Word Count 458
By Jane Malin
I came across a photo today, one that always makes me pause to think about life. Not just my life, but a more global panorama.
The photo is one of my most treasured possessions. It depicts my stepson, John, during his deployment for Desert Storm and later the Operation Iraqi Freedom campaign. He stands silhouetted against the South West Asian sunrise. I’d know his outline anywhere – the shape and tilt of his head; his protective arms that never quite relax against his torso; the slight bend in his knees. He’s wearing watches and radio equipment, and combat boots. But that’s not what I see.
I see a young man who sat in my kitchen months prior and almost apologetically told me he wasn’t going to college. He was going into the military. John and I have always shared an unbreakable bond. I caught plenty of trial balloons for many adolescent confessions. Who could have known now the perils that lay only a year down the road?
No, when I look at that photo, I see the honorable soldier who found his calling, despite the emotions which twisted my innards. The picture brought me peace during those years that he fought in Iraq. While shadows cloaked his Mona Lisa smile that I knew he had on his lips, his stance also symbolized his preparedness and resolve.
Many years later, I became a government contractor for the Department of Defense. I led numerous teams of engineers in optimizing supply chains for operations in theater. Oddly enough, the war had only shifted a thousand miles east. It was now called Operation Enduring Freedom, but that’s a different story.
This photo became the wallpaper on my laptop. Now it symbolized something different to me. John was home safely, but men and women just like him were still in harm’s way. I walled off my political emotions. My mission now was to make each day just a little safer, just a little easier for my new clients. Life became about getting night vision goggles to the airmen without cracks in the lenses. When drone cameras broke, my team’s new procedures got the birds back in the air in hours, rather than days, providing life-sustaining cover to the guys patrolling the hills. We optimized processes and eliminated paperwork. We hardened packaging and randomized supply routes.
At night, I would look at John’s picture and say, “I helped a couple of your buddies today.”
This photo is a reflection of who John is, who I am; of the blood and bones we treasure; the prayers we say; the freedoms we cherish. I can agree or disagree with war, but I will always be honored for the time I was able to help our soldiers.