There I was, flying the friendly skies last week, traveling to News Orleans and Las Vegas for military workshops. I know this sounds strange, but despite the reputations of these two cities, we actually have big military installations. Since I am working with the Marine Reserve, our Reserve Headquarters is in New Orleans, a.k.a., the “Crescent City.” Over in Las Vegas, we have a large Armed Forces Reserve Center across from Nellis Air Force Base. Seeing the opportunity to take advantage of attending two conferences back-to-back, I jumped on it.
Of course, attending such events, you are required to wear your uniform. In my case, I was wearing the Marine “C,” called “Charlies.” This is a comfortable working uniform consisting of dark winter-green trousers, and a short-sleeved khaki shirt. The fore-and-aft cover is green like the trousers, and the shoes are black.
I left home on Wednesday evening flying out of Sacramento (my airport of choice), arriving in New Orleans the next morning. I grabbed my rental car, drove to the Naval Support Activity and sat through two days of conferences. Flew out Friday night to Las Vegas, caught a couple of hours of sleep, and sat through another conference.
I had to leave the Vegas conference on Saturday a bit early to catch my flight home because our church was having its annual mission’s auction that night. My plan was to change into my civilian clothes once I arrived at the airport. However, I had to scrap that plan because yours truly had difficulty locating the rental return facility. So, when I arrived at the ticket counter, I had to put my bag in right away in order to make the flight.
The ticket agent asked me if I would be willing to sit in an exit row seat. I said that would be fine. Once on board, I strapped myself in and settled down with my book. The plane was not nearly full, so I even thought I might stretch out on the three seats in my row once we were airborne. Already deep into my current book, Battle Cry of Freedom (about the Civil War – can’t get enough of that subject!), I faintly heard a woman’s voice asking a question. It took a moment for me to realize that the woman’s voice I had heard was coming from one of the stewardesses, and she was talking directly to me. I apologized and asked her to repeat her question. She said, “Would you be interested in moving up to the first class cabin?? I said, “Sure. Thank you.”
Feeling conspicuous, wondering what other passengers might be thinking, I then remembered I was wearing my uniform. I again plopped into a seat, only this time in first class in the first row. As we began to roll toward the runway, both stewardesses (Janel and Nancy) seated themselves in their drop-down seats for the take-off. We chatted until we were at cruising altitude, at which point they busied themselves with providing snacks and beverages for the passengers.
Shortly into the flight we experienced a small amount of turbulence. This meant everyone needed to stay strapped in their seats, including the stewardesses. I thanked them again for their kind offer of asking me to sit in first class. Nancy explained that she has a soft spot for the military. She had a loved one who served in Vietnam. Just before deplaning, I promised to send each of them one of my Iraq military coins as a gift of thanks, and a reminder to pray for our men and women serving in harms way.
As if to emphasize the point, I was walking through the Sacramento airport when I spied two Marines in their dress blue uniforms. Not only is this the best looking uniform on planet earth, but these two Marines were standing stock still while being checked by airport security. I stopped to watch this evolution, trying not to laugh out loud. You see, the Marine “dress blue” uniform is festooned with brass buttons and a large brass buckle. The hand-held metal detectors must have been going off the chart! There these two warriors stood, patiently waiting while being “wanded.”
In the meantime, a young woman approached me wearing civilian clothes and asked if I was a Marine. I smiled and said that I used to be, but that I’m presently a Navy Chaplain serving with the Marines. As we chatted a bit, I discovered that she is in the Army Reserve, and her unit is heading to Iraq. She’s also a single mom. Her baby is one year old. She had flown to Sacramento to leave the child with the baby’s father. I asked her how long she was going to be overseas. With tears welling up in her eyes, she said her unit would be gone eighteen months! I reached out and gave her a hug, fighting back my own tears, offering a word of prayer.
It was about at this point the two Marines (one a Staff Sergeant and the other a Lance Corporal) were putting their shoes back on and exiting the security area. We shook hands and then engaged in some swapping of military tales, usually greatly embellished. I was sharing with them how amused I was watching them as they went through the metal detector. The Lance Corporal was laughing because the security guy kept waving the wand over his left leg, setting it off. He explained that he’d been wounded last year in Iraq and now has a permanent metal plate implanted in his leg. When I asked what the occasion was for them to be traveling in their dress uniform, they said they were returning from the funeral of one of their fallen comrades recently killed in Iraq.
Reflecting on those brief encounters, I realized once again that while I was traveling to attend yet more meetings, I am most fortunate, for my family is still intact and safe at home, I bear no life-long wounds from hostile enemy fire, and despite all the warfare the men in my family have participated in, not one has even been wounded.
Please remember in prayer this Christmas those who pay the price for our freedom.