TO THE COLORS!

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It’s a daily thing we do at the beginning and at the end of an Army day. Stand in formation at PT, sharply at attention and give a salute to the American Flag as the bugle sounds “To The Colors.” If you are driving your car on post and that bugle plays “To The Colors,” you are required to pull over – if it is safe to do so, hop out and face the direction of the flag and give a salute until the bugle finishes playing. This is mostly an afternoon thing.

In the Army we do it so much it almost becomes second nature. Routine. That is…..until you are physically unable to do it anymore. We may take for granted that we are privileged to wear the uniform and be called to attention and directed to salute. But some never take it for granted. I proudly stand and salute and think of my late-grandfather and late-uncle who served in the Navy in WWII. I think of the friends I know who fought in Korea, Vietnam, and more recent conflicts. I think of the many who showed up, did their jobs, and gave up their lives for my freedom. I think of those in my brigade and division now deployed. I think of my comrades and friends in my own ranks and formation. I think of how grateful it is to have this privilege. And I find it very easy and very motivating to stand smartly at attention and give my best salute. I love the sound of that bugle – whether live or recorded. It never gets old. And after “To The Colors,” we get to sing “Dog-Faced Soldier.” I sing my best, no matter how early in the morning it is. I want to honor those Dog-Faces from yesteryear. Especially that Korean War Veteran who is a Dog-Faced Soldier who lived and worked on Kelley Hill, who now is in a Veterans Home in Northern Illinois. And when the bugle blows again and we yell “Charge!” I yell at the very top of my lungs. Why? Because it makes me feel very good, very happy, and very motivated. As difficult as it was for me to enter the Army, and to finally be here – and to be Cav, it gives me goosebumps. I yell CCCHHHAARRRRGGGEE!!!!!! usually so loud other Soldiers and Officers notice. One other Captain – a Ranger, encourages me to let it rip! The other day my Commander didn’t know I was in the formation because it was dark and there were many of us. But after he heard my CHARGE just above the others, I heard him say to the Sergeant Major, “Chaplain’s here.” They gave me a coin for it at the Spur Dinner in June. Told me that the one noncombatant has the loudest war cry. Maybe because I love my job and this opportunity so much. Did I say I love the Army? 🙂

But as I salute during “To The Colors” from this day forward, I will think of my comrades who can no longer stand in formation and salute the flag. Which now makes the action so much more than routine.

I see Soldiers in the Warrior Transition Unit, trying to recover from injuries sustained in battle. I see some Soldiers out of formation because they are incarcerated for serious indiscretions and criminal activity. I see Soldiers in mental health treatment centers and rehab clinics. I see Soldiers simply unable to be there, to physically stand at attention.

I recently have seen an injured Soldier in the hospital who may not walk again, let alone stand and salute. I visited this Soldier today who literally could not move any part of his body – yet, below his neck. And he was clearly frustrated about it. Oh how I felt for him. Young, healthy, super strong, a true warrior. And because of an accident he is flat on his back immobilized. During my visit I remembered that I have an Army Bugle Calls app on my iPhone. I tried lighthearted joking with the Soldier. He forced a smile but was clearly restless. He is not used to the feeling of being stuck. But when I played the Reveille sound he nodded and smiled. But then when I played “To The Colors,” he closed his eyes and his lips started quivering, as if he was fighting back tears. He opened his eyes after the last note and they were watery. He smiled and mouthed the words “thank you.” That was probably the first time he’d heard that old familiar tune since before his accident two weeks ago. And oh, how he misses it. I bet if he is able to stand and salute again, someday, he will stand with great pride, with the most perfect salute, and tears will stream down his face. This Soldier is still a patriotic warrior. Still proud to wear the uniform. His future is uncertain. His road towards recovery is long and full of questions. But I prayed with him and his Dad tonight that if God would grant him healing, to allow this man, this brother of mine to stand and salute the flag again. As for me, I will never salute the flag the same. Next time I hear “To The Colors,” I will stand at attention and say a prayer for my comrades who cannot share the moment with me. I will pray for the day that they may join our formation again.

“Present arms!”

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