Steven J. Newton
STILL ON THE LINE
The Soldier left the States under circumstances that made his mind shut down every time he thought of it. When his wife found out that he was going to be deployed she had left him, taking their two children. The Soldier being an orphan they were all the family he had and the thought of them not being there when he returned home was crushing.
She had taken everything they owned and moved out of base housing leaving him nothing. He did not begrudge her anything because he wanted what was best for his children. She had said that he would be an “absentee father” and that the children deserved better. He could find no argument against what she had said.
When he arrived in Iraq he was assigned to a close knit platoon and even here he did not fit in. He had never felt so alone in his life. He did his job and was good at it but no one reached out to him. No one cared. No one ate with him and few spoke to him.
After he was in country for several months he still had received no mail. He had written his wife and children everyday but no letter ever came for him. He would stand on the outer edge of the crowd of soldiers waiting for his name to be called. And when it wasn’t he would turn and leave: the emptiness growing inside. No friends and no family.
He walked the fence line guarding the compound while the stars shone above. Hot in the day time and sometimes very cold at night he continued his duty. Up and down the line. Checking and watching, always on the alert for the enemy.
His boots made indentations in the sand and it took him an hour to walk the whole fence line. Sometimes when the wind was not blowing he would walk in his own footsteps.
He wondered about other men and women throughout the world who were walking the line by themselves, cold and lonely:
A lonely sailor on a ship during mid-watch; a marine pulling fire watch; an Air force grunt guarding a plane in the cold and rain; a coast guardsman lying in his bunk and crying.
He wondered what they were thinking and how they felt inside. He would never know because he didn’t even know how he felt. Just – an emptiness. Just a job to do that he would do no matter what. He had nothing else.
One foot in front of the other as the months pasted. The soles of his boots wore down to paper thinness and still he walked. Still he watched, guarding his fellow Soldiers from harm.
Sometimes he prayed that it would end with a bullet from a terrorist rifle or a bomb placed along the wire. But it never happened. The line was endless. And so it seemed was the pain of his life.
Another set of boots and the line continued. Sometimes his stomach would growl at him and he looked at this with amusement. Food meant little to him anymore and he ate as he worked. One fork full at a time, one step at a time: just walking the line.
For the first several months he had thought of all the things he had done wrong and how he could get his family back. But now he thought of nothing. He just watched. And walked.
One day an officer came to him and asked if he wanted to reenlist and do another tour in Iraq. He had signed the forms without a word. Another year. More line to walk.
He received his first mail just at the start of his second tour. It was his divorce papers. He tossed them on the ground and went back to the line.
One night as he was patrolling the fence he heard a voice out of the darkness:
“Hey kid. Mind if I walk with ya a minute?”
Startled the kid jumped, scared to death until he recognized the huge form of the old sergeant coming out of the darkness.
“Uh, hi pappy. Of course.” The kid stammered. He had rarely talked with the old sergeant.
“Kid, I know about your personal problems. In fact the Padre and I even discussed sending you home a time or two. But we agreed that the best thing for you would be to walk off your problems and leave you alone.”
“Son, I’m not much good at this. I usually leave talking about the Big Boss up to the Padre. But you have to know that you are NEVER alone kid.”
“Yes. I know you don’t believe me. But turn around and look at your footprints. You see yours? Well can you tell me whose footprints those are next to yours?”
The Soldier turned on his flashlight and sure enough beside his footprints was another set walking right beside his. They were bare feet.
“Sergeant! Was that –? I mean – is that the Lord?”
“I don’t know kid. Why don’t you ask Him?” The old sergeant patted the kid on the back and walked off.
The next evening the old sergeant watched as the kid started walking the fence line.
He smiled when he saw the grin on the kids face. He may still be on the line but he would never be alone.
©Copyright 2006 by Steven J. Newton