Walking through downtown on my way back from lunch today, I saw a number of soldiers wandering about dressed in camouflage fatigues. I realized what a rare sight that is. Here we are smack in the middle of numerous Army, Navy and Air Force bases-while a war is on-and yet the thousands of people who funnel through them have little or no visible presence in town. I stopped two soldiers spying Elliot Bay through a peephole in a construction wall on First Ave and asked them why. They explained they were from a battalion in Massachusetts, the 101st Engineers, who had just completed training at Ft. Lewis and had been given a few hours off to sightsee. Soldiers from Massachusetts take their R&R with uniforms on, they told me. Local soldiers, in contrast, are not supposed to wear uniforms off-duty, aside from quick trips to the grocery store and such on their way home, according to Ft. Lewis spokesperson Joe Hitt. Which is a shame, because rubbing shoulders with soldiers on the street affords opportunity to find out what they're thinking and to tell them what we're thinking. It's the kind of exchange we ought to be having all the time in the middle of the war.
For the record, these two guys-who were shortly to ship out not to Iraq but to Kosovo, where we still maintain peacekeeping forces-believed in the war. But they also wanted to know what people here thought. If you see soldiers around, today's your day to tell them.