As Ed and I stepped into Bangor Airport this morning to prepare for our trip, we were met with quite a sight. Service men and women in camouflage uniforms were everywhere - in the gift shop, in the snack shop, some sleeping on the floor, some sleeping on chairs, and some sitting around engrossed in their laptops.
Bangor is known for its Troop Greeters, a large group of volunteers who at any hour of the day or night, show up at the airport when a military flight is scheduled to leave or arrive. Some of these are veterans from other wars, like Vietnam, where the same young boys who were spat upon return to the USA after their deployment have grown up into old men, and want to volunteer their time to make sure all soldiers get treated with hearty handshakes, hugs, and respect they deserve. So there were several Troop Greeters there today as well, but Ed and I still weren't sure if the troops were coming or going.
So finally when the announcement came for the troops to board, a tired young man who had been trying to sleep on the floor beside my seat, head on a knapsack, got up to prepare to leave, I asked him, "Are y'all coming or going?" He said, "Going." I asked where, and he said, "Afghanistan." Even though I knew it was a possibility, even probability, my heart still sank when I heard it. Then came the frustrating moment for me because I had no idea what to say! My first impulse was to say, "I'm so sorry!" but that didn't sound very encouraging. My second impulse was to say, "I hope you make it back." That, too, was too sad. I ended up blurting out, "Good luck!" and he said thanks, and that was that. I didn't know his name, but from now on every time the news reports another soldier death in Afghanistan, I will think of this man, a stranger whom I was privileged to briefly encounter right before he went off to fight a dangerous war in a dangerous country. If I had had an hour to formulate an appropriate response, it still would have not been adequate. What do you say at a time like that? I didn't know if the young man was for the war or against the war, I didn't know if this was his 1st or maybe his 3rd tour of duty, didn't know if he was worried about the future or concerned about leaving his family, or even anxious to put to use the skills he had been trained for. I didn't know if he was just apprehensive or scared stiff. I only know he had signed up to be of service, had been called, and was going as he had promised. "Good luck" just didn't cover it, but it was all I could muster on the spur of the moment.
When I realized it was Memorial Day weekend, the whole event took on a more poignant note for me. This brought the face of war right to my own face, and I could hardly speak in words that made sense. How could I ever be satisfied with a terse "Good luck" when all I wanted to do was throw my arms around him and cry like a baby?