Pathfinders static discharge a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter during sling-loading.

Pathfinders static discharge a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter during sling-loading.

I boarded my flight from Los Angeles to San Antonio feeling hollow, mixed with emotions, as I had just said one of those airport goodbyes we hate to do—I’m never good with goodbyes especially those resonating with longevity. This concave place in my life had me more moody with mixed emotions than normal, and when I selected the HBO movie “Taking Chance” on the in-flight, entertainment system, I didn’t realize that I’d soon be watching the most powerful, but saddest movie that I can remember—I tried to hold back, but the volatile mixture of emotions combined with my military background, brought tears to my eyes along with flash backs of my military time in Desert Storm, Haiti, Rwanda and the Latin drug war days.

“Taking Chance,” stars Kevin Bacon as Marine Lt. Colonel Michael Strobl, who volunteers for military escort duty to return the body of a heroic, young, but fallen Marine back to his family—but not just the hearse ride or the funeral of a flag-draped coffin, but what happens behind the scenes, from the minute a military service member is killed in action to the burial.  The movie takes you through the respect of escorting a body to the immediate family and all the people it affects along the way, from the airport baggage handlers to the vehicle drivers, not to mention the Marine colonel, a Desert Storm veteran, who must face his own assessment of himself for avoiding duty in Iraq for the fear that his number was up.

While I’m sure this movie will affect everyone differently, military veterans like myself will probably think, that could have been me during my days while on military missions.   We also understand that those who have never served their country, will never understand what it truly feels like—just no clue—it’s a different world and an experience that will never purge itself from your system and perhaps Taking Chance will provide a feeling of what it’s like to those that haven’t served. It’s not just about patriotism, it’s about the sacrifices and sometimes the ultimate sacrifice—and those that have survived their military duty know it could have been reversed at some point in their military career.

While this movie is heart-grabbing and rides high on emotions itself, one scene demonstrates how the yellow badge sewn on a TSA uniform is not the same as the military medals meticulously measured and spaced on a military uniform.  I loved that scene as I’ve seen too many TSA screeners act like their threaded badge gives them the right to disrespect you as they tried to do with the colonel in this movie.  It should be mandatory for TSA screens to view this movie as part of their training, then perhaps many of them will not “cop” an attitude they are so generally becoming known for.

This movie demonstrates the meaning of respect and loyalty, words many people take for granted.  Military medals are normally earned, especially for heroic actions and selfless service—Silver and Bronze Stars are not yellow badges—they are for bravery and meritorious actions above and beyond the call of duty.  The importance of duty is written into the script of this movie throughout, from the simple action Lt. Colonel Strobl takes by only drinking water while escorting the remains on a civilian aircraft, to protecting the private possessions of Lance Corporal Chance Phelps that will ultimately be returned to his family.

I could write volumes about this movie, but unless you’ve seen it, no matter what I write, you will never be able to feel what it’s really like—just like military service itself.  While yesterday started with mixed emotions of a dreaded airport goodbye, I thank my Lord for ensuring I survived my military time.  At the same time, I’ll never forget those that have fallen, including those that I personally knew, while serving to protect our freedoms and I can only hope that those who choose not to serve, will not forget—it’s only fair as military members volunteer their selfless service today to bring us the freedoms to do the things we do, including difficult goodbyes.  God bless our service members, their families and friends, let’s not forget them and their sacrifices—Rolando (Army active-duty Staff Sergeant, 1987-1995)