One tired marine
My aunt and uncle had taken me to SeaTac so I could catch a shuttle bus up to Bellingham and I was just heading to the waiting area. When I got there, I noted that there were a good number of people already waiting--but that was not what I noticed first. Over to one side stood a marine in his green dress uniform with his luggage piled next to him. I'm not sure what motivated me to do it; maybe the empty space next to him was closer then the others; maybe I just felt comfortable around uniforms having spent the last week in one myself--I just stepped right over and dropped my luggage. In any case, it was the uniform that broke the ice between us. I wasn't in my uniform, mind you, I just didn't have a proper covering for the clothes in my luggage--just a see-through bag which made me almost as conspicuous as the marine himself! He saw the set of BDUs and immediately asked me where I was stationed... I wasn't quite sure how to explain to him that I was not in the military--that I just did this kind of thing part-time and paid money to do so--that I was a civilian in the Air Force Auxiliary and just a cadet at that!
He took what I could explain at face value but didn't seem to care--I felt a little guilty at how much he treated me like an equal. He talked to me about where he had been and where he was headed. He was originally from L.A. if I remember right and he was among the marines who first set foot in Baghdad only a little bit earlier, but his attitude was not proud or triumphant. That he didn't have fond memories about his experience there was obvious... In fact, since he was headed back after a short trip home, he was understandably depressed.
I was 19 at the time and as I would finally learn, he was younger. That was the toughest pill to swallow about the whole thing. It is hard to meet a tired marine, soldier, airman or sailor. It is hard to look in their eyes and find that the person doing incredible feats of bravery for a living on your behalf is the same person looking for comfort and sympathy from you.
When we boarded the bus he took a seat next to me and the trip was relatively uneventful. I learned he was heading to NAS Whidbey--I assumed to find transportation back to Iraq. When we hit Mt Vernon, there was another bus waiting for passengers headed west to the coast. It was his route and he didn't know it. He was obviously unfamiliar with the area so I asked him again if he was headed to NAS Whidbey and upon his confirmation I told him that this was where he was supposed to get off. He checked it out and got off just in time. I had planned to thank him when he left--I missed that chance unfortunately. He was practically running off the bus and didn't so much as look back or say anything--I wasn't going to hold him up.
I think back and wish I had gotten my chance to look him straight in the eye and thank him for what he was doing over there. Such a simple thing and it's the least he deserved! My friends, don't let those moments slip away. Better to risk embarrassing him (and maybe you) then to let one brave person think you care less than you do about the work he does. Don't let it happen. Don't give in to thinking that what you say doesn't matter to someone as tough as nails. He is a human being after all!