Stars and Stripes

Stars and Stripes

Friday, December 3, 2010

The True American Heart

The media paints many different pictures of the war in Afghanistan. Some people think Operation Enduring Freedom is necessary, and some would have our forces drop everything immediately and come home for good. The real story is one you will not hear about on CNN or read in the pages of The New York Times while you sip coffee in the morning. It is the story of The True American Heart; A heart that beats just as strong and free as it has for 234 years. It’s the heart that beats inside the chest of every American when he or she looks at the sunrise and feels blessed to be in the greatest country on earth. The men and women who define America fill a void that many do not even know about. They do not look any different than you or me and they’re rarely in the spotlight. If you could see their consistent giving, their unwavering sense of duty, or their overwhelming pride in our land you would see the essence of America. This is their story; the story of The True American Heart. 
It was a blistering hot mid July afternoon in northern Afghanistan. I was serving as a platoon medic in the second battalion of the Army’s 173rd Airborne Infantry. In the 15 months since I arrived, enemy contact had been a regular occurrence. It was certainly no surprise when the bullets began to rain down on us, even though it was the third time that day. Explosions from rocket propelled grenades, or RPG’s, seemed to be all around us. Enemy machine gun fire immediately began to pepper the guard tower where I, and three other men, were instinctively jumping into action. Less than one minute after the fight broke out I found myself lying on the floor with my body completely paralyzed. Up to now I had enjoyed a life with a strong and steady build but in the blink of an eye I was laying in a puddle of my own blood and wondering if I would even survive the day. The bullet hit me in the left side of my neck and stopped precisely in the middle of my spine at the  seventh cervical vertebra. Blood poured from the large hole created by the .50 caliber bullet that had just crashed into my body as a fully loaded tractor-trailer would a small sports car. 
Similar stories could be told about hundreds of American service men and women from all over these United States. They have been shot and blown up; their bodies beaten and burned. While some may consider those people heros, the real heros are the dedicated Americans near by that pick up the cross and help the injured to carry on. They are the doctors and nurses who see the mangled bodies that war leaves behind, and the therapist tasked with aiding service members in their fight to rebuild lives they once knew. Still, more often, the ones who have the most impact are average Americans that believe it is their duty to, with a grateful heart, shake the hand of someone who is no different than they, except for the path that life has taken them down. Groups such as Welcome Home Soldiers have committed themselves to the work of supporting those who are now fighting a much different fight. These people represent the True American Heart. 
              The story will not end with me. It will continue day after day until there are no more wars to be fought and no more blood left to shed. I’ve had the rare honor of seeing such a heart up close and very personal on a near day to day basis. No, this is not the life I would have chosen and yes, I would make some changes if I could but my physical wounds have not left me bitter or angry. Instead, they have left me more proud to be an American than before. And though I did not choose it, my mission is much different now than in those days that were full of combat. My mission is to spread the word that our heart beats strong and free now just as it has all throughout  our history. America remains strong and free because we are not governed by what happens on Wall Street, or political powers above us. Our conviction is our drive. Our heart is our fuel. As Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle said, “There is nothing stronger than the heart of a volunteer. With it beats the spirit of service, generosity and compassion...and the health and well-being of our community, our country and our world." This is the true American Heart.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

What Am I To Do?

What am I to do? I'm dying to step back into my boots as an Airborne Medic but I can't and most likely never will. It's like I'm starving and I can see the food that my body needs so badly to survive, but I can't seem to get to it.

I don't belong in this (civilian) world anymore. I don't fit the mold. Once I made the decision to don my country's uniform, I signed on to a new way of life. This way is honorable and noble. It holds special value, but only because so few ever make the true commitment. Surely, the individuals themselves are nothing, but the whole stands above all others. The commitment runs as deep as the very nature of who I am as a person. In fact, who I am and what this job requires are intertwined. This way of life demands the kind of devotion that pushes me to do it, even if no one ever knows about the sacrifice. In other words, no credit needed. Furthermore, credit is shunned in an effort to keep my devotion in it's purest form. I'm totally pledged to my place in the larger picture. I know it. I've embraced it. I love it all the way down to my core. I stand ready to lay down my life for those in the same suit of armor. Spilling blood for my country, as it is sometimes necessary, is accompanied by approbation. Not in a prideful, arrogant way, but one that says to those who oppose our great nation, "We will gladly give it all and we're proud to do so."

What am I to do if this way of life is taken from me and I am forced to return to the old self? Men and women are dying on battlefields around the world and I am forced to enjoy the comforts that are taken for granted each day. My warm, soft bed and my climate controlled apartment only add to my guilty conscience. How am I to live comfortably when other whom I care deeply for are suffering for the most nobel causes? This guilt is what drives me to live each day as though it were a gift given. A cause is a cause no mater how it is attained. This Christmas season, my goal is to be extra grateful for all that I have been given including, but not limited to, family, possessions of comfort ( A/C, bedding, vehicles, roads that don't explode, and so on), democracy, and many other small things that make up the life I live that is so blessed. We all choose to either bring honor or disgrace upon ourselves each new morning. I suppose most days, by night fall, I have failed in some way but I fear the day I stop trying when the sun rises in the east.