Having the curse of traveling too much, I have status with American Airlines. I get to board first and usually get the seat I want.
Yesterday, I flew from LAX to DFW and got an exit row seat with two empty seats next to me. What a blessing, I thought.
As the plane began to fill, an Army sergeant sat two rows ahead of me. He was in his ACUs, and he was carrying a very full backpack. So full, that he couldn't get it into the overhead bin. So he stuffed it under the seat, and then had both seats next to him fill up. He was cramped in there, and obviously desperate for sleep. He was nodding off as the plane was boarding.
I had the honor of swapping seats with him. I told him to spread out across all three seats and sleep. He was a bit taken back, but reluctantly agreed. Within moments, he was out like a light.
He was 25 at most. Somebody's baby boy. Somebody's brother. Somebody's best friend.
Traveling alone. Not one other person on the plane acknowledged him.
Walking off the plane in Dallas, he thanked me. I asked him where he was going, and he said back to Iraq. I asked where he was based, and he said he didn't really have a base. He was all over the country. I asked why. He said, "Because I am in a security detail. I provide protection to foreign dignitaries when they visit the country."
What this means is he is one excellent soldier. Most likely a sniper. And he wakes up everyday going to work knowing he and his guest are likely targets for the bad guys in Iraq. His job is to keep U.S. government officials and other "important people" from getting their asses blown up by some Iranian armed asshole in Iraq.
After landing in Dallas, he had a few hour layover and then a 20 hour flight to get back to work.
Why doesn't he get VIP treatment? He voluntarily risks his life for me and my country. I sell pants.
Godspeed Sergeant Maldonado.