Friday, June 27, 2008

When Johnny Comes Marching Home

The war came home to me today. Now, I usually watch CNN or the network world news each day, and TIME and Newsweek come to our home every week. I try to stay informed, but this was different, much different. This morning I sat down with and interviewed eleven real live members of the 442nd Fighter Wing who just returned last night from their mission.

I was asked by the Air Force chaplain to assist with the screening of 234 airmen returning from their deployment in Afghanistan to Whiteman Air Force Base near Sedalia. This was the first time that civilian pastors have been asked to participate in this reintegration program. The purpose was to help these airmen process what they have experienced and identify those who were in need of additional ministry or counsel.

One by one they came into my borrowed office, patiently waiting in the hall for their turn, yet anxious to get everything done so they could head for home. These are reservists, but in wartime that means practically active duty, and most of these airmen were active duty before entering the Air Force reserves.

I was impressed with the caliber and character of the airmen I met today. Three young men were returning from their very first theater of action. Others had seen years of active duty and many deployments as a reserve. One 26 year old came home to his pregnant wife and his new son coming in September. Another self-employed reservist was fearful for his business which had suffered greatly during his absence. Many spoke of the sacrifices made by their families.

I heard about trying to sleep with the sounds of battle in the night, other times being evacuated to the bunkers under threat of attack. Some worked in munitions for the A-10 and said simply, "Business was good." "We left a lot of lead over there." Call them just reservists if you want, but these are fighting men and women, fearless and determined and dedicated to their mission.

What I noticed most was not their uniforms or their haircuts or their camaraderie. It was their eyes, it was the humanity in their eyes. I saw in each face the weariness from their 22 hour flight, relief to finally be headed home, and gratitude for someone like me offering care and concern. Some thanked me for giving my day to come talk with them - one day of my time compared to their sacrifice of life and limb?

I will remember these men and women of the 442nd Fighter Wing. And I will never take lightly the prospect of war, when these fine men and women are some of those who go in harm's way, who we send into hell to guard and defend our nation's interests and values. I will be an advocate for peace, a strong, lasting peace that brings all of our airmen and sailors and soldiers back into the arms of their families.

4 comments:

Shane Vander Hart said...

Awesome that you were given that opportunity. I'm glad to see the steps that are being taken to help with reintegration of our troops. I hope other airmen, sailors, Marines, and soldiers have a similar experience when they come home.

Drew Hill said...

Shane- I sensed a sincere desire from those in command to address the needs of the airmen, including their spiritual needs. I would anticipate more involvement from pastors.

Ellyn said...

Wow.....
We owe so much to those who serve our country! Nancy & Mike just got back from Italy to celebrate my sis's 50th. (Listening to Andrew Boccelli at Rome's Opera House.....I'm jealous! LOL) Her comment was: "We have so much to be thankful for in America and the freedom & comfort we have". And they weren't even close to battles, but she noticed how SAD some of the people's facial expressions were.
May America truly celebrate FREEDOM tomorrow and really appreciate those who have served our country to keep us safe!

Latanya said...

Good words.