Greatness. It is a word thrown around with little thought. Like the word “hero”, it is used to describe athletes, political figures, artists, and just about anyone who has achieved a level of success in his or her profession.
I have fallen into the same trap over the years, but a slow awareness has grown within me that real greatness isn’t found on a marquee or in the headlines. True greatness is quiet, and humble, and dignified. I understand now, because I have seen it face-to-face.
We went on a trip to give back. To show the troops that Americans cared about them. But eventually we realized the futility of that task. Not because our country doesn’t care – it does. But because anything we could give them would pale in comparison to what they give us every day.
My real brush with greatness began with the first patient we saw at the National Naval Medical Center, and ended when the last Soldier shook our hands as we departed Kuwait for the trip home.
Greatness was the resolute look in a wounded Marine’s eyes that said, “I’ll get better, and when I do, look out because nothing will slow me down ever again.” Greatness was a Soldier on his fourth tour to Southwest Asia before his 21st birthday. Greatness was a twenty-something Blackhawk gunner scanning the arid land for signs of trouble as his helicopter shuttled a bunch of civilians to Forward Operating Bases to draw funny pictures.
Our national defense depends on a few hundred thousand Americans, most of whom are young enough to be our kids. But when you meet them, and talk to them, and see what they are doing half a world away, you’re the one who feels like a child.
When you see them, you see people who are risking everything they have for people they will probably never meet. You see dignity, and honor, and courage.
You see greatness.