Bob Lonsberry

Bob Lonsberry

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               I run most days on my lunch break, mostly through the streets of the city of Rochester. Lately, I’ve been wearing t-shirts honoring murdered law-enforcement officers. But Sunday night, as I was putting my gym bag together, I felt impressed to grab instead an old PT shirt, the word ARMY in large capital letters across its chest.


               At some point, over the weekend or yesterday morning, somebody at a crisis pregnancy center on the westside put aside an iron for a refugee family they had heard was in need.


               Not refugees, really, but allies, escaped from hell and hoping to build a new life. A mom and dad and four kids. He spent years as an interpreter for American soldiers, fighting alongside them against the Taliban in Afghanistan, and when my daughter was at the Kabul airport with the 82nd Airborne, he and his family were a mile or so away, frantically hoping to escape with the evacuating Americans.


               But none of his contacts answered, none of his plans worked, and the family disappeared into the countryside as the American planes flew away.


               For two years they hunted him, part of the Taliban effort to kill everyone who had sided with the Americans. Interpreters were dragged into the streets and shot dead in front of their families. And that was the fate this family fought and feared every day for two years.


               Until this March, when they made it to Rochester, the United States beginning to keep its promise, and they were put up by Catholic Charities in a little place on Plymouth Avenue.


               That’s where he was riding his bicycle from yesterday, across town to the crisis pregnancy center, to pick up the iron.


               I had just set out to set out, another early afternoon and another run, like the last 20 years or so, and I randomly went west. Past the police memorial in the plaza next to the courthouse, through the sheriff’s parking lot, across 490 and then south past the Son House sign to where the correctional facility used to be and then through the yard of the townhouses behind the roundabout at Ford and Plymouth to Frost, I think it is, to continue west past Jefferson and Genesee until I had used half my time and turned north to Chili Avenue and then east back toward downtown.


               I was a little ways past Bull’s Head when across the four lanes of West Main I heard somebody yelling. A young guy with a beard and a bicycle and he was yelling, pointing at my shirt and his hat. I was listening to a book about Custer and Crazy Horse and am half deaf anyway and there was traffic passing between us and he kept yelling and pointing.


               I made out something about the Army and I figured he was a veteran and that’s nice and all but I’ve got to get back to work and I was hoping to find a hotdog stand somewhere but he seemed insistent so I ran across the street to make out what he was saying.


               As I got closer, I could see that the hat he was pointing to wore the patch of the 173rd Airborne Brigade. Written in ballpoint pen under the brim was “Fonz,” the nickname the Sky Soldiers and other Americans had given him back in Afghanistan.


               He was clean and well groomed, and speaking rapidly, well and very politely. The donated iron was in the backpack he wore, the bicycle his family’s only means of transportation. As we stood there, the traffic passing by, he told me his story.


               They came with nothing, and are putting together the essentials for housekeeping. He has an MBA from his home country, and is looking desperately for work, and wants to get his driver’s license but doesn’t have a car to take it on.


               As he spoke, there was nothing of begging in his voice, and no seeking of pity. He is a grateful and positive man, who has seen and endured things a lot worse than poverty. He spoke of encouraging his wife and children, of calming their fears about the safety of the neighborhood where they live. He spoke of the delay in food stamp benefits, and the days they did not eat.


               He said that he saw the word ARMY and felt a connection, and as we stood there we both knew that the God we call by different names had brought us together, that people I know might be of assistance in helping his family, and opening the door to self-sufficiency and their American dream – their true escape from the Taliban. He needed somebody who could point him to people who cared, and I was grateful the Lord thought I could do it.


               We swapped numbers and made some plans and exchanged God bless yous and shook hands three or four times and then he pedaled off to his family and I ran back to work.


               And I thought about the Soldiers Creed: “I am an American soldier. I am a warrior and a member of a team. I serve the people of the United States and live the Army values. I will always place the mission first. I will never accept defeat. I will never quit. I will never leave a fallen comrade.”


               I will never leave a fallen comrade.


               I will leave no man behind.


               Our government didn’t keep that promise to this family.


               But our people can. Rochester can.


               And I think we will.

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