Back in mid-March as the Coronavirus pandemic began to ramp up and we still weren’t sure what was going to happen and hospitals filled for the first time, I got a text from Tom (not his real name), a combat veteran I counseled for a couple of years - months earlier, he had moved a few states away, and we hadn’t been in touch for a while.
“You ok?” was Tom’s initial text.
I texted back: “Doing fine, making necessary adjustments. Glad to hear from you.”
“Just checking on my troops,” he replied.
The exchange reminded me of the time Tom and I talked about the furniture arrangement in my counseling office: two chairs face each other, a door behind one chair and a window behind the other – not an easy choice for a combat veteran. He sat facing the door. I asked him why he let himself sit with his back to the window, and he said, “Because you’d tell me if anything was happening behind me, right?” Right.
“I trust you,” he said gruffly.
Another time, he spoke about his concern that the world might erupt in violence or anarchy. Like many combat veterans, the thought of domestic terrorism or mobs of angry, gun-toting civilians filled him with dread. “If anything like that happened, you’d let me protect you, right?”
I told him I would.
His eyes filled with tears.
See, Tom was a combat medic who saw more horrific things in just a few days than most of us would encounter in twenty lifetimes. When I first started working with him, he stuttered uncontrollably any time he tried to talk about that one night in Fallujah. From the first time we met, I could see he was wounded and desperate - and a remarkably fine human being. Like many veterans I had worked with over the years, his sincere dedication to serving others was hard-wired into his way of life.
Now, we were a couple of years down the road, and he didn’t stutter anymore. He laughed easily. He and his wife took the leap of moving to another state where they’d been hoping to retire for a long time. We're in touch from time to time, but the other day his text touched my heart.
"Just checking on my troops."
That right there.
That's the kind of guy he is.
Some bonds stay strong.
Elizabeth Heaney - Author
Clinical Psychologist, teacher, private counselor. She speaks and writes about her work with service members.