Today I honor the soldiers, the men and women who, without concern for their own safety, march into battle knowing full well that they could be killed at any moment. And for what?
For me. For my family. For my friends. For my freedom…
I honor, too, the families left behind when the soldiers are deployed. Their struggles are just as real. When their loved ones come home, it’s cause for celebration. But when they don’t, the families left behind face the emotional and financial struggles, and the insurmountable grief for a loss so indescribable… I simply can’t imagine it.
Who does that? Who purposely puts their life on the line for us, for America and all that we believe in?
Men and women, young and old, who for whatever reason – in their own hearts and minds – feel it’s the right thing to do…
Are they brave and courageous in ways we’ll never know? Yes.
Are they scared beyond belief? Perhaps.
Are they determined to fight to the death for what they believe? Absolutely.
(Photo by Mike Boettcher – Afghanistan 2011)
In years gone by, there were other wars, other soldiers who stepped out onto the shores and into the jungles to fight for a cause. Many didn’t come home. And those who did were forever changed, in ways we will never comprehend. To this day, some of them still can’t talk about their experiences…
Today the VA hospitals are filled with the injured and dying. Some injuries are so apparent that we are tempted to look away. We see them on tv – the burns, the scars, the loss of limbs – they seem so far away from our reality. But for the soldier – they live that reality every waking moment of every day, and in their flashbacks and nightmares at night…
How do they ever really get relief from the haunting memories? I don’t know, but I hope they do, somehow, some day…
Somehow, no one in my family was called to serve. I always found that interesting, but I am so grateful. Though I was not directly impacted by losing a loved one to war, the idea of war permeates my mind at times. I rarely watch the news any more, because all the stories seem to be about hatred and violence and killings and war. I often find myself in the quiet, in prayer, asking God to touch the hearts and minds of the terrorists, big and small, in all nations, and to show them that killing is not the way. I wonder if – in my lifetime – we’ll see an end to war… or if this is really only the beginning of something far worse…
When we walk down the street, we have no idea what may be troubling the people we encounter. And without a uniform, we don’t know how many of those people may have served our country, and sacrificed in order to give us the freedom to walk down that particular street. War isn’t just in a country far away. It impacts us right where we stand.
(J.R Martinez, Iraq War Veteran who was severely injured by roadside bomb.
He went on to win Dancing With the Stars Season 13)
When we see someone without a limb, we don’t know if they lost it in combat. And when we see other people – seemingly regular people – how do we know they’re not suffering as well? Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) are as real a wound as the loss of an arm or a leg. Injuries to the brain don’t show on the outside, but they can be just as devastating. Just because we can’t see it, that doesn’t mean it’s not real.
In my opinion, the ones most effected by war are the ones with brain injuries. Visible signs of injury tend to evoke compassion and concern, and rightfully so. But what about the soldiers who appear to be “normal” on the outside, with no indication of the torment they’re going through? The remedy isn’t a bandage, or a cast, or surgery to mend the broken bones. How do they get the help and compassion they need, and deserve?
With the VA in the news so much right now, I can’t help but think about all the veterans who are struggling to get help, to find their “new normal.” How can the returning soldiers ever be “normal” again, after enduring and witnessing unspeakable things? And how can we help them?
And what of the soldiers still in combat, on the front lines, defending my right to sit here and write about what I think and what I feel, and post it to the internet for all the world to see? What about them? Will we be ready to help them adjust when they get home?
As I write this, I hear my neighbors talking, out on their patio. They are from Iraq. They fled their homeland, and the only life they ever knew to come here, to provide a fresh start and a safe life for themselves and their daughter, who has special needs.
Though I don’t know them well, I’ve enjoyed watching them adapt to life here. I see the pride with which they keep house, and I feel the sense of relief they have in knowing that they are in a safe, comfortable space. I can’t begin to imagine what they have endured, as the war raged on in their home country. They left it all behind, for freedom and security…
As you sit in your home, reading this, take a good look around. Look at all your stuff, some sentimental items, some treasured keepsakes, some family heirlooms. And your furniture, and favorite books, your big screen tv, and nice comfortable bed…
Could you leave it all behind, and start over in a country where you didn’t know the language or the customs? Would you be too scared to try? What would it take to make you want to leave everything that is familiar to you?
This family from Iraq reminds me, every day, of how incredibly blessed I am to live in America. Every soldier who has ever fought in any war to protect our way of life is directly responsible for my freedom. Though our way of life may not be perfect, we are a free country. We don’t have a dictator ruling our lives with a heavy hand.
In ongoing battles, far and wide, big and small – some of which the typical American will never know about – the war rages on. And selfless men and women continue to put themselves in harm’s way, knowing they might not make it home. I honor every single one of them, and their families, today, and every day…
I remember when the movie “Saving Private Ryan” came out. It was the most accurate portrayal of war to date. And it changed me.
Today, a new film makes its debut in select theaters across the country – “The Hornet’s Nest.” I saw that film today, and I encourage all of you to see it. This is not a fictionalized movie, or “based on a true story.” It is real footage of some of the troops in Afghanistan. It is disturbing and enlightening, and it is in-your-face terrifying at times. It is an important film, documenting the hell that the soldiers go through.
When Captain Kevin Mott yells out “Follow me!” his guys do just that – they follow behind him, down rugged terrain, to get to their target, even with gunfire raging all around them. The sound of bullets whizzing past one’s head is nothing like what I’d imagined. And now that I know what it sounds like, I hope to never hear it again…
But the soldiers face that sound, and the heat, and the uncertainty EVERY SINGLE DAY – for us, for our flag, for America and all that we stand for.
At one point, the soldiers were in a 360° firefight. How does one not panic, and just give up? Soldiers don’t. They keep fighting through. And when someone gets hit, they do all they can to get them to safety, and to get them the medical help they need.
To all who have put themselves in harm’s way for us, a mere “Thank you” is not enough… But it’s all I have, and all I can give, sincerely, from the depths of my soul…
And thank you to Mike and Carlos Boettcher, for risking your own lives and embedding yourselves in with the troops to make this film. You have opened my eyes to the harsh reality of war, and I trust that everyone who sees this film will walk away with a better appreciation for our armed forces.
(Mike and Carlos Boettcher)