I’ll always remember the moment: Sgt. Mendoza approached me following a talk I had given to a group of Wounded Warriors the previous evening. In his hand was a small card–a gift for me–on which was featured the parable about the man of faith who regularly noticed two sets of footprints, his and his Lord’s, as he walked the beach. The man never understood why there was often only one set of footprints in the sand when his struggles seemed overwhelming. He assumed the single set was his, and questioned why the Lord abandoned him in times of great need. The Lord explained that He had never abandoned the man, but instead carried him through those difficult times.
Sgt. Mendoza thanked me for sharing my story of how I overcame my own sometimes debilitating struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder, and when I finished Sgt. Mendoza’s card, he said to me, “Mr. Getlin, what you said last night meant a lot to me, and I now feel I also have your footprints in the sand next to mine.” I was moved to tears by his gentle gesture, and in realizing how little effort it takes to make a profound difference in the lives of the courageous men and women who fight America’s wars.
Sgt. Mendoza was seriously wounded in the ferocious Battle of Fallujah. Though he survived, many of his Marine buddies did not. So severe was his survivor-guilt PTSD that a few months ago he was seconds from a fatal leap off a bridge when a passing motorist talked him off the railing and took him to a hospital.
As we consider the meaning of Veterans Day, all of us must take to heart the monumental debt of gratitude we owe our veterans, each of whom writes a blank check pledging to pay whatever the price to ensure America’s peace, security and prosperity. When we see them in the airport, at a restaurant with their families, at a soccer field with their children, in a bus or train station – or, yes, homeless on a street corner – think of the blank check they wrote to each of us. We owe these men and woman so very much, and certainly more than we can ever repay.
Nowhere is the debt greater or need more urgent than in Oregon, where National Guard soldiers have repeatedly deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. Oregon is one of only six states with no military base sufficient in size to provide the desired level of continuing support to veterans and their families, many of whom reside in rural areas where support services are minimal, if they exist at all, and where unemployment equals that of the Great Depression.
We must ask serious questions: What do our veterans receive in return for their service? Are we helping them find gainful employment? Are we doing enough to help these warriors and their families understand and cope with PTSD, strained relationships, substance abuse and thoughts of suicide – all of which are far too often byproducts of repeated combat tours?
To our warriors, I say this: You are not alone! The non-profit Oregon Partnership, working closely with the Oregon National Guard, offers confidential guidance and counsel through our civilian Military Helpline (888-457-4838; 888-HLP-4-VET). We are available for you 24/7. We appreciate your sacrifice, understand your issues and we can help you!
What can you do to put your footprints in the sand next to those of a veteran? On this Veterans Day, ask yourself what more you can do for those veterans who have done so very much for you!