July 14, 2011, 12:46 pm
By BRAD WILSON
I am a quarter of the way through my first, yearlong tour in Afghanistan. I recently left my base in eastern Afghanistan and made the three-day journey home to Michigan via Qatar, Kuwait, Ireland and Atlanta. During my layover in Atlanta waiting for my final flight, I did what any American would do after a long hiatus in a foreign land: I ate fast food. That’s how I found myself sitting at the Wendy’s in Concourse C of Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport reflecting on my return to America.
My first thought was simply how kind Americans are. I previously lived in Britain, and such public and unabashed support still almost comes as a shock to me. Nearly everyone I encountered went out of his or her way to express their sincere thanks: the flight attendants on our chartered flight from Kuwait, the customs agent (who happened to be dealing with a group of Japanese tourists not sure what to make of the hundreds of uniformed soldiers pouring in) and the people with a banner reading “Welcome Home Heroes” in the terminal. In fact, as I was gathering my burger wrappers and getting ready to leave, an older gentleman slipped me a $20 bill, saying it would be his honor to pay for my lunch. It is a common refrain — especially in military circles, it sometimes seems — to lament that the American people have been asked to sacrifice so little during the past 10 years of war. Be that as it may, the American people, or at least the ones I have encountered, are supporting the troops as Americans do: individually and of their own accord.
While sitting at that Wendy’s, I heard the cashiers ask ad nauseam how customers would like their burgers. In the past, the cynical side of me has often snickered that such trite choices are “what we fight for.” But upon reflection, that sentiment is actually true. So many Afghans will never be afforded such choices, whether it’s because of a lack of opportunity, imposing cultural norms or a lack of personal freedom. I want my children to dress as they please, live where they please, marry whom they please — and yes, even order their burgers as they please.
I was also struck by the sheer riches, modernity and diversity of America and Americans. So many Afghans lack even the bare essentials — adequate shelter, clean water, functioning schools for their children — while we have become so rich that we can afford to perfect the art of the fast food order. Which is a good thing. That such riches go hand in hand with diversity is surely no accident. Afghans are the descendants of many great peoples and civilizations — the Macedonians under Alexander, the Mongols under Genghis Khan, the Mughals under Babur, to name a few — but, as five minutes in the airport aptly demonstrated, the diversity of America’s culture and heritage is unparalleled.
Finally, my first few hours back in the United States filled me with a sensation of unbounded opportunity. I was seeing everything with a fresh set of eyes, and the sheer optimism that comes with living in a modern and vibrant and free society nearly overwhelmed me. Setting foot back on U.S. soil is a wonderful feeling indeed.
Such were my thoughts as I enjoyed my first taste of Americana in some time. That every soldier should have such a homecoming!
First Lt. Brad Wilson, a 2008 graduate of West Point, is currently serving as an infantry officer in eastern Afghanistan.
Tags: Brad Wilson, Lt Brad Wilson, Afghanistan, homecoming, Wendy's
Location: Afghanistan (load item map)
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