Twenty-one years ago this month I left the U.S. Navy, got married, and began my civilian career.
A lot has happened in those twenty-one years. I have moved from South Carolina to New Jersey to Michigan and to Indiana. I have worked in large multi-national corporations, small family-owned businesses, and in my own business. I have become a father. I have faced financial ups and downs. I have experienced health challenges and been with family members through their health challenges. I helped to care for my aging mother-in-law until I had the privilege of being with her as she passed away.
A lot happened while I served as a submarine officer in the Navy and since. All of it has contributed to making me who I am today.
Even though I served in the U.S. military, when people ask for veterans to stand or raise their hands, I do it in a sort of self-conscious way. In many respects, I don't feel totally worthy of being called a “veteran” because I don't really see my service as being a great sacrifice or struggle. While I learned a great deal about myself, about working with people, about problem solving, and about responding to crises, my experience seems a little insignificant compared to the service of others.
I never faced anything like the men and women of our armed forces face today or in any of the wars prior to my time in service. In the midst of my training for and response to life-and-death situations, the most significant casualty I faced was a fire on-board our submarine that lasted about one minute. The most physical hardship I faced was nine days without showers due to an equipment malfunction. Not so significant when compared with facing IED's on roadsides every day.
On one Veteran's Day a year or so ago, my daughter had a discussion with her teacher about my service. When her teacher asked which war I had served in, she said: “The Cold War.” It was funny, and it was true. I “fought” the Cold War.
Last Friday, I got up around 4:00 am to fly from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania back to Indianapolis. On this journey, I had about a two hour layover scheduled between flights in Detroit. My two hour layover eventually became a seven hour layover due to mechanical problems with the plane.
Another person on the flight from Detroit to Indianapolis was a U.S. soldier who began his travels somewhere in Iraq. He had already made 18 hops in his 2.5 day journey home, and he just wanted to see his wife and kids for three days. Tomorrow he begins his 2.5 day return journey back to his duty station in Iraq.
We spoke a bit during our time together in Detroit. Sadly, I do not know his name. I know a little of his story, and I saw his two young children waiting for him with “Welcome Home” signs at the Indianapolis airport. We only got the chance to briefly connect. As is often the case in group conversations like the one we had in Detroit, the roughly forty of us that were waiting together shared conversation, but we didn't get very personal.
As we waited, I saw several people get really agitated with Delta Airlines. True, they could have done a better job of keeping us informed about the status of our delay. But, was it really that big of a deal? I noticed that the solider who had been traveling for 2.5 days to spend 3 days at home never got angry. He was as frustrated as anyone, and he kept his cool. He seemed to be able to keep the short-term situation in perspective compared to the bigger picture of his life and experiences.
And, as we face little daily struggles like delayed flights, traffic congestion, children who forget things at school, and a thousand other minor daily irritations, let's remember to keep things in perspective.