have food on my table, but I really enjoy what I do. My boss thinks all Marines are the same - I've learned that even though they wear the same uniform, they are vastly different. No matter their background, their political persuasion, religion, or personality, they are called to the same mission. I admire that teamwork, that common sense of duty, and commitment to each other.
What's the next step for these guys? Will they deploy again? How long will they be away from their families? ....Will they return?
Even though I haven't served in uniform, I'm proud to reflect that in some small way I'm helping out. Though I may not agree with everything about this current war, I do admire their sense of duty, their commitment, and their willingness to serve. I pray that they will all be safe as they carry out their orders.
You can support our troops no matter your opinion of the war. In fact, in some ways that's simple patriotism mixed with honesty - we have the freedom to disagree, but maintain the respect and appreciation of those who defend that freedom. If we cannot honestly discuss and debate current issues, what are our soldiers protecting?