NO SUCH THING AS 
AN UNKNOWN SOLDIER

   In this fractious, polarized election year, it would be nice to talk about something that everyone can agree on. Maybe this story can do the trick.
    He came into my office a few months ago, very nervous. I'd known him since he was four years old, the best friend of my two sons since preschool. Now 27, he'd worked for my company ever since graduating from college and was currently in charge of marketing.
   He was part of our family. I always called him our "adopted child." Born and raised in Marin County, he was living the dream, single and carefree, building a career, safe and secure. But now he stood before me, hesitant to break the news.
   Finally, he blurted it out. "I've joined the army. I leave June 5th for Fort Benning, Georgia to start basic training."
    Shock would be an understatement. Middle class, college-educated kids from Marin County didn't join the army. Other kids did. Kids I didn't know. Kids from small towns, from other states, like Louisiana or Mississippi. Nameless kids. Faceless kids.
    This was one of my own, and I quickly realized how sheltered my own life had become. I know there are plenty of people in Northern California who have family members or close friends in the military, but I was not one of them. I relied on others to fill the ranks.
   Now it was hitting home. That soldier who was protecting me, that soldier who was sacrificing so much, that soldier who was willing to risk his life to keep me safe---he was no longer anonymous. And suddenly, at least to me, nor would any other soldier be anonymous again.
    In my perfect world, we'd have no need for armies. But this is far from a perfect world. We can all agree there are people out there who want to kill us, to crush our way of living, and we need an army for protection. And an army needs soldiers, from all walks of life. Now we've got one more.
    He left on June 5th and is now a couple of weeks away from "graduation" from basic training. Then, if all goes well, it's off to Airborne School, another step in his ultimate goal to become a member of Special Forces, the elite fighting unit of the Army.
    His iPhone, once an appendage of his body, is now a relic, mostly forbidden from use. He writes letters, and one he sent talks about why he joined the army.
   "To protect people who can't protect themselves," he wrote. "I'll be a humanitarian with a gun coming for the bad guys who do harm to the innocent. I was built to do this, so I am going to do it while I can."
    What would we do without men, and women, like him? When he sat in my office months ago, so nervous, he was worried how I would react, knowing my liberal bent. He knew it would be a shock, and it was, but he needn't have worried. I was on board.
   And I was so proud. He sent a picture with his last letter. He was in camouflage gear, "U.S. Army" emblazoned on his chest, an American flag in the background. His expression was serious, a strapping young man on a mission to protect the innocent. That would be me. And you.
   My army is no longer anonymous. One day soon, he may be deployed to Afghanistan, Iraq, Africa or wherever the next hotspot occurs. His mother will be worried sick, and so will I. But he's doing what he was "built to do," and I'm forever grateful.
    So while you're arguing over candidates and issues such as health care, immigration, terrorism and the economy, take a moment to raise your glass and toast the young men and women who protect our right to argue and disagree.
   Whether it's the 18 year old kid from Plano, Texas, or the 27 year old young man from Marin County, California, they're risking their lives to protect us all, no matter who gets your vote. On that we can all agree.
    Last, while I like to keep names out of this column, this is not one of those times. Like I said, my army is no longer anonymous, and I'm sorry it ever was. So take a bow, Brian Stevenson Finn.
 

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