It has been said that a person’s, and even a society’s, true colors appear during times of conflict, hardship, and desperation. As part of Operation Enduring Freedom, I experienced how people act in these situations first-hand. The high-stress environment of a combat zone, prolonged separation from loved ones, and uncertainty for what the future holds was enough to wear the strongest individual down. Despite these difficulties I saw young men show acts of kindness, compassion, and even love; not only to their own countrymen but also to civilians and even the enemy. This led me to the belief that human beings are by nature good.
As a combat unit, my detachment and I had a relatively simple job: Find the enemy and neutralize him. One of our secondary missions was to support humanitarian aid operations by providing security for medical teams that treated civilians. This type of mission was commonly conducted in areas that were not particularly friendly to American troops.
Although I participated in these operations in three different countries, they always seemed to follow a certain pattern. The locals would be hesitant at first, but curiosity would soon overcome their uncertainty. Word would spread throughout the village and soon we would be surrounded by questioning eyes. Even with the threat of an enemy attack, my men and I would soon warm to the people. Very quickly we were smiling and passing out candy to the children. Some would help the elderly to the examination rooms. Others distributed everything from toothbrushes to bottles of water. Depending on the situation we might even kick a soccer ball around with the kids. The village was instantly transformed from a place of apprehension and fear, for both the locals and the Americans, to a charity with plenty of soldiers to act as volunteers to help those in need. It felt as if our two cultures differences were put aside, even if it was just for one day.
I received a great amount of satisfaction after humanitarian aid missions. Knowing I made a positive impact on somebody’s life was important to me. I also learned a lot about mankind, but specifically American society. The ability of nineteen and twenty year old men to transform from warriors to compassionate people shaped my belief that people are good. Through all the adversity, there was always room in our hearts for that which separates humans from all other creatures. The ability to care for each other, the willingness to help those in need, and the eagerness to do good. This gives me hope for the future, especially through difficult times.
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