It’s a typical morning. My dreams dissolve into the sound of two little girls running up and down the hallway. Birds chirp outside the window as golden sunlight trickles in through the half-open blinds. Wiping the sleep from my eyes, I greet my wife with a kiss and stumble into the kitchen. With the press of a button, frothy hot liquid pours into my mug. The aroma brings a smile to my face.
Thousands of miles away, a young man sits on the damp earth, trembling. Bombing continued throughout the night, shaking the very ground beneath him. His eyes burn from lack of sleep. He grips the M16 rifle across his lap with both hands as his thoughts drift away to a normal life he can barely remember. Tears dampen his face as he recalls the last words his mother spoke to him right before he left.
After hugging the wife and kids, I walk downstairs to my office, carefully sipping my coffee. I sit in a very comfortable chair waiting for my computer to boot up so I can begin my work day. I look outside and watch in wonder as the day comes alive. Reaching beyond the trees, a hawk soars across the crisp blue sky that seems to go on forever. He dips toward the horizon where sky reaches down and kisses the earth.
A husband and father of two glances up, wishing the sun would break through the smoke and haze that surrounds him every moment. He ties the laces on his boots as he prepares for another day of work. He has been selected to go on patrol. They will search the face of everyone they meet, looking for signs of friend or foe. Two weeks ago, one of their own was killed when a thirteen year old boy tossed a grenade across their path. He pulls out a picture of his wife and two little girls and imagines what it would be like to hug and kiss them.
I answer the phone with a smile. It’s the tenth call of the day. I talk jovially about the weather and the customer’s favorite football team. After twenty minutes of troubleshooting, the problem is solved and we end the call. I document everything in my ticket and decide it’s time to take a break.
A mother of four speaks softly, but with authority as she directs several families to leave the building. Within minutes there will be nothing left but a pile of rubble and ash. It’s a suspected safe house for anti-American extremists and it’s targeted for destruction. The innocent women and children are being ushered out before the order is given to launch the attack. She urges them forward; the gun in her hand speaks louder than her words. There’s no time to take a break.
I’ve put in my eight hours and now it’s time to go upstairs and create everlasting memories with my family. There is a choice to be made. Chicken or hamburger for supper. We decide on chicken and I fire up the grill. Thirty minutes later, we’re sitting at the table eating and talking about our plans for the weekend.
A young girl, just three years out of high school stares at the scene before her. Her training never prepared her for this moment. On one side of the road, a small child screams in terror as wild dogs attack. On the other side of the road, rebel forces hold a pregnant woman at gunpoint. There is a choice to be made. Try to save the child, ignoring the fact he might be wired with explosives or go for the woman which would undoubtedly draw an onslaught of gunfire.
I lay on my bed, warm and safe, thinking about what tomorrow might bring. The children have fallen asleep after watching TV in their room. The neighborhood is quiet with only a gentle echo of crickets in the distance. In another country, far from safe or warm, men and women are giving their lives to protect the very things I take for granted on a daily basis.
One of my favorite movie lines comes from Saving Private Ryan. With his dying breath, Tom Hanks pulls Matt Damon close and whispers, “Earn this.” He had just given his life so that Private Ryan could leave the war and go home to his grieving mother who had just lost three other sons.
Whether we agree with the politicians in Washington or not, we need to earn each and every second we are given by the brave men and women sacrificing their freedom so we can enjoy ours. They are the ones who allow us to sleep in peace at night. They are the ones who allow us to get up every day and earn a living. They are the ones who answer the call and drop everything to serve their country with dedication and pride.
Thank you isn’t enough.