1500 US Army soldiers stood on the misty parade field at Fort Meyer waiting for the sun to rise. The leadership had scheduled another morale building yet mandated "fun run" wherein once a quarter, the entire unit comes together to do PT (Physical Training) in a show of Esprit de Corp and cohesion. Since we were all stationed at the Pentagon, many of us were fairly senior, a little broken down in the body department, and had seen our fair share of these types of events. There we were, at the twilight of our careers, huddled in small groups during the dawn of one more PT morning.
Of course, there was the usual grumbling between the older soldiers asking one another if we were motivated yet and if we had a cup of Esprit De Corps to spare. But there was a sprinkling of young soldiers among us too and their shiny new faces kept us old timers from getting too cynical and fussy.
As the sun poked up above the horizon, the Army's Command Sergeant Major called the gaggle to attention and the formation began to run. The Non-Commissioned Officers (NCOs) led the assemblage in rousing voice and extolled the virtues of Granny , My Girl  and the C-130 . Below the roar of the singing, just in the background, you could hear the footsteps of the 1500 strong pounding the pavement in syncopated rhythm.
The formation crested the hill overlooking Arlington Cemetery and the vista of Washington DC opened up to us. The Army Colors, at the front of the formation, started their decent towards the cemetery just as the sun had risen to about the same height as the Washington Monument several miles distant. And still the singing and the pounding drove the formation as it snaked down the hill towards the gates of the National Cemetery.
The colors passed into the cemetery and, like a line of dominoes falling, the singing faded away. One platoon after the other fell silent in mute honor of our fallen comrades-in-arms laid to rest in Arlington. As the voices died down, the only sound you could hear was the constant beat, beat, beat of the run and the Army colors whipping in the slight breeze. Nobody spoke except for the occasional NCO keeping everybody in step with a solid, but not too loud, 1 - 2 - 3 - 4, 1 -2 - 3 - 4. It was serene. It was sublime.
Midway through the run, the Sergeant Major called the formation to a halt and commanded us to right-face towards the middle of the cemetery. The rising sun burned off the last vestiges of mist from the manicured lawns. The breeze trickled through the formation’s silence and the Army Colors at the front. And then we all heard it; that mournful sound of a single bugler playing Taps.  He began the music low at first; almost whispering the sound through the horn. But slowly, his crescendo wrapped the listener into a cocoon of sadness, memory and a sense about lives that could have been. On that misty morning, many soldiers young and old could not stop the tears from falling onto their cheeks.
A chill went down my back as it occurred to me that we were not merely taking a morning jog anymore. We were actually passing in review. These fallen soldiers who performed the ultimate sacrifice for their country were watching us and sizing us up. I hoped that we could pass muster. I had this great desire to let them know that we had the guide-on now and it was in good hands. We would not let them down. I stood a little taller then and the burden of running was a little lighter.
As 1500 boarded the buses to head back to the Pentagon, I realized that this old soldier was less cynical today; less worn for wear. Although I may not have the shiny face of one of those new soldiers, I was reborn this morning. Together, both old and young, we will carry on.
Memorial Day Weekend
Memorial Day this year is on 25 May. This U.S. holiday originally began in 1856 as a way for local communities to honor the Union soldiers who died in the U.S. Civil War. After WWI, the meaning of the holiday shifted to include all who have died in American wars. In 1971, the U.S. Congress made the remembrance a national holiday. 
I wrote the above essay, “Reborn at Arlington,” back in 2000 when I was stationed at the Pentagon; before the madness of 9/11 kicked in and long before our country committed its military to over 15 years of war across four different operations :
The Iraq War
- Operation Iraqi Freedom.
- From 19 Mar 2003 to 19 Aug 2010: 7 Years.
- 4,425 U.S Soldiers and DOD Civilians Killed.
- Operation New Dawn.
- From 1 Sep 2010 to 18 Dec 2011: 1 Year.
- 66 U.S Soldiers and DOD Civilians Killed.
- Operation Enduring Freedom.
- From 7 October 2001 to 30 Dec 2014: 13 Years.
- 2,355 U.S Soldiers and DOD Civilians Killed.
- Operation Freedom’s Sentinel.
- From 30 Dec 2014 and projected until President Obama leaves the White House in 2017.
- 1 U.S Soldier Killed.
I like to update the stats and re-post it every Memorial Day to remind myself of the staggering number of US Soldiers and Civilians that have died since the second Iraq War (Iraqi Freedom) began in 2003, that we still have soldiers and civilians in harms way in the Middle East, and that they will be there for years to come. As of today, the death toll is 6,845 .
As these courageous men and women come back home, I fear the country cannot fathom the sacrifices they, and their families, have made for us and the troubles they all yet face as they try to re-integrate back into society and back into a normal life. All of that would be worry enough.
But even after Eric Shinseki resigned last March (2014) as the Secretary of Veterans Affairs under a wave of scandals in which employees conspired to hide long wait times for veterans to receive their promised health care , the situation does not seem to be getting better fast enough and the scandals keep coming . Still, even I have trouble maintaining my fury on a day-to-day basis against an inept VA for the years of abuse and fraud conducted by the employees who were supposed to have our soldier’s back. But Memorial Day gives one pause to remember again about just how the Department of Veteran’s Affairs has failed us and has been breaking our country’s sacred promise to these damaged souls. On days like this, it is tough to hold back the tears of shame and sorrow and rage.
This weekend is Memorial Day Weekend. It is a weekend that allows us to honor our fallen soldiers. With the current state of the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, I am pretty sure that if we as a nation ran in formation through Arlington Cemetery today, we would not pass muster. Our fallen soldiers would insist on taking the guide-on back because we are not taking care of our own. The situation is obviously not acceptable. Write to your senators and congressmen to express your disapproval. More importantly, give these brave soldiers and their loved ones a hand if you get the opportunity. The best way to honor our fallen soldiers is to take care of the survivors.
 "Army Cadence - My Old Granny, She's 91," 19 September 2008, Last Visited 22 May 2015,
 "C-130 Rollin' Down The Strip," 20 May 2007, Last Visited 22 May 2015,
 "U.S. Army Cadence My Girls A Pretty Girl," 14 July 2008, Last Visited 22 May 2015,
 “Montgomery clift trumpet,” From Here to Eternity, Posted 12 March 2007, Last Visited 22 May 2015,
 "10 historical facts about Memorial Day," by Allison Sylte, KSDK-TV, St. Louis, Mo. May 23, 2015, Last Visited 23 May 2015,
 "Casualty Status (PDF) - United States Department of Defense," U.S. Department of Defense," Last Visited 23 May 2015,
 "Politics: Obama accepts resignation of VA Secretary Shinseki," By Greg Jaffe and Ed O'Keefe, The Washington Posy, 30 May 2014, Last Visited 23 May 2015,
 "Veterans Affairs Department Makes the Government’s ‘High Risk’ List," BY BRIANNA EHLEY, The Fiscal Times, 3 May 3 2015, Last Visited 23 May 2015,
 "Photographers' Blog: Section 60 stripped of mementos," by Kevin Lamarque, Reuters, 8 October 2013, Last Visited 23 May 2015,