I believe in the patriot. As I write this in January of 2008, I feel I must clarify that I am not referring to the New England football team but the young American service member. I was one once, and did not fully appreciate my own role…I do now.
I began a military career during the cold war, and served for over twenty years. I got to receive the hero’s welcome home after Desert Storm, and contrast that with stories I had heard about coming home from Viet Nam. For an entire career, and still often in later life, I am thanked by many for my service. As a younger man, I always felt awkward during those moments, now I get it.
Late in my career, I became responsible for the production, testing and deployment of the “tools of the trade”. No longer a front line combatant, those were now my customers, and this is when my full appreciation began. These were just kids out there, and their spirit, their enthusiasm, their dedication to a mission that they did not chose amazed me, even though I had been one those kids earlier in my life.
So now I am no longer in a position to look after those kids, but they are still out there defending our freedom, our way of life, just like I did, and just like many more to come will as well. I no longer feel awkward when thanked for my service. I know the thanks is meant for all who have served, so I graciously accept, knowing the young men and women around the globe in uniform today deserve that thanks. I can be their ambassador today, and pass along the thanks when I see one in an airport or in a parade.
I am ever so much more proud of a young man or woman in uniform now than I was of myself. It is often popular to deride the “youth of today”, but I don’t buy it. I’ve met many of the patriots among them, and they inspire me. I believe in the patriot. Freedom breeds them, and it always will.
If you have the chance to thank one yourself, seize it. They may not fully appreciate it today, but they will some day, I’m certain of it.
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