April 25, 2011
Returned from: Afghanistan
Milblog: The Sand Docs
Reunion feels wonderful but it can also be unsettling. I was part of several reunions over the past few days and I wanted to share some of those.
In Germany our flight stops to refuel. Here we are reunited with the concept of having to pay for a bottle of water. This sounds funny but remember, for months our water has arrived boxed on enormous palettes. We've become connoisseurs about which strange-sounding brand of bottled water tastes best -- Dibba or Hayat or Oasis. Now bottled water costs us $2 from the vending machine. Also, we are reunited with our first western-clean toilet. Beautiful. I have nothing more to say on that subject.
|Volunteers welcoming a service member home.|
Our plane touches down at BWI. There is an organization called Operation Welcome Home that greets troops on the transports returning from the Middle East. As I pass through the customs inspection they are just around the corner. I hear the applauding volunteers. I stop.
It is the final stop for our team that came together so many months ago and has been family for that time. It is the family that has lately been showing some warts. Tempers have been shorter. Politeness is in more limited supply as we got closer to the end. But it has been family. So I stop there to say goodbye. Once we round that corner, we go our separate ways. I feel sadder than I would have guessed at this moment. I say goodbyes and thank you's and wishes for safe travel and pass along the navy's traditional salutation, "Fair winds and following seas." It is a small navy but the truth is that most of us will never see each other again.
After this I turn that corner to cheers from the volunteers. I shake their hands as I pass by. If you are ever in the DC area and looking for something to do, maybe consider shaking hands at BWI after a troop transport lands. At the end of the line, I see the first of the family reunions. Dave, our orthopedist, has met his family. The kids are hanging on his legs. He has a large family and many have made it. I stop to enjoy the scene. I will witness other reunions later in the day. Some are similar, others quiet and low key. Some service members return without a reunion, just a ride home to an apartment or barracks room.
I wander through the airport feeling detached from the proceedings. Throughout the day, strangers in airports shake my hand and thank me for my service. I have not figured out how to reply to this. I appreciate the sentiment, but it is awkward nonetheless. I stop at a sports bar in the airport. Here I am reunited with a beer and a burger. I savor the taste. I wonder if the waitress knows that it is the best beer she has served all day. It tastes like home. Some kind stranger picks up the tab. I wish to thank him but the waitress tells me that the person has requested to remain anonymous. So I thank him here.
I board one of my connections, a flight that I have just changed to catch. I am sitting in the last open seat. Next to me is a young woman. After takeoff, she begins to read a lacrosse magazine. The pages give reviews of each of the NCAA title contenders for the upcoming season. There are also stories about the hottest high school prospects from each region. I can tell from the way that she lingers on each page, that she is a true fan of the sport. The situation seems divinely preordained.
I am considerably introverted. I almost never talk to strangers on planes. Yet here I am, just returned from the war, sitting next to a obvious lacrosse fan and all I can hear in my head is "Brendan Looney," about whom I wrote many months ago. Brendan was a member of what might be the first family of Naval Academy lacrosse. In 2004, Navy reached the NCAA lacrosse finals but lost to Syracuse. Brendan and his two brothers were on that team. I thought that Brendan had been an All-American but, in fact, it was his brother Steve. Knowing his lacrosse association, I am compelled to tell this woman about Brendan.
"Excuse me, are you a lacrosse fan?" opening with the obvious.
"Have you ever heard of Brendan Looney? He played lacrosse for Navy. They went to the finals but lost in 2003 (I get the year wrong). I was told that he was an All-American (I confuse him with his brother)."
She immediately establishes her lacrosse cred by saying "Hmm. 2003. I thought that was Notre Dame and Georgetown but maybe Navy too in the final four. I don't know his name but then I didn't really know the Navy guys so well. I'm from Ohio. Why do you ask?"
I tell her that Brendan was a SEAL and that he was killed in a helicopter crash in September in the province where I was. I tell her that he was well-known in Naval Academy circles but I am curious if he was known in lacrosse circles.
Her reply is simply "That is tragic."
Initially, there is no more said. Maybe that is the final word on the subject anyhow. Perhaps it is too harsh a thought for polite conversation. But then after awhile, she starts to ask me questions about where I've been and what I've done. She is pleasant company and it feels right to tell her some of it. We talk for a while about the war and life choices. It is a good conversation. But mostly I just wanted her to know Brendan's name.