I met a soldier the other day. He was driving a cab so he was really a retired soldier. He had only recently retired, signing up when he was seventeen and staying in for twenty-eight years put him at around the same age as me. My wife and I had been out and became overtired so we decided to take a cab home. It just so happened to be his cab.
You know how it is with cab rides — sometimes you'd wish the cabbie would shut up about his opinions on the world, other times they just grunt no matter what you say. But sometimes you actually get talking and have a conversation, which is what happened this time.
Somehow it came up that he only drove a cab as something to do so he wouldn't go crazy sitting around the house because he was retired. Since he looked around our age I was curious as to what he could be retired from that he didn't need to work, how he could have had a full pension at such an early age.
I remember him glancing at me sideways, and making the slightest of hesitations before saying what it was he had retired from. Thinking about what he would have seen beside him in his passenger seat, a skinny guy with long hair, maybe even an Indian, he might have wondered how him being a soldier would have gone over.
When he said he had been in for twenty-eight years I laughed and said, "You must have joined up when you were eighteen," and he gave an embarrassed smile and said no, seventeen. We laughed some more and I said he still looked too young, and he said that the plastic surgery probably helped with that.
He had been in Kosovo and stepped on a land mine and it had blown off half his face; nothing like a little random violence to take all the fun out of an afternoon. "Shit," I think I must have said. "Is that why you're out, medical discharge?"
He shook his head. "I did another tour after that."
Being curious, I asked him where else he had served aside from Kosovo; the list read like a who's who of some of the hell holes of the world. Rwanda in 1994 when, aside from a few under-equipped Canadian soldiers, the world ignored what was happening until all that was left was the hand wringing. He was in Somalia as part of the international peacekeeping force that went in to try and clean up after the American invasion.