Civilian in a war zone

June 10, 2008

I was hiking in Georgia, about 10 miles from the southern end of the AT, coming down a hill toward where the Trail crosses a dirt National Forest road, when I heard the sound of trucks. Three of them ground to a halt and soldiers swarmed out, took up their guard positions aiming machine guns out into the woods right at any innocent passing hikers, while the rest of the troop climbed out.

I did know from my trusty guide book that Camp Merrill is just down the mountain and one may encounter Army trainees, but still it was a shock. I think now I have a hint of what it feels like to be a civilian in the midst of a war zone, thinking they probably weren't aiming at me specifically but it was hard to be sure.

On an 85 degree, 100% humid day, these guys were dressed in full coverage desert cammo suits with bulging backpacks, helmets, and machine guns. Yet they looked like hardly more than kids, and I couldn't help thinking of the memorial portraits at the end of the Newshour for these last 5 years ...

And just a little earlier I'd been passed by a group of boy scouts of similar age in shorts and t-shirts, with typical brightly colored packs, fresh from a trail crew work party, joking about the heat and the rocks in the trail.

I had plenty to reflect on during my hours of walking.

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