24 October 2010

Between two worlds life hovers like a star, twixt night and morn, upon the horizon’s verge. – Lord Byron

Psalm 91 is also known as the Soldier's Psalm. 
The Lord says 
"I will rescue those who love me, 
I will protect those who trust in my name.  
When they call on me, I will answer; 
I will be with them in trouble. 
I will rescue and honor them. 
I will reward them with a long life 
and give them my salvation."

I attended a “ramp ceremony” tonight.  This ceremony takes place when a fallen soldier is placed on a plane to go home for the last time.   It was midnight and there were a lot of troops from different nationalities there for this one fallen soldier.  We lined up on both sides to the entrance of the plane.  I recognized a soldier that I helped her read to her children.  Here she is saying goodbye to a friend. Across from me I could see a soldier in a wheelchair with a patch over his eye.  He was closest to the plane.  I can only assume that he was involved in whatever resulted in his friend’s death.

A soldier read some bible passages and announced the fallen soldier’s name, age, and next of kin.  He was younger than me.  He didn’t even have a chance to have a wife or children yet.  I felt fine and stoic and strong, until I saw the casket.  It was a metal box.  It didn’t look like any casket I had seen before.  It didn’t have sterling knobs with scrollwork; it wasn’t covered in a sparkling silver glaze and slid onto a rolling cart with an elegant cloth adorning it. It wasn’t hoisted by aging men in out of fashion suits who were friends of the deceased. 

It was a plain, simple, metallic box with an American flag draped over it.  It came from a large military vehicle and was carried by young soldiers.

The camouflage of the Dutch soldier in front of me began to blur as my eyes teared.  His back became a patchwork mural in my mind of every soldier, sailor and marine that I know the name of.  The one who reads to his 3 boys and 1 baby girl at home, the one who likes to play only Madden 11, the one who is learning to play Lord I Lift Your Name on High on guitar and on and on their faces flashed before me, their names echoed in my head.  This metal box could hold any one of them next. 

I didn’t sob, I didn’t even let a tear fall.  I stood there and I selfishly thanked the Lord that I didn’t know this fallen soldier, and I prayed for those that did.  I helped honor a fallen hero.  He gave his life for me and you. 

I watched his remains be loaded onto a plane to be sent to his grieving mother in the states.  As my coworker and I began to walk away a higher ranking soldier said to us, “Thank you for coming.”  He’s thanking me?  It seemed like such a ridiculous notion to me.  Me?  I’m just in Afghanistan taking names down for a phone and making coffee. This soldier was on the front lines taking enemy fire.  I am simply taking 5 minutes out of my time to stand here silently and watch him get loaded on a plane.  I have done nothing special.  I have done nothing grand.  I have done the only thing I know to do.

I think it’s important I went.  It is easy to get lost in the monotony of this job.  I need to remember that even though I only have to see a death maybe once a month at a ramps ceremony, the troops I see everyday may see it first hand everyday.  That’s why I need to do my best to give them, even if for just a minute, a respite from their thoughts and the world outside.

Today I ran a cornhole event for the troops.  I had so much fun.

Tonight I was one of the first people to honor a fallen soldier.

I live in 2 worlds.