In March of 2003, I was three weeks postpartum with Fruit Loop #1 and I watched with the rest of the world as our military invaded Iraq.
I sat hour after hour, breastfeeding on my couch, glued to the television watching the coverage of our soldiers bravely standing up for freedom. MSNBC. ABC. CBS. CNN. I flipped from channel to channel, always wanting the latest on American casualties. I scanned the young male faces, often getting up from the couch to look as closely as I could for a sign.
A sign that my brother was safe. A sign that he was still alive in a war zone.
My brother was one of those brave soldiers who marched over the borders into Iraq in the early morning hours of April 7th, 2003.
My kid brother who does a wicked impression of my mother’s Bostonian accent. The brother who teased me mercilessly and never let me get too big for my britches, the one who had gotten in trouble for teenage pranks now had a gun and was on a mission for the military.
He was 20 when he joined the military. A fresh faced, young kid. He was 26 when he rode into Iraq, older and wiser, yet still a young man.
And I was desperately scared.
For months, we had no idea where he was and communication was spotty at best. If he could get to a phone, he’d call one of us, often in the middle of the night, and we suffered through two minute phone calls on a 30 second delay. Often, the only thing communicated was “I’m safe. Can you send me some socks? I love you.”
While communication became easier in the next few months, the worry never went away. The constant fear that you’d be one of the families to get “The Call” was always at the forefront of our minds. For eight long months, we prayed and we worried.
And then he came home in one piece.
One piece but not his whole self thanks to PTSD and the demons of war.
Through the years, we’ve watched, supported, listened and forgiven of him what so many soldiers like him deal with every day. The stresses and the memories that haunt him have changed who he is, have added a depth to his character that I will never be able to completely understand.
And there’s no way for me to fully thank him for being braver than his older sister ever will be. There’s simply no way for a grateful nation to say a big enough thank you to the soldiers who put their lives aside so we can continue ours in peace and freedom.
Or, so I thought.
A few weeks ago, I was in an airport and I saw a young, fresh faced kid in an Army uniform. A kid who looked just like my brother. And I was reminded of the fact that, often, when my brother traveled in the military, he had next to no cash on him. He traveled lightly and would subsist on a bagel and coffee or just wait for whatever meal the military would provide for him rather than spend money.
As I watched the soldier, standing in line in front of me for a table at Friday’s, I knew that there was something I could do.
I bought his lunch.
I discretely flagged his waitress down, told her what I wanted to do, and gave her my credit card. And I made her promise she wouldn’t tell him other than “Thank you from a grateful American”.
….and I could NEVER have imagined the response.
So many commented “I’ve never thought to do this before!” and “Thank you from a military mom! I hope someone does this for my boy!’ and hundreds of comments just like those.
HUNDREDS, Fruit Loop Group.
I think we are onto something here….
What if we all “Surprised A Soldier”? What if we all took it upon ourselves to identify a soldier in uniform and say the simplest of thank yous in the form of a cup of coffee? A bagel? A tank of gas?
Can you imagine what that would look like in airports across the country?
Now, I’m not diminishing the very real struggles our veterans and active duty soldiers deal with by saying that a cup of coffee will fix everything. Far from it, actually. I’m simply saying that what I’ve heard time and again from my brother and other soldiers is that gratitude for their sacrifice is waning. As the memories of Iraqi Freedom fade and places like Afghanistan have become just another soundbite in the news, people are forgetting.
Forgetting that there are soldiers and families who still have that very real fear of losing their loved ones pervading their every day lives.
Soldiers and families who need to hear the words THANK YOU to keep going.
And so, I challenge you, Fruit Loop Group, to say THANK YOU. I challenge you to find a soldier and buy him or her a cup of coffee. To look them in the eyes and say, “It’s not much, but it’s my way of saluting you and your sacrifice”. Do it and come and tell me on my Facebook page. I will feature photos and stories of my #SoldierSurprise campaign for the world to see.
Let’s start a movement, shall we?
Because BIG thank yous can come in small styrofoam cups of coffee and we have to start somewhere.
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