In the course of my duties for the Marine Corps History Division, I have taken nearly 50 flights on all manner of aircraft over the past several months; commercial, military, fixed wing, rotary wing....these flights were in all manner of conditions to destinations I will never forget. But on the 8th of March I took one final flight that will likely stand out more than all the rest - my flight home. After arriving safely back in Quantico, Virginia and wrapping up necessities like checking in and turning in my weapon to the armory, I boarded a plane for Syracuse, New York.
I awoke from my ritual in-flight nap to the feeling of the plane banking... my eyes happily soaked up a view of rolling Central New York hills, the neat geometric patterns of hedgerows and fields and snow-covered ground - sights that were lacking in Iraq. Suddenly those hills and fields felt strikingly familiar... could it be? It was. Spread out below me was Cazenovia College's equine facility and the starting line of their cross country course... the same course where I told many of my athletes of my pending deployment to Iraq months ago (or was it yesterday??) Soon the ice-covered expanse of Cazenovia Lake came into view with the comforting pattern of the village on its far shore... I pressed my face against the glass, straining to soak up every detail of its trees and church steeples, athletic fields and parks. The view soon gave way to the surrounding farmlands and the unmistakable windmills on the nearby Fenner hills and finally to the outskirts of Syracuse itself as we continued northward toward the airport.
The flight was not only memorable for its purpose (reuniting me with my family after several months away) but because that comforting view summed up in a moment all that had been missing during my time in Iraq. The tranquil view of my hometown and its many blessings was a sharp contrast to the many places I had visited in my far-ranging travels in Western Iraq. The real value of living in a third world nation, or a war zone, or both, is that it makes you very grateful for the little things that we all take for granted each day...
Been thankful for your clean, plentiful drinking water that flows into your home today? You should be. As the snow of Central New York melts and as our spring rains come, notice how the vast majority of water flows away in our well-designed storm sewers? And that the storm sewer is segregated from the sanitary sewer that you have never given a second thought to? (I'll leave it up to your imagination what it's like living in places where these systems are interconnected, overwhelmed and generally disfunctional -- if they exist at all.)
We complain about pot-holes sometimes. But I've noticed that hardly any of them have bombs in them here at home. We (justifiably) get up in arms if there is a case of dishonesty or corruption in our government. But there is some encouragement to be found in the fact that situations like that are newsworthy here (especially at the local level) precisely because they are so out of the ordinairy. Imagine living in a place where graft and corruption were so routine that they are simply expected.
Many of us went to a place of worship of our choosing last Sunday (or Saturday or Friday) and didn't think much about it. We may have even sat down for a meal with someone who went to a different place of worship later in the same day. Being thankful for that harmony would never even occur to us. Our children (boys and girls) walked or ride safely to school. We worry about the rising cost of higher education, but not often about the future of our children in general.
I could go on and on... every corner I turn brings me face to face with some new blessing that never seemed like a blessing before. Little by little, some of these same blessings are also coming to Iraq... but they are hard-won victories there. Victories snatched from the jaws of terrorists who thrive on chaos and from a dreadful bureaucracy that allowed the country to deteriorate into an abyss long before the war started.
So take a minute today to give thanks for the little things; 1) Being with your family (a little thing that anyone serving overseas would give a lot to enjoy for just a few minutes), 2) Clean water, warm homes and indoor plumbing, 3) Safety and security 99% of the time, 4) All the hard-working people who bring us these blessings every day.
It's good to be home.