Yesterday was just another flight home to Denver from Atlanta. I fly all the time so for me there is no glamour in business travel - it's a necessary evil.
As I was walking to my gate, I notice the presence of several camouflaged soldiers hanging out in the gate for a World (known as Halliburton Air) Airlines flight.
Then I experienced the paradigm shift....
More on the flip
Paradigm shifts occur when you look at your situations differently. Author Stephen Covey gave a great example of one in where he was riding a subway home. In the car, a father was traveling with his 3 kids who running around and raising hell - disrupting the riders. One rider finally asked the man to control his kids. The father replied back that their mother had just died. The perspective shifted - the riders at once turned from their judgmental position and started to engage and play with the children while others just listened and consoled the father. Paradigm shift - what you see may not be the reality.
But back to Atlanta ...
Here I had wandered into a place where I was no longer in the airport. My perspective of a man waiting to catch a plane to return home had changed. Here I was surrounded by hundreds of soldiers - the diversity of our armed forces is stunning - African American, Anglo, Hispanic, Native American; older faces among those that must have seen their high school prom just months ago; men and women. Most of them were poor. They were simply remarkable.
I spoke to several of them. All of them were frightened - you could sense the unease. The morale was not positive, they all seemed to be dreading departure. They spoke to me of what they would do when they returned, they spoke to me of their lives in Afghanistan, Iraq and Kuwait. They spoke to me of names they had read in the paper that day which listed fellow soldiers which had been killed that day. They spoke with bitterness about the Army but how this was about their job - it was what they did. One spoke to me of being cheated but he still was going because he was in the army. They spoke of someday working in a real job and how envious they were my lifestyle and how I was traveling on business and returning home to my wife.
Many of them had their families with them and this was absolutely heartbreaking. You think you know the cost of war. Bullshit. Go watch a man leave his family for a 12 month term. Watch his wife walking away, pulling three bawling children away, as they are all crushed by their father's absence. Listen to them telling their oldest to be a big boy or a big girl. Watch this while the rest of us know we can kiss our children, make love to our wives, live in comfort while these men and women say goodbyes. Try to pretend these parents, these sons and daughters will be fine, that we will all rally behind them, that our magnets, our flags, will sufficiently diminish a wife's broken heart. Try to fool yourself these soldiers return to life normally, that they come home at all or in one piece, or that they return with the peace in their hearts.
It was disturbing to walk among them - my own guilt for not serving and being with them - but also to know how this war will change them forever. Some will obviously be lost and will never return to this country. Others will face terrible wounds. Others (predicted at a stunning 30%) will have major problems from trauma. I was walking among the ghosts - men and women who would be so different after boarding that flight, after experiencing conflict, losing comrades, killing others.
I check Iraq casualties as many of you do. It was always just numbers to me - I didn't know any of them. I really never understood it until now. For every casualty, there is a child who won't have that father, there is a mother without a son, and there is a family without peace. This is the tragedy of war in general made even worse knowing it was always unnecessary for them to leave in the first place.