I was en route the other day from Seattle to DFW. Home from a fun and thoroughly educational trip to Microsoft HQ for a super secret top classified semi-decoder ring style event. Had managed to swindle a window seat on the airplane side that only had two seats which was nice. After I sat down, a solider sat down next to me. I would later learn his name was Captain Thomas – but I didn’t learn his name you might think I would.
I was pleased to sit next to a solider. Not for any particular reason other than it warms my heart to see soldiers. Not ever knowing what to say and feeling silly doing the hand over heart thing the USO says I could do, I just smiled, nodded and said “Solider” as he sat down. After a few minutes, the flight was at 7 AM, I drifted off to sleep.
After a few minutes of dozing, I muscle jerked myself awake (always embarrassing) but Captain Thomas was watching a movie on his phone. It was an Android phone but I didn’t hold that against him. That particular violation of civility is a lot like seeing the crazy old driver hobbling down the road only to notice he bears a Purple Heart license plate – he can do whatever he wants. I noticed he had a wedding band – that was nice. A little while later, I was surfing on my laptop – what did we do without onboard WIFI??? – and he was chatting it up with another solider from a different “group” sitting across the aisle. I overheard a few things as flying on an airplane isn’t exactly a private affair.
Captain Thomas was en route to Afghanistan for his second tour. He was an artillery guy by trade but instead of shouting orders at the top of his lungs while there on his first tour (Good Morning Vietnam comes to mind right about here), he spent his time “advising” an Afghan Colonel. Captain Thomas spoke with a degree of irritation and honesty as he described to his fellow soldier. A corrupt Colonel who only did what he advised if he gave the Colonel a bribe. A corrupt unit that could barely hit a target from 100 yards, and he was trained to hit that target at several miles. I gave a quiet nod to myself thinking – he’s there, I’m not, he should be honored for his service. Still didn’t know what to say though, particularly because he was outbound, so I figured – let the man have his peace – he didn’t need me annoying him with questions. I dozed back off.
When we landed and reached the gate, it was a bit before Captain Thomas and I got to get off the plane. I shook his hand and asked him what he thought of his mission. He smiled, crooked his head a bit and said something to the effect of – we’re the first people to try and they need all the help they can get. I asked if he ever got discouraged and he smiled, touched his wedding band, thanked me for my thanking him for his service and left for baggage claim. I thought to myself, you idiot! You didn’t even ask for his name. I could have made a personal connection but instead was in awe of his sacrifice to our country. But there he was, with his bag over his shoulder – Captain Thomas it said.
I never “met” the guy – but every day since then, I wonder how he is doing on his second tour, away from his wife and family from the Seattle area. Sometimes it is the little things, but I pray for Captain Thomas’ successful mission in an unbelievably difficult situation – a corrupt army of Afghanistan to try and train, the “normal” strains of a military deployment to name just a few. I cannot even imagine – sitting here whining about paying for $4/gas that he risks his life to help a country that doesn’t much like us. Thank you Captain Thomas – I’m sorry I was too chicken shit to introduce myself by name. Please come home to your family safely. God Bless America.