It was a drill weekend. I had four hours of sleep on Thursday night, and for Friday night I did not sleep at all and got fifty minutes in the parking lot before formation Saturday morning. Come Saturday afternoon I was wasted tired, mentally slow and fuzzy, and not running on all cylinders.
I have two more months on this six year enlistment in the Oregon National Guard. I am out in May. Yet for the last two months that I have I will also give a 2 1/2 week period in order to train soldiers in infantry skills. I’ll do that and then turn my gear in and leave the military. My life is taking me in another direction. I’ve given my time, done my tours, and carry the weight with me today. I am a veteran. I am forever changed.
Yet there are other costs. Drill weekend and I was staying in the barracks overnight. I needed some mundane items, notably a running shirt as I am training to run another marathon. Though I am very tired I was determined to get a run in before I went to sleep for the night. I went out to a store in the small town of Monmouth, Oregon, still wearing my uniform. Immediately upon entering a store I scanned the room for the items I was looking for and turned toward it. I heard a small voice behind me calling for me. “Sir… sir” she said. I turned to see an elderly woman moving toward me. She stopped in front of me and asked me if I was in the National Guard. I told her that I was. She then asked me if I knew a particular soldier. I did not recognize the name. She then told me that he had been killed in Iraq this past summer. I could tell that she had wanted to somehow relive her grandson’s memory with someone who knew him. I could tell she was crestfallen, though she tried to hide it.
I assured her that I was new to the unit and that I might know him if I saw a picture. She opened her purse and pulled out a collection of pictures and showed them to me. I told her what a good looking young boy he was in one picture, and what a fine looking man he was in another one. She told me of his getting hit by a roadside bomb and then she thanked me for being in the guard. I wanted to reach out and to hug this dear woman, but I would let her move to me if she wanted. I sensed her fortifications against her emotion. A hug may be too much and could bring it down. I offered her my hand, she took it, and I took her’s with both of my hands. My mind, fuzzy and not working well from lack of sleep, used all it had to focus on this woman’s emotions. I strained myself as much as I could to make a connection with her and to let her feel that I loved her and that I understood her, that she was not alone.
She thanked me, blessed me as grandmothers do, and turned and walked away. I turned and stoically walked to a nearby corner of the store, the electronics department, and pretended to look at some uninteresting equipment in the corner. Inside my heart ached for this woman and her loss and her pain and I cried four brief tears for her before shutting down my emotions. I was in uniform.
Gods bless the families of our fallen soldiers. Give them peace.