There’s never been a point in my life where I felt compelled to enlist in any of the branches of the armed services.  I’ve never been compelled to be part of something greater than myself in that particular manner.  Never wanted the kind of camaraderie that comes with it.  No interest in it whatsoever.  But I have an unlimited amount of respect and admiration for those who do.

Only recently have I actually realized just how many people I know and care about have served in the past, or are serving now.  I’ve been obvlivious for a long time, something I don’t tolerate in others and will equally not tolerate in myself.  I saw a bumper sticker the other day that said “if you won’t stand behind our troops, stand in front of them”.  In light of the current situation with the US forces stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan, this is more prevalent a view now than almost any other time before.  I believe the only exception would be the Vietnam war back in the 1960’s.

Both of my grandfathers served.  My father’s step-father served in the Navy and my mother’s father in the Navy as well.  What saddens me is that I’ve never sat down with either of them and asked about any of it.  I had a brief conversation once with my dad’s step-dad about when he was young and first enlisted, but it was more of a humorous story than anything else, talking about when he got a tattoo that his mom didn’t like when he returned home.  That’s as close to a real conversation as I’ve gotten.  And until this moment, it never really bothered me.  They both served during times of war and came out of it in one piece and completely sane.  I could never do that.

My cousin Riley is in Afghanistan right now.  We were really close when we were younger, and grew apart once we both reached high school.  It wasn’t either one of us really, it was both.  We could both drive and we both had cell phones, but we never called each other up to just hang out.  Now he’s married and has an infant daughter, and he’s serving in the Army on the other side of the world.  I could never do that.

For many years when I was younger I attended private school, and then when I entered public school in the 3rd grade I still went to that private school for after-school care.  I had a friend named Neil for all that time, and we were inseparable on the playground.  It sounds funny to think back on now, but it’s true.  Used to drive us crazy when his twin sisters would follow us around, but we evaded them together.  For the past couple years he also served in Afghanistan and just recently returned to the states.  I haven’t seen him in years, and once he comes back home I’ll do everything I can to make that happen, but I can’t imagine what he’s gone through and what he’s seen.  I could never do that.

My best friend Terry served in the Marines for 4 years.  It was almost a decade ago, so there weren’t any wars going on, but that’s not to say it wasn’t a difficult decision to make and a stressful time in his life I’m sure.  he and I have talked about it, though not for an extended amount of time.  Most of our conversations consisted of how he met his wife while he was stationed in Hawaii, and and of him showing me photo albums of pictures he took while located both there in Hawaii and later on in Tokyo, Japan.  After meeting the woman he loved and wanted to marry, he got orders to be transferred from one side of the world to the other, leaving her behind, and he had to do it because you can’t just leave the Marines because you don’t want to leave a girl.  So they were separated for quite a while until they were married and then eventually his service ended.  I could never do that.

My friend Michael has just recently enlisted in the Air Force for a six year stint.  I can’t even wrap my mind around that.  Six years committed to something like that which will control almost every aspect of his life, not the least of which is where he and his wife will live.  He seems excited about it and that’s great.  I’m happy for him.  I think this will help him find some direction and stability in his life that he’s been looking for, and I think the structure is going to be really good for him.  He has a lot of ambition and talent, and the Air Force will take those and mold him into someone with the necessary skills to take him in the right direction.  He leaves tonight and will live separately from his wife for months while he’s in basic training and then tech school.  They’ll be able to visit occassionally, but for the first time since they started dating they are going to be apart for a long time.  I could never do that.

I’ll go on record as saying that I don’t believe America has a right or need to be stationed in any of the countries in the middle east right now, but that’s a topic for an entirely different blog entry.  However, I fully support the troops and everything they do, and just want them safe.  These people are willing to sacrifice everything for complete strangers to keep our country safe.  I could never do that.

So to anyone who has served, or even considered serving, I salute you.  My respect and gratitude are yours.  Thank you for all that you’ve done and continue to do.