I awoke before sunrise last Sunday, and stepped outside my home.
And soon I was face-to-face with the United States Army.
The first part of this story is nothing unusual. I live in a middleclass suburb of Phoenix, Arizona, and at this time of the year I’m typically out before sunrise. Likewise, my morning routine of walking and jogging is extremely unspectacular.
In fact, my neighbors might dismissively say that I “walk the dog” everyday. That’s fine, although as I see it I am walking me, and my dog is just privileged enough to join me. But you get the idea.
So, as usual, I stumbled through a dark house, got the workout clothes on, got out the door, and did my stretching. And then I took-off, headed westbound to my nearby “neighborhood park.”
When I say “neighborhood park,” I mean a park that neither was built, nor is maintained, by the city. We have lots of these “parks” in the Phoenix suburbs, parks that were built by private home developers and are maintained by private community associations.
No sooner had I walked down the entry path into the park, when, what to my wondering eyes should appear, but a group of guys in Army uniforms.
Seriously. There were roughly 50 guys who appeared to be fully suited-up, complete with the rifle over the shoulder, apparently “training” in my neighborhood, the lone occupants of the park as the sun was rising.
And this is the unusual part of my story.
After stopping in stunned silence, I began walking laps around the perimeter of the park, to keep myself moving (my routine is supposed to be about exercise, after all), and to see if “the Army” would ask me to leave.
After four laps, I realized that these guys were paying absolutely no attention to me, and were entirely focused on their own exercises, not mine.
Then I got an idea - - I ran back to my house, grabbed a camera and my recently awakened son, and returned to the “training grounds.”
“Wow! Cooool,” my son exclaimed when we got within line of site of the soldiers.
I explained to him that we sometimes call these people “weekend warriors;” that they were likely Army National Guard reservists; and, in exchange for a part-time wage, they commit to doing drills one weekend a month, and make themselves available for active duty whenever called upon.
We watched as they went through their maneuvers, one of which involved about eight men at a time appearing as though they were moving in on a hostage crisis.
“They’re just practicing now” I told my son, “but they are trained to face a real, deadly threat at any time, for the sake of protecting you and me and the rest of the American people.”
After a few minutes, I approached a group of these guys standing around awaiting their turn to drill. “Gentlemen, thank you for your service,” I said to the group.
“Thanks for your support,” several of them replied.
Then one of them, in what seemed like a very rare moment of candor, spoke to me quietly.
“I wish your neighbors were as welcoming as you,” he said. “Has somebody been unwelcoming?” I asked.
“When we first got here, a guy came to us with some papers in his hand. He told us that this is private property, and the homeowner’s association prohibits us from being here. Later another guy came out and told us that we were scaring his children and he wanted us to leave immediately.”
“I’m very sorry,” I said with embarrassment. “You’re always welcome in my neighborhood, as far as I’m concerned.”
“Thank you, sir,” he replied.
He went back to work with his team, and I stood in amazement for a moment, before somberly walking back to my home. “How could anyone be so rude and unwelcoming to the United States military,” I wondered.
It is true that my neighborhood - - park and all - - consists of “private property.” And I haven’t researched this issue, but, legally speaking, I doubt that the military can arbitrarily supersede private property rights on a moment’s notice, just so reservists can train somewhere other than at the armory.
But delving into legal technicalities misses the point. While I was honored by the presence of the troops, others chose to be “scared,” or to complain about perceived private property rights violations.
This didn’t happen in San Francisco or on a university campus. It occurred in an American, suburban, middleclass ( and I might add “predominantly Republican”) neighborhood.
I believe that without the sacrifices of military members, I would have no private property rights. And my son knows that those who wear the uniform are good people.
How are things in your neighborhood?