The guy sitting next to me on the plane was sporting an all Ohio State outfit including t-shirt, hat and iphone skin and since I am an OSU grad, we struck up a conversation. Turns out that he is a soldier going back to Afghanistan for another tour of duty. Sent home just a month before and having been told he was done, he received a call just last week ordering him to return for another 3-month tour as an intelligence officer arranging logistics for medi-vacs. Seems that he’s responsible for making sure wounded warriors get to the right hospital base.
He’d seen his fill of war after two tours in Iraq and now a tour in Afghanistan and I just listened as he described the unfair burden he’s carried on my behalf. But when he started talking about how his service impacted his family life—ruining his marriage and how he’s missed his kids growing up, he could not hold back the tears and started weeping. Of course he apologized but I just put my hand on his shoulder and thanked him for his sharing.
We talked for the rest of the flight about his views of the Army and the war and how fruitless it all seemed since he believed that as soon as we leave, planning for the next 9/11 will begin again. “The Afghani’s are a tough people”, he told me, “a lot tougher than we can imagine and no amount of nation building on our part will make a real dent in what happens after we leave.
I wondered about what he thought his resilience to all this will be? How will you recover? Do you think you and your wife can reconcile? How can you miss those years with your kids? “I didn’t know”, he told me. “Right now I just need to get back there, do my 3 months and try to reconnect with my life, whatever that is going to be”.
He had to run off the plane to make a connection to his flight to Baltimore that would take him to Germany and beyond. He thanked me for listening to him and he hoped it was okay that he cried. He told me he really needed to.