11/14/2003 - RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany
(AFPN) -- Like most Americans, I find that I am pretty selfish
sometimes. I learned just how selfish on a recent trip to Iraq. I
was sitting on a C-130 Hercules waiting to leave a location I
can’t spell or pronounce, when we got delayed. I was annoyed. I’d
been traveling for hours trying to get to my destination and here
we were, stuck in some out-of-the-way place and I was hot, tired
and ready to get there already. Then it happened. I found out we
were waiting on another passenger.
I didn't know his name. I say ‘his’ but I didn’t know if he was
actually a he or a she. I didn’t know what branch of service he
was in or what rank he was. All I knew was that this passenger
cost me another hour and a half on that plane.
Little did I know how profound an impact "The Passenger" would
have on me. You see, this passenger that we had to wait on, who
delayed our trip and annoyed me and the other passengers, was a
casualty of war.
The ground crew brought him on board in a body bag. They laid him
down between the jump seats and the cargo pallet, and covered him
with Old Glory. At that moment, I felt the heat of shame in my
face. Who was I to worry about a little lost sleep or a few extra
hours on a plane when he had given his life in this war?
By this time, everyone on board had stood up out of respect and,
when they had “The Passenger” secure, the sergeant leading the
crew called the plane to attention and barked a quick command.
Every man and woman on that plane, from private to colonel
immediately snapped a crisp salute in honor of the ultimate
sacrifice made by “The Passenger”. It was a moment of perfect
unity. Every eye on that flag, every arm raised in respect, every
breath caught in every throat for just one second.
With our respects paid, everyone took his or her seat and prepared
for take-off. I don’t know about anyone else on that plane but I
found myself contemplating what this passenger’s sacrifice meant:
to me, to our country, but mostly to his family. I found myself
wondering what he gave up for the war on terror. Did he leave a
wife behind when he deployed? Did he have children out there
somewhere who would never see their father again? What about his
parents, brothers and sisters? How would his family cope with his
Was the sacrifice he made for his country worth it? To his family,
perhaps not. To the Iraqi families, maybe.
You see, I learned something else on this trip. I learned how the
Iraqi people are living. Ramshackle houses… no cars… no central
air, or any air conditioning for that matter, none of the so
called ‘modern conveniences’. I also learned that, thanks to our
efforts, some of the kids are now able to go to school for the
first time in years. Teachers are allowed to teach in multiple
languages and cover subjects that were banned during the old
Clinics are opening all over the country, doctors are no longer
afraid that if they misdiagnose someone it will cost them their
lives. That’s right, there is no malpractice insurance in Iraq. A
doctor at one of the clinics told me that, under the old regime,
if a doctor made a mistake, he paid for it with his life. So was
"The Passenger’s" sacrifice worth it? I guess it depends on your
point of view.
Then I started thinking about my own family. How would my wife
deal with my death if it came on this trip? Would my children be
ok? How horrible would it be for my parents to outlive me? I
thought of my brother and his family in California. How many times
have I meant to call them only to get distracted and forget? I
haven’t seen them in almost four years. My sister in Illinois
hasn’t seen me in a couple of years either. When was the last time
I called her? Why haven’t I e-mailed her or my niece lately? I use
to send her e-mails every week or so, but I seem to have let my
oh-so-busy life get in the way of communicating with the ones I
love. Do I write enough? Call enough? Definitely not! I think
that’s what it all comes down to.
We get so wrapped up in our lives that we forget about the other
people in this world. We forget that not everyone lives in a free
society. We forget that sometimes you have to stand up for people
who can’t stand up for themselves. We forget that we have a
responsibility to the people of this world, and not because we are
a super power or have the best military in the world, but simply
because we all share this planet. We forget that, for good or bad,
what one person does affects everyone.
What we can’t forget is that we never know when the moment of our
death will come. Don’t forget to tell the people who are most
important to you how much you love them and how much you miss
them. Don’t forget to take time out of your ‘busy’ schedule and
call your family and friends. Don’t forget to do something today
that will make a difference tomorrow, so that when your time comes
someone can say ‘Thank you for the sacrifices you made, you had a
profound impact on my life.’
So to “The Passenger,” I say thank you. Thank you for serving your
country. Thank you for standing up for people who can’t stand up
for themselves. Thank you for making the ultimate sacrifice. Most
importantly, thank you for making me realize that our time on this
earth is never certain and we’d better do our best to make it
worthwhile. May you find peace and happiness wherever you may be.
Now, if you will excuse me, I have to go call my kids, my parents,
my brother, my sister…