I had never seen a soldier cry. I had never listened to tales of battle so intimate and deep. I had never held the hand of a military spouse so tightly, hugged a still grieving widow so hard that our tears pooled together.
That all changed in the summer of 2004.
Sitting in a dusty base camp in Sadr City, on the outskirts of Baghdad, I would begin a journey that continues today. It was there I met the soldiers of Black Sunday.
That was the day that 18 soldiers and their Iraqi interpreter were ambushed, trapped on a rooftop and quickly running out of ammunition. Lost, until their fellow soldiers jumped into open trucks, unarmored Humvees or anything else that would help get their brothers to safety. It would come at great cost. Eight soldiers would die and more than 60 would be wounded.
And 7,000 miles away, from Fort Hood, Texas, to Birmingham, Alabama, to a tiny town on America’s plains, families would receive the shattering news.
Those soldiers I met that day, those families I would later embrace, have been with me ever since. We have traveled “The Long Road Home” together. And for all of us, it has been a longer road than we ever imagined.
There has been more loss, there has been more pain, and there has been a lot of healing and hope.
That is what I take away from this. That is what I hope others take away.
What happened that day in April 2004 is still with these surviving soldiers and families. The wounds don’t go away, the loss of a loved one remains. We need to remember that. It is the very least we can do.
Don’t turn away because it is too hard to look. Don’t turn away because you "don’t know what to say."
Remember, reflect and embrace.