Monday, June 1, 2009

Soldiers, Lt. Dan, and Blue Bell Ice Cream

I find our Army Soldiers the most resourceful, dedicated, brave, and honorable men and women anywhere. Last weekend, I witnessed one of many examples of why I adore Soldiers. My kids and I attended a concert on Fort Hood featuring the Lt. Dan Band. It was a wonderful event and we had a great time. The music was fantastic, the crowd energetic, and the kids area well-organized and fun. All in all, a very fun night for us.

After a few turns in the bounce houses, my boys requested ice cream. I'm never one to turn down Blue Bell ice cream and the night seemed to call for a treat, so I agreed. I stood in the line while my ever-energetic boys ran laps on the track with some friends (friends they met for the first time a few minutes earlier -- as military kids do).

The line for ice cream turned out to be one of the longest I've encountered ... maybe ever. I happened to be in line surrounded by Soldiers in uniform; a happy place to be!

In much the same way that hostages being held against their will often bond quickly, so did our group of ice cream aficionados. We began chatting and I learned that this group of Soldiers had been transported to this event from North Fort Hood for the event and they were very much looking forward to getting their frozen treat.

After about half-an-hour, we realized we were standing in the wrong line and all moved together to the correct place. There was lots of kidding amongst the Soldiers as to who was to blame for the error, but all was in good fun.

Eventually, we all ordered and paid for our ice cream, then moved to a new line to wait for the orders to be given out. We spent another forty minutes or so standing here waiting. We also began to notice that there were people receiving the ice cream orders that had not paid for them. The worker would come to the window and announce "single dip chocolate waffle cone" and someone would step up and take it. Since there was no 'check,' it appeared that a group of young people were taking advantage and accepting ice cream that they had not ordered.

When we realized what was happening, the group of Soldiers -- without talking about it -- moved in closer to the window, creating a 'border' that the offenders did not care to cross. It was almost instinctive and amazing to see. Not only did these guys fix the problem with no controversy, they did it as a group without any planning whatsoever. The term 'band of brothers' came to mind as I watched them work together.

Once the thieves were thwarted in their efforts, we still had a long wait in front of us. By this time, the return buses were lining up at the gate and Soldiers were moving in that direction to board. My kids had worn themselves out and were playing quiet games of hide-and-seek. The concert was ending and Gary Sinise was addressing the crowd. My favorite moment of the night came when Mr. Sinise was talking about where the band had performed. At his comment that he had "been to Iraq four times," the Soldier standing next to me said, "You and me both, brother" with a smile on his face.

So now we've been in line for what seems like an actual eternity and the first few buses begin to pull away. When a couple of Soldiers joked that they were not leaving without their ice cream, even if it meant paying $60 for a cab ride back, I assured them that I'd drive them through Dairy Queen for ice cream then take them back before they’d need to do that.

At some point, we realize that time has run out. These guys are not going to get their ice cream unless some action is taken. Most of the buses have left and the ones remaining are ready to go as well. Because these are my newest heroes, I can’t help but intervene. I knocked on the window of the ice cream booth and explained that these Soldiers were very patiently waiting for their ice cream and were moments away from missing their bus ride home. Could they possibly be served first? The owners were very accommodating and starting asking each Soldier what he had ordered. As the orders were completed and the guys were moving out to their buses, they each called out in turn, “Thank you, ma’am!”

The most impressive part of this entire encounter to me was the attitude of these Soldiers. They ranged in age, rank, and experience, but each had an attitude of polite patience and deliberate respect for others. In a world focused on “me” and “now” so much of the time, it was refreshing to see humans who were not ruffled or upset by having to wait. I pondered this on the way home (with two boys sleeping in the backseat) and wondered … could it be that these Soldiers developed a new sense of priorities having spent time in a combat zone? Why did they instinctively appreciate the fact that waiting for ice cream is just not a big deal in the bigger picture of life? Especially in a culture where so many would be angry and frustrated? I don’t know the exact answer, but I do know that these guys reaffirmed for me my basic belief in human kindness, decency, honor, and respect.

Now I realize that Soldiers are heroes on a much bigger scale than simply showing patience in a line for ice cream. These very same men could be on their way to a foreign land any day, ready to pick up a weapon and fight for our country. What they do on a daily basis … and what they commit themselves to do each day … is truly mind-boggling. I love them for that. But I also love that they are just good people.

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