Reporter's Journal (February 15, 2014)

I've said "sir" and "ma'am" a lot the last three weeks or so. It's a reflex to an outfit, a career path and a lifestyle.

The first 18 years of my life, I was around the Air Force and other service members, mostly from the U.S., some from other nations. My dad rose through the ranks from junior officer to among the higher levels, earning respect along with the promotions. Mom held down our fort while helping hundreds of other spouses do the same.

And I came along for the ride, along with a lot of sirs and ma'ams.

As I walked through two bases in Afghanistan, U.S. and international forces like from my youth walking amongst me and KWTX's Rachel Cox, a set of people immensely kind and helpful, my childhood instincts of the tongue came flooding back.

"Thank you, sir." "Yes, ma'am."

Except nearly a decade-and-a-half since I went off to college and a career, so many of those men and women are younger than me...much younger in a lot of cases. Some we talked to were in elementary school when the war they are fighting started. Let that sink in.

I did not think I could get a greater appreciation for the service of our men and women in uniform given my childhood. A three-week journey opened my eyes even wider.

There is a unique sacrifice on the war front, one made by unique individuals that put themselves on the line for others. Sleep leans toward luxury. Your mission is your life, and your life can be on the line if your mission isn't completed. An enemy lurks on the other side of ugly barbed wire and dull concrete walls aiming at sending you home to your loved ones in a polished wood box adorned by a crisp flag. While technology keeps families in touch more than before, Skype chats and emails cannot replace an embrace of a husband, wife, son or daughter. For any breaks for a variety of food, downtime for television or pickup basketball games, there are countless minutes of life-altering intensity. There is a different weight to life carried at war.

Science surely would show the same blood runs through a solder, sailor, airman or Marine's veins as a civilian's, but it's not the same.

There's something else flowing through these brave souls, these sirs and ma'ams. It's been great to walk amongst them for even a brief time, and it's been a privilege learning some of their stories.
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