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March 20, 2007 > Welcome Home-and Thanks

Welcome Home-and Thanks

From a distance I saw him walking through the crowd at the airport: a young soldier dressed in his camouflage uniform and combat boots. He was tan, thin and clean shaven. He looked weary like his fellow travelers, yet I suspected for different reasons. I watch him as he waited at the baggage carousal. His eyes scanned the crowd, looking at no one in particular but seeing everything.
I wondered if he was back from Iraq. What had he seen or done. Had he killed? Had he seen buddies die? Vietnam was raging when I was his age. To be in uniform at an airport then invited glares, insults and isolation. It's a different time and a different war now, yet the sacrifice are still the same. I wanted to shake his hand and welcome him back, but I was afraid I'd embarrass him. Wearing a uniform doesn't make him public property or give me the right to barge into his life. What if he doesn't want the attention?
Often, as a police officer, strangers would ask me if I'd ever killed anyone. It's a peculiar question, but one I got use to answering. Now I caught myself thinking the same question of this soldier. I wanted to reassure him that regardless of the war's controversy, we appreciated him. Instead of saying this, I stood there feeling self conscious.
Finally, I fell back on my police training. During my career, some of my fellow officers had to take a life in the line of duty. With the best of intentions we'd pat them on the back and say, "Good job." Although we knew killing someone was not synonymous with doing a good job, we didn't know how to express our true feelings, which were, "We care about you, and we're glad you're alive." In time we felt the reprecussions of our well intentioned but misguided manner of support. By consulting professionals, we learned to speak the truth through simple statements like, "It's good to see you. I'm glad you're all right."
In so many words, this is what I wanted to tell this soldier, a stranger that was risking his life for mine. He was reaching for his duffle bag. Time was running out. Finally I turned to him and blurted out, "Welcome home and thanks. The soldier hoisted his duffle bag to his shoulder, nodded, and said, "It's good to be home, sir."

John Howsden

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