Coming Home

There were about ten or twelve Air Force soldiers on my flight from Chicago to Toledo today. They were dressed in desert camouflage fatigues and all of them were probably no older than 25 years old, with the exception of a couple of NCO's. I overheard them talking to each other and some of the other passengers and learned that they were on their way home from Iraq, and this was the last leg of the trip. Most of them had been traveling for 48 hours or more, flying from Iraq through Europe, then Shannon, Ireland, Bangor, Maine, Chicago, and now home.

In spite of the long journey, they were all upbeat and joking among themselves. Well, of course; who wouldn't be? Looking forward to getting home to wives and family -- and visiting their favorite places like Tony Packo's, the Hungarian restaurant with the legendary Hungarian hot dogs, and Loma Linda, the best Mexican restaurant in the world and just a half-mile from the airport. But best of all, they were home.

When we arrived at Toledo Express Airport, the entire troop was greeted by shouts, cheers, balloons, banners, confetti, and not a few tears from the families at the bottom of the escalator outside the security zone. Local TV cameras were there covering the return, and the other passengers joined in the laughter and applause.

It doesn't matter whether you support the war in Iraq, and it does not matter what you think of the men who led us into this war. These young men did their job -- a dangerous and hard job -- not because they believe in a political outcome or they support the party who took us into war. They did their job because they are soldiers. They believe in what they do and they do it well. We ask them to bear a terrible burden and they do it under terrible conditions, and they do it well and with great dedication and good humor.

When the plane arrived at the gate, I stood up to get my briefcase out of the overhead, and then waited, like the rest, to go up the aisle. A soldier was waiting for a gap in the line, and I stopped and let him in. I said, "You've traveled a lot further than I did."

He smiled and said, "Thank you, sir."

I replied, "No. Thank you."

Cross-posted from Bark Bark Woof Woof.

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