My field hockey team was down by one point that day. No matter how hard I ran or how many times my team tried to change the game plan, we couldn’t seem to score.
As the air became thinner with every breath I took, I stopped for a second and glanced over at my coach. Next to her was a tall man in an Army uniform. Our game came to a painful ending and as I was taking off my shoes, the man in uniform came up to me.
I gave him a firm handshake and thanked him for his services to this nation. He proceeded to tell me that he was watching me play and appreciated the fact that I never gave up despite wanting to. His hand reached over to the side of his arm and he stripped the Velcro 1st Division patch from his uniform, like a Band-Aid.
He placed it in my hand and said “never give up.” I honestly didn’t know how to react. My heart began to race and the words “thank you” somehow came out, amongst all of my mumbling. He then simply walked away, and my coach came up to me and asked what had happened. I showed her the patch and showered her with questions, then silence came over us and we began to cry.
Later on I found out that the man had a story, one that consisted of his time in Afghanistan, becoming ill in a place that wasn’t home, and carrying the weight of the world he had managed to craft on his shoulders. His experiences formed a hard outer shell that seemed unbreakable, but I could see past all that. I saw it in his light blue eyes screaming to be understood.
In that moment, I realized that our soldiers aren’t unbreakable, that if we look closely behind that hard exterior, we can find who they truly are, rather than what society expects them to be.