A Humanitarian Aid Worker, a US Marine, and a Sword
A few years ago, I walked into Barnes and Noble in Amarillo, TX, and saw a US Marine Corp Lance Corporal collecting toys for their Toys for Tots program. I grew up around Marines, so I feel totally comfortable hanging out with them and shooting the breeze. I was freshly back from Beirut, Lebanon, and he had just returned from an IED training in Lebanon. So we had lots to talk about.
I don't remember the conversation word-for-word, but eventually, the Marine made a curious statement, "You must get paid a lot to go into the places you go."
I chuckled, "Actually, we probably get paid about the same. In fact, your benefits are probably better than mine."
He looked puzzled, "Why do you do it?"
"You know the sword you wear with your dress blues? Well, it has two flats and an edge. The flats actually take up the most of the surface area of the sword. The edge is a very small part of the whole thing. The flats are used for defense. The edge is used for attack.
My work is like the flats of the blade. Let's call one 'Humanitarian Aid' and the other 'Spiritual Climate.' If people live in horrible circumstances, they are more likely to use violence. If they live in a terrible spiritual climate, they are more likely to be rallied to violence in the name of religion. If I do what I do well, I believe we can reduce the circumstances our enemies use to rally people against the United States.
You are the edge of the blade. We have to have the edge when our enemies strike. The edge is an essential part of the sword. We need you to be sharp and to be ready. I'm glad you are there.
I believe that if I do what I do well then we can bring you guys home safely, and earlier. And that means less of you die. It's part of what I do to serve this country."
The Marine nodded, "I hadn't thought of it that way. I like that." We talked a little more, my family arrived, and I said goodbye. I will never forget that conversation. It put my work in a context that I hadn't considered until that moment.
Years later, I read 'Powerful Peace: A Navy SEAL’s Lessons on Peace from a Lifetime of War' by J. Robert DuBois. 'Powerful Peace' gave me the language I needed to better articulate my feelings. He does an incredible job of balancing the need for humanitarian responses and the need for applied force while honoring the sacrifice and dedication of our troops.
There are many reasons I do what I do. Fundamentally, I believe I serve my country when I shelter the homeless, feed the hungry, rescue the addict, work with the city government to develop disaster response initiatives, and work with churches to care for the spiritual needs in our communities.
I'm incredibly grateful for our troops. I believe those of us who have a different calling must work together to preserve the America they bleed for and make it better than it was when they left it.
How does what you do serve your community and ultimately serve your country?