Jack, my co-pilot, sleeps in the passenger seat. His chin rests on my upper leg. The car in front of us wears two Support Our Troops ribbons. One is yellow; the other red, white and blue. Both are made in China. On the rear bumper is a faded black MIA sticker. That driver probably means well, but by now I’ve seen too many ribbons. While the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq kill and maim, I think of how they are also shaping the future of returning veterans. Many of these men and women will come home and go missing, and you won’t even know it. Returning from a war is more than getting off an airplane and putting on civvies. Combat changes a person. It changed me.
… I want to tell the guy in front of me: You want to support the troops? Get them the hell out of the line of fire. Or, if you think this war is so necessary, get over there yourself. If you’re too old, pull your kids or grandkids out of college and send them.
… You want to support our troops? Give the man some space when he gets home. Give the woman a job. Don’t say how you would have been there if you could have and reel off excuses why you weren’t. He may be quieter than you’re used to and kind of keep to himself. She might be missing an arm; he could be in a wheelchair, knowing he’ll never again chase his kids down a beach. Both may drink a bit. She may smoke pot, dress wild and date around. She might play music loud. He could go to the movies for hours and come home and cry for no reason you can see. Don’t lecture them. Don’t tell them to forget about the war — they can’t. Don’t try to tell her how she’s escaping reality. She’s had all the reality she can stomach. He may carry what you call an attitude. She might have a low tolerance for shenanigans and a quirky sense of humor. If you touch her when she doesn’t want to be touched, she could very well turn around and bust you in your chops.
…If you’ve never hunted humans, if you’ve never been hunted, if you haven’t been shot at on a regular basis, just try to appreciate what this person has been through. Then get down on your knees and thank your lucky stars it wasn’t you.