The Kindness of Strangers
The Kindness of Strangers

I am finally getting around to writing down something that I wanted to share with all of
you back home.  I recently returned to Iraq from my two week R&R back in Maryland
(well, actually I got back three weeks ago now but I’ve been busy) and I wanted to tell
you all about some of the things that happened while I was home.
Now I know I am going to come across as sort of a mushy sap here and not much of a
big, tough soldier, but you all know me anyway and know I am not that tough anyway so
it’s not like I am revealing any secrets here, but I spent about half of my vacation nearly
in tears.  These were the good kind of years though, like the ones some people get when
they look at the flag and hear the National Anthem, or when they see their children do
something really great, like tie their shoes for the first time.  I am just very emotional
when it comes to patriotism and the symbolism associated with it.  Maybe the Army just
did a good job of brainwashing me, but if that is the case there are worse ideas to have
been indoctrinated with.
I won’t bore you all with every little detail of my trip but I just wanted to share some of
the highlights, specifically the ones that relate to the subject of this note.  I know I am
sometimes naïve but I believe that people are basically good and I try to see the best in
everyone but I was not prepared for what I would see when I went home.  I have lived
either in Germany or Korea during every major conflict we have had and so I have only
heard stories about how the soldiers are treated and I never saw if first hand other than
the occasional kind word from someone wanting to show their appreciate for the military.
It all started on the plan ride home.  We are required to travel from here, and back, in our
DCUs or Desert Combat Uniforms, so it is easy to spot the soldiers returning home from
Iraq and Afghanistan.  The flight from Kuwait through Germany to Atlanta was a
contracted flight so while it was a regular jet with a normal flight crew it was filled only
with soldiers, so no special treatment yet.  Well, no special treatment other than being
put in first class because of my rank.  They took the most senior people and put us in
first class, which is sort of normal for the military, but the really classy thing they did was
to also take the most junior soldiers, who had served on the baggage detail, loading the
plane with all the duffle bags, and put them in first class also.  Nice touch, they deserved
it more than I did.
When we landed at Atlanta though we all got on separate flights depending on where our
final destinations were.  Here I was one of only a few soldiers on the flight.  Just as we
were taking off a flight attendant came back and apologized for missing me when I first
got on.  She had moved the other three soldiers to first class and said she had a seat up
there for me too and asked where my carry on was so she could move me up there.  I
had just started a conversation with a gentleman who had fought in WW II and I thanked
her but told her I would rather sit and talk to him, but the thought was very nice.  When I
start to feel sorry for myself sitting over here in Iraq I think about guys like that man on
the plane.  I have to be here a year.  He had no idea how long he would be where he was
going, he wound up fighting for almost 4 years, so my 1 year is not so bad.  Anyway,
when this flight to BWI landed the pilot made an announcement about the soldiers on the
plane coming home for R&R and asked that everyone remain seated until we were off
the plane as a sign of respect and appreciation.  Like a big wussy I got tears in my eyes
and put on my sunglasses to try to hide it.  Everyone applauded when we were leaving
the plane.  It was very moving and made the whole deployment so far worth the effort.
If nothing else like this happened again during my vacation it would have been ok.  It
was enough, and more than I had expected.  But that was just the beginning.  As soon as
I got off the plane there was a Starbucks straight ahead when I exited the gate so I went
for a cup of coffee, before I made it there some guy walked up and shook my hand and
said “thank you” and kept walking.  Then when I was in line for my coffee some guy who
had walked past and made eye contact and said hi walked to the front of the line and
handed the girl something.  She was pretty and looked sort of funny when he handed her
something and whispered something to her so I thought he maybe handed her his card
and was trying to pick her up.  I thought it was a coincidence that she looked straight at
me when he did this.  When it was my turn to order I asked for a small coffee.  She told
me “are you sure that is all you want?” and she held up a $5 and told me that that man
had given it to her and said what ever I wanted was on him.  I stuck with the coffee and
thanked her and looked for him to thank him but he was gone.  I won’t try to relate each
instance of some stranger walking up to shake my hand and say thank you, but it
happened a lot.  And each time I got a big lump in my throat.  I didn’t feel worthy of it.
One of the things that Tracie and I did with the boys was to take a short trip down to
Lewes Delaware, a nice little resort area on the Atlantic Ocean where you can do deep
sea fishing and the like.  It is only about 32 miles from Ocean City Maryland which is also
a really nice area.  One morning Tracie and I went there before the sun came up.  I ran
the boardwalk and watched the waves and the sunrise while she sat on the beach and
had coffee.  She also saw a whale from the beach while sitting there.  How cool is that???
While there we took Josh and Adam deep sea fishing.  That was a blast.  We all caught a
lot of fish that we gave to one of the other people on the boat.  The rods were rigged with
two hooks and Josh even caught a shark and a flounder both at the same time!!  When
we were waiting for the boat to leave the lady that I had paid for the trip ($140 for the four
of us) said she was sorry for the overcast weather and said it was too bad it was cloudy
and looked like rain.  I told her that I hadn’t seen a cloud for 8 months so this was just fine
with me.  She asked where I had been to not see clouds so we talked about me being in
Iraq.  She told the boat’s captain, Captain Tom, who told his mates to take extra special
care of us because “He’s home from the war”.  That sounded so strange to hear that
about me!  And then he came up and asked me to see him when we got back to shore,
that he had something for me.  I expected a t-shirt or a baseball cap with his boat’s logo
or something like that.  When we got back he gave me four passes to come back anytime
we wanted.  They don’t expire so I can use them after getting back home, next summer,
anytime.  That was pretty nice I think.
The next big thing that happened was when I took our car in for what I expected to be
about $200 worth of work.  I dropped it off, gave them my cell number and jumped on the
metro for downtown DC and told them to call me when the work was done.  Well, he
called me alright.  To tell me that there was actually about $1,200 worth of work that
needed to be done.  Normally I would have been very suspicious and think he was
making this up to make a quick dollar, but Tracie had already been told by two other
mechanics that this work needed to be done and we were just putting it off.  I told him to
go ahead.  Oh, and I had had a similar conversation with the manager of this place about
being in Iraq.  He asked me about the last work that was done on the car and I told him I
hadn’t driven it in 9 months, he asked why, etc. blah blah…
So, I authorized the work to be done and kissed 1200 bucks goodbye and went about my
sightseeing in DC.  The guy called me back about two hours later and said “Mr. Davis, we
need your authorization to replace a rotor, a belt tensioner….” and some other things I
can’t remember what they were.  I asked how much all this was and he said it was about
$800 more but all he needed was my “authorization to do the work, not the money”.  He
said that since I was over there in Iraq the boss said no charge for the work.  Suddenly I
didn’t mind the $1,200 quite so much.
Ok, last example.  You guys all know that I have always liked practicing karate.  Well, I
had not gone to the trouble to find a good dojo (karate school) in the area where we had
just moved to.  I wanted to find one where I could train when I get back, but I also wanted
to get Josh and Adam involved.  I called up the hombu dojo (headquarters) of the
International Shotokan Karate Federation, in Philadelphia.  Now, I know you guys
probably don’t know one karate guy from the next, but this is a really awesome
organization and the Japan Karate Association has done a great job in sending out many
of its top instructors to spread Shotokan around the world.  The head of the ISKF is a guy
named Teriyuki Okizaki and he is one of the most highly respected karate instructors in
the world.  There is a picture on my website of me with him and Mikami Sensei, another
of the top ISKF instructors.  The recommendation from the ISKF is that I go to see Sensei
Amin, who I have heard of before as he is one of only 4 non-Japanese 7th degree black
belts in the entire ISKF.  I had no idea he was only 22 miles from my home!  I took the
boys there and we met Sensei Amin, and his son, also Sensei (Japanese for teacher)
Amin, who is a 6th degree black belt.  I learned that I have really lucked up on a great
place to practice karate.  This dojo has more advanced black belts than any other dojo in
the country except for the ISKF headquarters itself!!  Sensei Amin’s wife explained the
administrative part of the dojo, how much it costs, etc.  It is $55 a month for one person,
$45 for the second and for more than that they have a family plan.  So for the boys it will
be $100 a month.  When I started to pay she said for me to just wait until I brought them
for their first class.  A couple of days later when took the for their first class I took out my
checkbook to pay the $400 to cover until I was sure I would be back home and she told
me that Sensei Amin told her to not accept any money from me for as long as I was in
Iraq.  The boys can train there for free until I get back.
I have never questioned what I do for a living or why I do it.  But I have often questioned
if it was appreciated by everyone back home.  This trip removed all those doubts and I
gotta tell you all that it made it a hell of a lot easier to come back here.  And then when I
did get back I learned that my schedule has changed slightly and I just might be home for
Christmas after all.  It will be close anyway.
Ok, that was a LONG email so I will shut up now.  I am taking today off so I will go over to
my tent and watch a movie now.  Hope you are all doing well and were not TOO bored by
my long email.  Hope to see you all soon.
                        Tony