NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. --
I was tired from my temporary duty travel and landed at my final destination after dinner time. All I wanted was to get home and sleep in my own bed. As I caught the airport shuttle I noticed one of the passengers hang up a dress bag with an Army uniform in it. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw that he had no ear on one side and thought, "He's one of our wounded warriors." His wife was with him. When I got a full glance at him, I saw that he had no ears, no hair, no eyebrows, and his mouth was lopsided. His face and hands showed clear signs of skin grafts.
A few moments later, a mom with two little girls (a baby and a three-year-old) got on the bus. The three-year-old at first sat down next to the Army troop, but when she saw him she went immediately back to her mom. You could tell she was a little scared and didn't know what to do. My heart ached for the wounded warrior and his wife as well as for the mom because none of them had done anything wrong. There was awkward tension among the other three passengers.
And then something beautiful happened. The wounded warrior leaned forward and said to the little girl, "I like your face painting." She looked at him with uncertainty and he continued, "Who's that on your shirt? Is that Minnie Mouse?" At this point she had clearly decided that he was ok so she went on to inform him that it was Snow White and that she was almost four-years-old.
The rest of the passengers started smiling and commenting, too. By the end of the short ride to the parking garage, the wounded warrior was explaining to the girl that he had been in a fire. She smiled and waved goodbye to her new friend as we all got off the bus and went our separate ways.
What could have been a scary interaction for the girl and a depressing interaction for the troop turned into something positive -- and all because he reached out to her on a personal level.
I think of the strength it must take to be able to do that over and over every place he goes when people look at him and react like that little girl first did.
So often the emphasis in people's minds when we hear about "wounded warriors" is on the "wounded" part, but in reality we should emphasize the "warrior" part much more.
Some wounds are so visible they are impossible to hide; others are internal and impossible to see. Either way hearing or seeing another person with an injury or a diagnosis can make people afraid to interact, afraid they might say the wrong thing.
Realizing that you may have some sort of injury or trauma can also make a person draw back, worried that others will see you differently or exclude you if they find out.
We have to remember that we are all in this together, just like I was with those other passengers on the bus. We can sit alone in silence as we make it through life day by day, never seeing beyond the outside appearances of those around us. Or we can reach out to those around us and find a connection, possibly finding a friend when we least expect it. Choose to reach out to those around you. You may be surprised to discover how strong they — and you — are.