Yesterday I made a late evening run to Hartsfield-Jackson to spend a few minutes with a friend passing through town. Walking through the commotion in the atrium I noticed a gaggle of about sixty or seventy young men lounging around, separated from the tourist families and the sleeping layover victims.
It was easy to put together that this was a fresh batch of recruits heading to basic training. Many were sporting recruiting premiums - Go Army shirts, camouflaged backpacks, etc. The crowd was a mix of races, sizes and attitudes, but I don't think any of them were over 21. Dispersed among the recruits were two older characters, I assume recruiters, circling around offering slaps on the back, reviewing paperwork and generally keeping an eye on their flock.
While my friend and I sat in a restaurant the group transformed before our eyes. In a matter of seconds the recruiters popped the hodgepodge into a single file line. The looks on the faces of the young men changed instantly as they assembled into their first formation. The journey ahead was becoming real.
As each of them passed us, clumsily marching out of the terminal to a bus destine for Fort Benning, I was struck by the combination of innocence and purposefulness in their expressions. These were young men, from all walks of American life, heading towards a future leading many of them into hardship and harms way.
I am sure this ritual plays out many times a day in the world's busiest airport. Seek it out the next time you are in ATL. For me, watching this procession was both moving and encouraging. Without question politics, the G.I. Bill, family, and a host of other factors played into the decision each of these young men made in enlisting, but their faces told me that the American ideal closed the deal. That is something we should all respect and celebrate.