Shortly before the holidays, I signed up for a program I have been meaning to join for a while now. The program is called "Adopt a Solider," and it matches people here in the states with U.S. soldiers serving abroad. Adopters are not required to send anything more than what they want to but are encouraged to send at least a weekly letter or email. If they do want to send a care package, their adoptee can let them know what would be most useful to send.
I went into this with certain preconceptions. Growing up in Pensacola, Florida, around many a fighter jock and Navy man, I thought I knew the demeanor and attitude of any government issue solider as well as the way they would spend their leisure time. How naïve I was. I, as someone who has never served, could have no idea of what the actual needs of someone in a combat zone would be. I expected care package requests for movies and junk food and little creature comforts. I was not disappointed in these. What I did not expect was a request for a pillow, toothpaste and other hygiene paraphernalia, gloves and socks. I don't know if it is my own naiveté or a comment on the way this war is being prosecuted that a solider risking his life every day could want for such basic necessities.
I sent these things, as well as what DVDs and junk food I thought my solider would enjoy, and waited the several weeks for them to make it to Afghanistan. Finally they arrived, and (as ever) my solider was overflowing with graciousness and thanks. I must admit that I am always a bit embarrassed by his thanks, when it feels that sending him such basics is truly the very least I can do. He's doing a job that I am fully aware I would never be able psychologically or physically to do. Regardless of whether I agree with the mission or not, our country has asked him to be there, and I feel that I owe him my full support in whatever form that takes.
Imagine the surprise when I read in his most recent email, then, that a person who has so little, who has to request toothpaste from the states, goes out on a mission and takes some of the snacks along -- I thought so he'd have something to eat. My solider saw small Afghani children on the side of the road giving the soldiers thumbs up and asked his commanding officer if he could share some food with them. He said in his email that it "didn't look like they had much." When he got the okay from his commanding officer, he said he wished I could have seen the smiles on their faces. Then he called me the "angel" for sending the things, not understanding that I merely provided the materials and that he provided the humanity.
This piece is not meant to take a position on the rightness or wrongness of the war nor all the acts of atrocity or, yes, kindness, that have come out of it. I am writing it at this moment, I hope, in keeping with the spirit of JFK's Profiles in Courage at this moment marking the fiftieth anniversary of his inaugural address. For I think it is courage to see the worst of a country in mortar shells and IEDs and hate every day and not lose your humanity -- to remember that children are still children and to take the more dangerous path of stepping away from your unit even for a minute to offer a hungry child some food. Whatever else comes out of this conflict, I chose to savor the moments of true heroism which are all too few in the world we know.