The picture you see to your right is of a man named John Gebhardt, a Chief Master Sergeant who was assigned to the 332nd Expeditionary Medical Group at Balad Air Base in Iraq. The child he’s holding is a girl whose entire family was executed by insurgents. She survived despite the gunshot wound to her head.
The picture was taken in October 2006. Chances are you’ve seen it and know the story of how that little girl wouldn’t stop crying and moaning unless Chief Gebhardt held her. So that’s what he did every night in that chair, he recovering from another day of war, she recovering from a horror she likely always be shackled to.
I could go a lot of places with this story. I could talk about the fact that Chief Gebhardt is back home in Kansas now and that the little girl (whose name he never knew) was eventually released to a surviving family member. I could talk about the cruelty of war and the darkness of the world. I won’t. I’m sure you know all about such things.
The website where I rediscovered this picture offered only the picture and the bare bones of the circumstances surrounding it, followed beneath by hundreds of comments. I will say I tend to skip over comments when it comes to news stories. They tend to quickly devolve into politics and meanness, both of which are things I see enough of every day. I don’t have the heart to go in search of more. But my eyes drifted nonetheless, and though what I found didn’t surprise me, it did offer me a chance to ponder.
The vast majority of the comments were from women, many of whom professed a deep admiration for the Chief’s actions and offered thoughts or prayers (or both) for the girl. What political commentary was offered leaned toward the fact that while we may disagree with the wars our country has fought, we should all agree on the fact that our soldiers deserve our praise.
But what caught my eye was that despite all of these hundreds of voices and the different lives they each must live, nearly all of them shared a common sentiment:
This is what a man looks like.
It seemed almost sad that so many were led to offer such a reminder. It was even sadder to know that such a reminder was needed. Blame the culture, blame Homer Simpson, blame the government, blame whatever—the truth is that somewhere along the way males forgot how to be men. And though our national ills can be traced back to a great many things, I have no problem saying that the fall of men has something to do with it.
We live in a country of fathers who are not dads and spouses who are not husbands, where honor has been replaced by X-Boxes it’s not only acceptable to act like a boy, it’s cool.
That’s why we need people like Chief Master Sergeant Gebhardt. To show us that a real man has the capacity to fight and to love. He will risk his life to defend the oppressed, and he will comfort the brokenhearted. That he will believe in the goodness that lies within us all but know that darkness lies there as well.