Editor's note: Among the thousands of Americans who decided to join the military after 9/11 was Marjorie Eastman. Now living in Nashville, she recently wrote a book called The Frontline Generation that explores how her time as an Army captain shaped her and how the military has, in some ways, become more progressive than society at large.
As part of our series on identity and culture, Eastman reads an excerpt about a surprising encounter when she was boarding a plane in Texas after returning home from Afghanistan.
I was carrying my bag in front of me when I stepped onto the plane with the second boarding group. I had just rounded the corner and was making my way through the first class cabin when a large older man in a disheveled suit stood up from his aisle seat — bumping into my bag and me. Without eye contact, he blurted, "One second, sweetheart, I need to grab something out of the overhead."
Stunned from being knocked into — without an apology at that — I was even more perplexed by what this stranger said. Did he just call me sweetheart? My parents or my husband would use that word — but even they would not call me that in a public setting while I was in my military uniform.
After digging through his bag, this stranger turned to look at me and before sliding back down into his seat, he smiled then said, "I got it. Thank you, darling."
Really? Now he was calling me darling? This man probably did not know that the patch on my right shoulder represented time served in combat. He surely did not register the bayonet with wreath insignia above my left pocket was a Combat Action Badge, earned for active engagement or being actively engaged by the enemy. However, one would think he would render a baseline of respect from simply seeing a military uniform.
I stood still in that aisle, and waited for him to recognize that I was not moving. What felt forever (yet not as long as it took to find an IED on a convoy in eastern Afghanistan), he finally looked up at me. Once we locked eyes, I said, "I am a soldier and officer in the United States Army. You can address me as captain or ma'am."
This excerpt from The Frontline Generation: How We Served Post 9/11, by Marjorie K. Eastman, is used with permission from the author and has been edited for length.