During my time at the Washington Post Corp./The Gazette, I was the page designer/copy editor for several military base newspapers in the Washington, D.C. area. Every week, the Chaplain would send an article in for his column that ran in all of the military papers. Because this was during the Iraq war, he spent a lot of time talking about the personal side of being deployed to war zones. Often, his advice would include how to prepare your friends and family for your deployment. Other times, he would talk directly to the friends and family members of those deployed. He noted how hard it was to apart from your loved ones and recognized the strength that was required to be part of a military family.
Living and teaching in the Washington, D.C. area, I know a lot of military families. I know several horse owners that are either overseas or have family there.
I believe it is for these two reasons that I was so affected by my flight from Salt Lake City to LAX on my way home from Session A. The flight was short, but it was a trip I will never forget.
Sitting next to/near me were 5 Marines headed to Afghanistan. They were returning from a short trip home, before heading overseas.
I spent the majority of the flight talking with Casey, the Marine sitting next to me. Casey said that he camped and hunted a lot in Utah, so the tours weren't as hard on him as guys that had never even picked up a gun before enlisting.
He talked about being in Iraq for his last deployment and how they had access to the Internet and there was even a Burger King that they could eat at. He worried, though, that Afghanistan wouldn't be like Iraq - no fast food and maybe no Internet. I am not sure what is more surprising to me - that soldiers are getting attending online University courses while fighting a war or that a soldier deployed somewhere else could have such a different set of resources.
In Iraq, some of the guys took online courses through Universities. With no Internet, they would have to put their school on hold while they were deployed. He told me that after 6 years in the Marines (he went to a recruiter when he was 18), he was planning on getting his college degree after this last tour in Afghanistan.
What will stick with me the most is that I will never talk with Casey or hear about those 5 Marines ever again. Maybe in 1 year, Casey will be attending college and go on to do something just as amazing as what he is doing now. Maybe one of those Marines will never come home.
You meet a lot of people when you travel, but they come in and out of your life in the blink of an eye. Sometimes you meet people who in just a few minutes can change how you look at life: How trivial certain things suddenly seem and how important others suddenly become. Up to this point, nothing compares to meeting a soldier headed to war.