I tend to meet soldiers when I’m traveling. Perhaps we all do these days, but given that for the last seven years, though I’ve lived in two very different places, I’ve lived an hour (or less) from two major and heavily deployed army bases, my odds of bumping into soliders at airports or on planes goes up. And ever since I had the terrible privilege of presiding at the memorial service for the oldest child and only son of a member of the congregation I served after he died a violent death in Iraq (though he was a Marine, not an Army man) and ever since I took the weeks around his death to listen to other men (mostly) who have been fighting this nation’s wars… I feel compelled to listen to military men (and women- though I rarely bump into military women) who feel compelled to speak. I’m deeply opposed to war, in general, and to the wars we’ve been fighting of late, in particular, but I also think that we have a responsibility to the countries we’ve invaded and that there is no easy way out at this point. And I know that the men and women who are fighting these wars did not make the decisions that got them there. And I know that they are doing their jobs. And I know that they’re a diverse lot. Some of them believe strongly in what they’re doing and are honored to be doing it. Some of them have to believe in what they’re doing. Some of them are just doing it, day by day by day… And I know that not being military it is dangerous for me to assume I know ANYTHING about what members of the military are thinking and feeling. So, please forgive me if I’ve overstepped my bounds already and let me know if there’s anything else I should note…
But knowing that I don’t know much, means I try to listen, when I can.
So last Friday a young man in uniform was waiting with us at the Newark airport for our flight to Albany. It turned out he was on our first flight too. He let Caroline play with his water bottle and he talked a bit. Here’s some of what I learned from Randy. He enlisted as soon as he graduated from high school. He had TWO WEEKS of basic training and then shipped out to Iraq, at the age of 18. His job is in artillery. He was proud of how well he adapted and learned on the job and proud because at one point he was the youngest soldier in Iraq. He received a coin from a Major General in honor of his youngest soldier status (I learned from him that all the high ranking officers have coins with their faces on them, the president even has some, they’re like baseball cards!) He has been home now for about a year, but deploys to Afghanistan soon. He was heading home for a quick weekend to surprise his mom with a visit. He could not wait for our plane to arrive. He was positive about his experience in the military and quite appreciative of the leadership of our former president (“Hey, he made mistakes, but who doesn’t?”) But that one bit of information he shared with pride, that he received TWO WEEKS of training before deploying to what he said is called “The Death Triangle” in Iraq… this boy… sent out with so little training… a boy… that clung to me all weekend.
And then on the way home, when we were stuck in the Charlotte airport because a flight attendant failed to show up for some reason, I bonded with Francine. She, herself, is not in the military, but her little brother is. She too is from the Albany area; he too is posted just north of my new southern city. She was flying down to be with him for a major shoulder surgery. He has an injury that makes him no longer deployable. He’ll be out of the army soon. He’s been on percoset for months. He’ll be on percoset for months more. He knows he’s dependent and that scares him. This major and painful surgery was being done on an outpatient basis. Francine was convinced he is not receiving the quality of care he requires. And she is terrified about what experiencing war has done to him. One of his roommates tried to commit suicide and he was the one to drive him to the hospital. Another roommate gets obliterated every weekend because he just can’t deal. When she shared a struggle with her brother once he said “You have to put it in your well– that place deep down where bad feelings and thoughts go to disappear forever.” “That’s how they’re teaching them to deal… but it doesn’t go away. It can’t… they’re changed forever.”
We’ve been praying for Randy, and for Francine and her brother. Listening invokes deep prayer. Please pray with me.