When I was a Plebe (freshman), I was getting onto a Greyhound bus. Before I got to the top of the steps, someone identified me as in the military. “Thank you for you service.”
Wait? What? I have given no service. They had simultaneously identified me as affiliated with the military, and over-judged my contribution. I did not know how to respond. I think I just nodded bashfully, and took my seat. I had no intention to disrespect the person or their sentiment. I also had no desire to accept gratitude for nothing I had ever done.
It took years, after multiple deployments, before I really learned how to respond to that statement. I witnessed a Major responding to the exact same sentiment. He didn’t say, “You’re welcome.” He said, “Thank you for your support.” Simple. Classy. Brilliant. I learned from that. I am embarrassed that I did not think of something so simple myself.
Today, I got out of the truck. And old-timer in the truck to the right of me commented on the make of the truck I was driving. It is a 2010 Tacoma that I borrowed. Before I even closed the driver’s door, he said, “I can’t believe you’re driving a Toyota piece of crap.” He was sitting in a Toyota. “I bought this one new, and it only has 410,000 miles on it.” Obviously, it was sarcasm. I told him that the one I was in only has 141,000 miles on it. But this is not an ad for Toyota. That is not what I found interesting.
During my walks in Seattle, I wrote a lot. One of my friends told me that I *might* have changed some lives, but he was certain that those experiences had changed me. I am still not sure. But I am intently watching, introspectively and observing outwardly, to see if that might be true.
I hold that it is true that when I got out of the Army for 3 years from 2005-2008, that experience had a huge impact on my ability to be human. Prior to that, I had graduated from an Academy, gone to the Army, deployed to war, and I was mostly a robot. Those three years softened me in ways that I needed softened. They hardened me in ways that I needed hardened. I did not know what effect those three years would have had. I do know, looking back at my own experience, that I would have been a far worse Officer without those three years. I learned a lot about being human outside of the construct of the Army that was essential to being successful within the construct of the Army.
I still do not know how my time in Seattle walking the streets affected me overall. I do know that having an old-timer engage me in conversation as I got out of the vehicle is something that has never happened before. It makes me wonder if my aura hasn’t changed. It makes me wonder if that younger, purpose-driven and intense version of me hasn’t softened a little. To be more approachable. To be more amiable. To be less intense.
Don’t get me wrong. I will still get the job done with ferocity. But maybe, just maybe, that has become more of a switch to turn on and off instead of a state of being at all times while awake. Maybe, just maybe, I have made another step towards humanity instead of being a robot.