Friday, April 14, 2006

Milblogs - a new weekly post

Regular Freedmanslifers will know that this is not a blog for the faint of heart or the left of wing. So a new theme is to be introduced to Freedmanslife. Each week we will feature an article from the fascinating world of the Milblog (military weblog); the best insight on what the Evil Crusade on Iraq is really like for the naive liberal pansies who like their petrol cheap and their trains in one piece but don't want their names sullied by the nasty process of securing these simple desires.

This week, an excerpt from one of the classics, A Bountiful Life.

The Coin

It’s a smaller aircraft with only two rows of seats, two seats per row, and a narrow aisle up the middle. I take an empty seat next to a woman who is older than I. She is attractive in a distinguished, southern way.

We exchange courtesies but otherwise do not talk. I notice out of the corner of my eye that people are looking at me.

There is a quick, steep takeoff, and we climb to cruising altitude. Looking out the window I am surprised at the number of other aircraft in the vicinity. Its just like a converging freeway with multiple lanes of outgoing and approaching jets.

I settle in to my seat, but cant sleep. Its early afternoon and the sun is still shining brightly, penetrating the aircraft with beams of light coming through the small windows.

Finally, the woman next to me speaks, asking me if I am returning from Iraq. I answer her, telling her yes, I am on leave and the sand of Iraq is still on my boots. She asks me if its ok for her to ask me questions which is fine with me I respond. From there starts a conversation that lasts two full hours at least.

She asks me if we need more troops in Iraq. I inform her that no we do not and if anything we need less, but to tell her friends that we need more porta-potties and to call their congressmen.

She is from Atlanta, her husband is retired and they travel. She is going to get her mother who lives near me, and take her back to Atlanta for the winter.

I talk of the reception in Atlanta and she tells me the people there are shy and do not know what to say to me.

I tell her of ambushes, being mortared, friends injured and killed. I tell her of the Iraqi people, how friendly they are, patient, generous, and quick to smile.

I am like a dam that has burst. We talk nonstop, and later I will be grateful for that.

When the plane begins its descent, we fasten our seatbelts and prepare to land. I see her reach for her handbag and pull out what appears to be a ten-dollar bill. I think I know what is coming and feel myself become embarrassed. I can feel myself begin to say no.

She turns to me and begins to explain that there is a radio talk show host in Atlanta that has told his audience that if they want to thank a soldier for his or her service, to buy them and their family a meal. Her hand reaches out offering the bill, and she asks me to take it. I refuse and tell her I cannot, that serving my country and its people has been a privilege and an honor. She persists and I remember something a speaker once talked about from the podium, about how to take a compliment or thank you with grace, and to humbly accept and simply say thank you in return. I take the bill from her hand, tell her thank you so much, and begin to refold it to stick it in my pocket. It’s a one hundred dollar bill.

Without thinking I reach into my pocket and take out a campaign coin that I have carried everywhere in Iraq. It has been with me through everything I have gone through. I tell her of the time-honored tradition of “coining” in the Army, where a soldier gives his or her unit coin to another as a gift. Coins are prized, are not easy to come by, and it is considered an honor to be given one.

I hand her my Iraq campaign coin and tell her to keep it forever.

When I get off the plane she walks ahead of me, then disappears into the crowd. I wish I had said goodbye better, but then think perhaps we parted ways perfectly.

I stop and search, and see my family by the windows waiting for me.

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