Today: Jun 25, 2024

The men who defend us all


Last month in Seattle, a guy outside of a bar started talking to me. But this isn’t a typical intoxication story. He was friendly and asked if I was from Seattle. I told him no, Connecticut, then I laughed and said he probably didn’t even know where that was. It turned out he was from Pennsylvania. His name was Craig.
He was wearing a light blue plaid button-down, jeans, and a hat. He was probably about 5’9, and looked like a regular guy enjoying a Friday night.
I told him I was in Seattle on a journalism convention, which he said sounded like fun. I asked him what he was doing in Washington. It turned out he was in the army and was currently stationed there. His friend, whose name I unfortunately cannot recall, was also with him. His friend had returned to the U.S. two days earlier from Afghanistan.
After I learned they were both in the military, I thanked them for their service and for risking their lives for this country. They both looked at me like I had two heads. They said almost no one acknowledges them, and I felt my heart breaking. Both boys were my age, no older than 22. Here I was in college, worrying about my grades, Southern News and my hair, while they were putting themselves in danger every day, experiencing things I know they will never forget.
Craig initially said he did not want to talk about serving, and I didn’t push for him to, but he slowly opened up to me. Avoiding eye contact, he said he probably killed people, but that was his job. I could see the sadness in his eyes, and just from thinking about him I’m getting a chill up my spine.
He said the poverty there is terrible, and people “fucking kill each other over a piece of candy.” I actually had put that in my notepad on my phone. He said being single overseas isn’t easy, and it gets lonely. It would get cold at night, and they often slept outside. Craig had been back in civil life, America, for about a year now. But I could tell his mind kept drifting back overseas.
I believe Craig’s friend was from Michigan. He dipped in front of me. He also smoked cigarettes. I got the impression he was from a small town. He seemed like a nice guy, though he didn’t say much. He did, however, say he recently turned 21. He was more distant, constantly looking around. I knew mentally he was still in Afghanistan, and he was having trouble adjusting to a “normal” society.
It was strange I felt such a connection with two strangers, outside a bar nonetheless, on the other side of the c o u n t r y. These two boys in civilians’ clothes had seen more things than most people do in a lifetime.
M y friend came outside to find me so we could leave, and I never got a chance to say goodbye to Craig. I still find myself thinking about him from time to time, and when he does cross my mind, I regret not getting his number or his last name so I could talk to him on Facebook. I’m not one to be full of regrets, but this is one of those things I wish happened differently.
In the airport on the way back to the east coast, I saw two men in military attire. Thinking of Craig and his friend, I went up to both of them, looked them in the eyes, and thanked them for their service. It was about 6 a.m., but they were grateful. They left their families and risked their lives – I figure thanking them is really the least I can do.
It seems as though many people in the country are under the impression all of our troops are home, even though almost everyone I know who is in the military is overseas. For the troops that are home, thank them; when the others get home, welcome them with open and loving arms. Don’t let your feelings about the war influence the way you treat our military. After all, look at how the Vietnam War veterans were treated when they returned home.
“Because of the widespread opposition to the war, and the strong passions ignited by anti-war activists, our veterans were grossly mistreated when they returned home,” according to Military Money Matter’s page Vietnam Veterans Facts. “They could not wear their uniforms off base for their own safety, they were spit upon in public places, and one of the many epithets hurled at them was ‘baby killer.’ Even in the Pentagon, military service members only wore uniforms one day a week.”
Our military, both active and veterans, deserve to be recognized for all the hard work they have done; for saying goodbye to their loved ones, not knowing if they would see each other again and risking their lives every single day while the rest of us go about our daily lives, worrying about traffic, work or classes.

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