I am a Soldier
They booed us as we marched in our new Army Combat Uniforms in the town parade. And this is rare. Boos have been only 1% of my experience as a Soldier in public. Few jobs provoke a total stranger to give you a stalwart handshake saying “Thank you. I appreciate your service.” Nearly every time I have been out in uniform, people have shown support. “You’re job is tough. We’re depending on you. We may not agree with the war, but we recognize your courage to be in the military at this time.” When 8 of my colleagues were at a work lunch, a stranger paid the bill for the entire table. When a little boy gazing up at me said to his mother, “Mommy is that a real soldier?” his mother said, “Yes, she certainly is” while proudly shaking my hand. A man dropped what he was doing, walked across a room to say, “Thank you. And if they don’t give you enough Kevlar over there, you tell me and I’ll send you some.” I am taken aback each time a total stranger accosts me with gratitude. At first I wonder what they are talking about. Then I remember my uniform. When they won’t easily let go of my handshake, I feel my uniform as an icon, a promise. That icon, that promise, means sacrifice.
Even with such overwhelming expressions of support, the 1% tempt me to wonder if I am doing the right thing. When I joined the Army, my friends ridiculed me for weaning my 4 month old so I could attend combat training. In my line of work, there is little room for doubt. I need to believe in what I am doing in order to face the sacrifices: family separation, mortal danger, emotional hardship. War puts at risk all I hold dear for a cause I only understand at a platoon level. My job reinforces the personal beliefs that are my compass:
1. The only thing evil needs to succeed is for good people to do nothing.
2. When I take care of my comrades, I take care of myself.
3. I am always responsible for my own actions.
4. There are no substitutes for the truth.
5. I must never quit.
6. Finally, some people say “It’s not personal, it’s business.” But I believe business is personal.
A woman asked me, “How could you leave your baby to join the Army?” I simply said, “I know what I need to do.”
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.