Image courtesy: Pfc. David Hauk, U.S. Army. Kandahar, Afghanistan, November 12, 2009

Friday, December 11, 2009

The only thing I like about airports

With my immediate family and in-laws all up north, I do a lot of flying. It's no secret that airports are generally a miserable experience, with delays, bad music, screaming babies, and an atmosphere of rudeness. But there is one thing that always fascinates me about walking through an aiport: All the U.S. troops you see walking by. I always wonder where they've been, what they've seen, and where they're going.

A few months ago at Memphis International Airport, I ran into a soldier who couldn't have been more than 21 years old at an Arby's. He was by himself, hauling an incredible amount of gear. I am talking the equivalent of 20 suitcases. Astonished by all he had to carry, he shrugged and said "the stuff needs to get back, and someone needs to take it there." He was on his way back from Iraq and had been flying or sitting in airports for over 20 hours. He started out in Iraq, then Kuwait, then Germany, then Atlanta, then Memphis, and had one last plane to hop to Mississippi. He told me about the incredible desert heat, and said he would likely not take a shower with hot water for several weeks after returning home. He just liked the newfound privilege of feeling cold.

This is a different kind of sacrifice we rarely hear about. It makes me feel guilty for complaining about checking a bag or sitting in a cramped middle coach seat. Ever since, I have done my best to always shake at least one servicemember's hand and thank him or her for their service when I am at an airport. While some are tired, a small act of kindness will almost always brighten their day. If I had it my way, whenever a group of U.S. troops walk through an airport, they would be serenaded with applause. I saw clapping spontaneously erupt a few years ago at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and it was one of the most moving things I've witnessed.

To all the troops sitting in airports right now: You are almost home. If you're headed overseas, know that your country is behind you.

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