When I Shook the Hands of Men

Posted: September 11, 2012 in Uncategorized
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On this 9/11 anniversary, I wanted to share this post from a previous blog from several years ago.

To put this in context, I had gotten out of the military but followed the news surrounding my old unit. After our post-9/11 deployment to Germany, many members were sent back overseas, this time to Iraq.

June 27, 2007

On Saturday, I shook the hands of men. 

Despite the doom and gloom on the 24-hour news networks, despite all the paralyzing fear and worry and despite the efforts of lunatic jihadists, they all came home. Thirty-four heroes returned home Saturday after a 15-month-long deployment to the war-ravaged city of Baghdad. The soldiers of “Charlie” Co., 2/123d Armor, a rural-based National Guard unit, were nearly hugged, kissed and applauded to death by the small community of Benton, Ky., again. 

No more sand, no more bunks and no more worries about ambushes, IEDs or snipers. Again, Benton’s small town streets were lined with hundreds of familiar faces, American flags, homemade banners and happy children. 

I was proud of these men again. They had left their lives and their loved ones to cross the Atlantic Ocean and fight the war on terror again. These courageous Americans witnessed first-hand the clash of civilizations and the struggle for democracy again.

And again I felt the overwhelming flood of newness, hope and gratitude that only deployed troops know. 

Nearly six years ago, I deployed as a sergeant with these “weekend warriors,” most of whom were just awkward boys, quick to talk about their high school days, dream cars and favorite baseball players. One guy, who I’d rather not name, was the company goof-off, the boy of the boys. And although you didn’t know whether to laugh or blush at his jokes, you always knew he needed to grow up. Another was a part-time-working pot smoker with the worst mouth on anyone I’d ever met (that’s saying a lot considering my prior four years in the Marine Corps). His incessant and excessive cursing was both embarrassing and hilarious. His well-known marijuana habit was demotivating and the subject of many jokes.

With a big smile and a firm handshake, I walked around welcoming home “Charlie” company. Those who shook back were not the goofy boys I once knew who guzzled German hefeweisen and shouted drunken obscenities down cobblestone streets. Those boys lived lifetimes ago. These men now had mature glares, confidence, presence and unspoken knowledge of weightier matters.

The company goof-off was now a Purple Heart recipient; his Humvee had been rocked by an IED, and he lost part of his right hand. He now shook with his left hand and with an awareness that life at home would be different now.  And the loudmouth pot-head was now a quiet, commanding sergeant with clearer career goals and Visine-white eyes. 

On Saturday, I didn’t shake the hands of boys I once knew; on Saturday, I shook the hands of men I’d never met.

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