Editor’s Note: We at Cookerly love a good blog post about business, marketing or PR as much as the next person. However, in the interest of a broader focus, below is one in a series of creative, storytelling blog posts from our staff designed to be a little different. Enjoy.
A couple of years ago I had the opportunity to visit Fort Polk Joint Readiness Training Center in Leesville, Louisiana. Fort Polk is one of the U.S. Army’s primary training centers for soldiers being deployed overseas and encompasses almost 200,000 acres in west-central Louisiana. Roughly half of all men and women in the Army will pass through this facility at some point in their careers and at any one time, thousands of U.S. and foreign soldiers are cycling through. Growing up, I had heard about this base from my dad who at 18 endured a swampy summer in 1967, completing his basic training before heading off to Vietnam.
My three-day visit to the facility opened my eyes to at least a part of the U.S. military experience. I saw men and women from all walks of life participating in the challenging and grueling task of readying themselves to answer the call of their country. Sleepless nights, dusty, dirty, and noisy conditions and live fire exercises gave trainees some sense of what it is like to be the target of an enemy’s aim. Home to roughly 30,000 civilians and uniformed men and women, I was in awe at how all of them appeared to pull together in the larger cause of keeping one another safe. I couldn’t believe the elaborate village sets and scenes erected to simulate the foreign venues to which these soldiers would be sent. Volunteer actors dressed in full costume with gory make-up, participating in mock ambushes complete with pyrotechnics and fake gunfire. I saw Afghans, who were new residents to Leesville, teaching our soldiers Pashto, just one of the more than two dozen languages used in Afghanistan. It appeared as though every member of this community was pitching in, doing what they could to prepare our Army men and women for their time in actual theater.
Quietly, I was most stricken by the realization that these men and women – most of whom are contemporaries of mine – had committed themselves to a lifestyle that was so foreign to the one that I was living. I don’t pretend to understand the challenges they endure. Though members of my family served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, war was never a topic of conversation in our household. I know I can never really understand the sacrifices made by our military and their families to keep me safe. But what I do know is that during my trip, I witnessed an incredible group of men and women for whom I have an abiding respect.
I am deeply indebted to all members of the U.S. military family who forgo the luxuries and certainties of the civilian routine which I take for granted. I’m envious of their courage and strength and I’m forever grateful for their service to our fellow Americans, our great nation and me.