The image of the saluting serviceman while marching under Bucharest’s Arch of Triumph, on the celebration of Romanian National Day, has become one of the best photographs I’ve taken. His eyes filled with emotion and the significance of the solemnity of the moment he was attending stuck with me long after I took the photo, and aroused my curiosity: what is in the soul of a serviceman participating in such an event, and especially who is the man hidden behind the thin layer of camouflage paint.
After some research, I managed to find who that person was and get some inside in his life and motivations.
Major D – for security reasons, will just call him that – is an officer since 1992, when he was promoted to lieutenant, but he began his military career seven years earlier at the Military College “Stefan cel Mare”. He then followed “Nicolae Balcescu” Land Forces Academy from Sibiu, and Command and Staff Faculty from Carol I National Defence University from Bucharest.
“I chose this path by curiosity. And more because the rebellious ways of a 14-years-old boy who loved guns and arches and would have wished for his weapon to be real.
Later I realized that this is not just a job, but a way of life. Personally, I think that you can’t service unless you truly believe in what you do, if you don’t give yourself 100%, and if you can’t make your family understand your sacrifice. You are a soldier 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 12 months a year. You cannot take leave of absence from your duty to your country.
A choice that comes with good and bad, although the latter is easily forgotten when compared with the satisfactions that are fast to come when you put your heart and soul in what you do. It can be the rewarding feeling of doing your duty and returning home, you and your comrades, without a scratch, at the end a deployment in an operation theater. Or the warmth that fills your heart when you see a 3-4 years’ boy applauding you at the December 1st Military Parade, with his little, frozen hands, with a huge smile on his cheeks red from the cold, refusing to leave until the last military from the parade passes, ignoring the pleas of their grandparents to go home”.
And speaking of family, the major stresses the important part the loved ones play in the success of his career. “If they understand what we do, they will help us, they will stand by us, with all they heart. We adapt, we support each other in all we do, and so we overcome all the difficult moments. It’s important that we see the good part of all situations, that we are optimists and see the full part of the glass. When deployed, we are trying to think about the joy of the reunion with our family and not at the long months that we are apart, and that makes the time pass faster.”
And the major has had his share of hard times in his deployments, like the one in the Democratic Republic of the Congo or the three ones in Afghanistan. “I try not to remember and I think that if I was able to forget it means the thinks weren’t that bad after all.”
And if the major is not speaking about the hard times, he definitely has his good moments that he cherishes and remembers with great pleasure. The most beautiful moment in his military career was the promotion to lieutenant, a moment that he always keeps dear.
Makings the most beautiful moment’s list is also the Military Parade from December 1st, the Romanian National Day, like the one from 2011, when I took the picture. About that day, I wanted to talk to major D, to ask him what it feels like to pass under the Arch of Triumph, and what memories a soldier keeps in his heart and mind.
“I remember the smiles of the kids waving the flags, the applauses of the people as we pass them, but mostly I remember the fierce concentration to give the best I can so I honor the thousands of people that bear the cold to see us. In the exact moment of passing under the Arch, I felt on my shoulders the weight of the entire history of the place. But I was so proud. Proud that I can be part of the long line of soldiers gloriously passing under the Arch.”
A moment truly unique for which the servicemen and women prepare for two weeks in advance, with long days of training and rehearsals. But all the hard work and the pain of training sometimes in freezing temperatures fades away faced with the glory and satisfaction of taking part in the Military Parade.
Asked to end with a message for the Romanians, the major responds with the simplicity born from a life in the service of the country and the uniform: “May we be healthy! And to those who serve, to keep on respecting our traditions, our profession, and our uniform!”