More than soldiers or numbers

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 24, 2009

Funny how time slips away from us.

It doesn’t seem that long ago that I was stuffed in the back of a C-130, strapped in with a seat belt to a webbed bench-like seat latched onto the sides of the aircraft. Some sergeant had given me pliable pink pill-looking things and told me to stuff them in my ears because the noise would get loud.

We took off from an air base in Zaragoza, Spain. Our presence there was unappreciated by some, who stood outside the base’s perimeters with protest signs. It didn’t matter, the guys had a mission to fulfill and they ignored the jeers and shouts.

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To the left and right of me sat American soldiers. But these guys weren’t the hardened veterans of war I had always seen in John Wayne movies. They were just folks, young men. Some of them were younger than me. They were citizen soldiers. Some folks called them the weekend army, because they gathered at National Guard bases all over the United States and drilled on the weekends.

Now, they were pressed into duty — Desert Storm. They didn’t know what waited for them as our aircraft rolled down the runway of the Spanish Air Force base, gathered speed and lifted off the ground in the direction of Saudi Arabia.

What these young men knew was their country had called them to duty. They answered.

One, a guardsman from New Jersey, had left his new wife when his beeper went off, calling him to prepare to leave. They had been married only 24 hours before he received the call. He pulled a photograph of her from his breast pocket. We talked about home and plans and how he expected to build a life.

Now, the war.

The reality of the possibility he would not come home sat in front of us on pallets, squeezed between two tanks. Our loadmaster had told us that blood plasma was packed in special containers on those pallets. The medical teams were setting up hospitals already — in preparation.

I don’t know what happened to this soldier. His name is in a reporter’s notebook stored away among others kept through the years. But I remember his face, his story.

There are many other faces of veterans and stories about veterans that have flowed through history. I was fortunate. I had the opportunity to tell some of those to the folks back home.

It’s important that we remember the service people on the ground and that they don’t get lost in the political back and forth or become disembodied numbers.

That guardsman was somebody’s son, a husband, an employee — a person.

That’s what I’ll remember Monday at 3 p.m. when I stop for the minute of remembrance — the faces.

Leesha Faulkner is executive editor of The Selma Times-Journal. You can reach her at 410-1730 or e-mail her at