By Steve Ramirez | firstname.lastname@example.org
I guess he was about 22 years old, give or take a year; he was missing both his legs below the knee. We had been talking about how he tried to get into the Marine Corps but was not accepted, and how he fought through his disappointment and worked his way into the Army; he wanted to serve his country. We talked about his time in Afghanistan, how he could never see the enemy, and how Taliban IED’s killed his friends, one by one. He told me that he felt lucky to have lost his legs and not his life, and that he wanted to go back and serve with his unit once again. “The shrink has to clear me he said,” lowering his head just a little. “I’ve had nightmares.” I was about 50 years old, give or take a year. I grabbed his arm and said, “Hey, keep your head up Soldier, you served your country well; I’ve had those nightmares too. You’re going to be just fine” I told him that he had so much to be proud of, and that in time, things would get better, and that I was proud and honored to meet him.” He smiled. He asked me if I thought he would be alright and I said, “of course you will. Life goes on…and we, my brother, are resilient.” I looked over and saw a beautiful young girl in camouflage. She smiled and I smiled. She was missing her left arm. She had the loveliest smile and in every way that mattered, wasn’t missing anything. This was the day I was visiting the Center for the Intrepid at BAMC. I was there as a volunteer with Project Healing Waters, an organization that uses fly tying and fishing to help our wounded warriors heal. Later that same day I acted as the left arm of a soldier that was waiting for his prosthetic to be completed; together we tied a fly. The table was full of soldiers missing arms and legs, but none of us missed the opportunity to smile, laugh, and talk about the future. We…are resilient.
If you really live life, you soon learn that you have to be able to take the hits. You learn that life isn’t about the hits or even where they come from…it’s about getting back up. And one more thing…life is about giving back. What we learn means nothing if we fail to use it and turn the ugly in this world into something beautiful. There was a time when I sat on post waiting to be attacked. It felt lousy. I wanted to fight, not be a target. I was frustrated that my government put its warriors into impossible situations. And, we are still doing it. We are still putting young men and women in forward combat posts that are in deep valleys surrounded by mountains filled with Taliban fighters looking down on them. We are still failing to give Marines the personnel and firepower needed to protect the embassies; nothing has changed. And, as in my time so long ago, we are still forgetting that after we send them in we must give back and support our troops when they come home. They need jobs and medical care and most of all…they need to know that what they did matters to the American people. They need someone to be there and smile back…not look away.
When I was serving as the Director of a Regional Police Academy, many of our recruits were warriors returning from Iraq. In a single cadet class I had five Marines and one Soldier who fought in Fallujah. In the other class I had two Marines, one fought along the Syrian border and the other was in Haditha. It was not unusual for one of them to knock on my door and ask to talk. One day a young Marine came in, he closed the door and told me that he could tell by what I said and what I didn’t say that I would understand. He said that he was afraid that he was losing his mind and he began to cry. I listened and then I smiled and touched his shoulder. I said, “You my brother are a good person and that is why you are having a very normal reaction to an abnormal experience.” He, like many young troops hid his struggle from the Marine Corps. I got him to someone else who would understand; to this day, we are brothers and he is doing well. You see…that’s the way it is with warriors; it doesn’t matter the age difference or where we come from; we have a common bond.
There was a time when I was the young Marine. I was unstoppable. I almost felt sorry for my enemy. Now, I can hurt myself putting my boots on in the morning. It’s not the years, it’s the mileage. Still, inside I am a warrior. I will always be a Marine. Each day I wear my Marine Corps ring-custom made gold. I have only seen two other men with this ring, a Marine General who I met in Africa, and my friend Rocky. Each week, Rocky and I sit in the Daily Grind Coffee shop. Rock served in Vietnam on Hill 55. This is the same hill where 3,000 French troops were wiped out by the attacking Vietnamese fighters’ years before. He was under constant attack. He served, fought, and lived. He returned to find “Americans” waiting to greet him with insults and spit. I returned to a country who wanted to forget us and the war that still rages 30 years later. And now we sit together, brothers of the warrior code, and all the years, and all the mileage, matters not.
We are resilient.