A Soldier’s Reflection is a speech that was presented at a Veterans Day observance ceremony at North Carolina Memorial Hospital in Chapel Hill on Friday, November 8th. It is published today as a special item from the heart from one of today’s returning combat soldiers.
“Life from behind a rifle can be simple, and when coming back to day-to-day life, the complexity can be stifling. It’s easy to drown in seas of banality for those who have lost their innocence and wonder, while simultaneously having once touched a great sense of purpose.
For many of us, the battle may be to dig up the pieces of our hearts that we buried in the interest of self-preservation. We are the ones who sacrificed the years of our youth on battlefields.
We are a growing generation who hold reunions around the memorials of dear friends.
Passing through doors is a simple task that is easily taken for granted. For many of us, doors represented moments of life-changing uncertainty. Sometimes it is the doorway of an airplane in flight, bearing entrance to a waiting night sky. Sometimes it is the door of a helicopter that just landed at the beginning of a raid, or a door that your teammate kicked in. When we pass through the door to the second halves of our lives, it can be just as scary and isolating as the moment that the helicopter takes off, leaving us in the suddenly quiet night on the outskirts of a village teeming with enemy forces.
For better or for worse, we are changed. We cannot be the people we once were, and some of us may have lost the maps to the places where we dropped our hearts like excess baggage.
Some drown in rage just to feel anything; others drown in alcohol and drugs to make the feelings go away. Others may be reduced to masses of scrambled neurons screaming for identity and meaning. Women have to find a way to reconnect with their femininity, and all try or fail to reconnect with loved ones.
Many of us, however, face forward, dragging broken bodies and injured souls into the uncertain future that comes after the swords have been beaten into plowshares. Those who keep or rediscover their hearts are a gift to this nation. This gift is not just what we have done in the past, but what we have to offer the future.
We have the chance to be leaders who are well-informed by trial, failure and catastrophe. We have the responsibility to lift up and advocate for our brothers and sisters. Those times that we find ourselves surrounded by mundane problems, we have the luxury to crack a wry smile that comes from knowing that life is neither, easy, fair, nor predictable.”
– SFC Eric Strand, U.S. Army (Ret.)
Sergeant First Class Strand is now a Physician’s Assistant student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.