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.