If you ever thought airline travel was bad, imagine having to fly American Airlines into combat. Big crowds, long lines, rude people, and lost luggage are part of the experience we all love to hate.
We have all seen service members at the airport- they are part of the landscape. Many times they are just traveling home, or enroute to training. However, sometimes they are heading to war. They ask for no special accommodation or appreciation. They are often the most polite people in the airport; happy to help you lift your heavy bags into the overhead and happy to let you cut them in line. Following a quick layover in Germany, they will be instantly transported into the middle of a war zone. For them, the airport is the last piece of America they may ever see.
Life is a matter of perspective. A veteran’s perspective shifts once he has seen combat. His perspective shifts again when he loses a good friend. It shifts yet again when he takes an enemy’s life. He returns a different man. His perspective is changed forever.
Today, as I sit in the airport fighting customer service lines and rearranging flights, I think of the young Marine who is in the same airport, heading out to fight for his or her country. My inconvenience is trivial. As I watch others yell at ticket agents; people having meltdowns because of an unexpected layover or a lost bag, I think of the veteran. He bears the burden of the service we asked of him. He and his family have paid the price. I think of the Marine whose flight home is spent in a flag-draped coffin. I think of the widow with the Gold Star Flag hanging from her porch.
I once spent Christmas in a hastily built plywood building in Kuwait. It was the military’s version of a layover. I spent six days and nights in a plastic chair and slept on a dirty floor, waiting to fly into Iraq an rejoin my Marines in the fight. Months earlier I had been “medevaced” and was trying to get back to the fight. I was that Marine in the airport- civilian clothes and a duffel bag. Our plane sat on the tarmac for seven hours in NYC due to a storm, and then they lost our luggage. The civilians on the plane almost had a mutiny! But I was finally rejoining my Marines, and was never happier.
I once thought my perspective was terminal; a diagnosis that would never change. But that’s not the truth- we all have the power to change our perspective for the better.
P.S. my flight was late and I missed the connection into Calgary. If I make it tonight, my bike may not be there to greet me. Semper Gumby- I will make it to the starting line eventually.