At times, some issues outweigh even real estate topics, like sacrifices young soldiers make for their country

  • Friday, January 29, 2010 10:17am

About half way through writing my column for you this month, his image kept popping back into my mind’s eye.

I couldn’t stay on task.

Setting the work down and revisiting it later didn’t help either. Normally, that re-sets everything. But, my second attempt failed, too.

I kept trying.

Surely, there was a real estate story worth writing about that was compelling enough to override his image and the thought of him.

I couldn’t shake it.

The image I couldn’t shake was of a 19-year old Marine on deployment in Afghanistan. He appeared on television news in December.

Now incorporated into the 30,000 troop surge authorized by our nation’s Commander in Chief, he is one of many soldiers in the war.

But his words kept haunting me.

Asked by America’s military commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, where he was on 9/11, the young Marine said plainly, “Getting my braces removed, sir.”

The cold hard reality of his youth couldn’t escape me. My third attempt to write about real estate failed.

My R.O.T.C. training in college during the Cold War era included a short stint at Camp Pendleton and Coronado, giving me just enough exposure to modestly appreciate what it means to be a Marine.

So I can only barely appreciate what these young men are doing for their country. I’ve long forgotten just how innocent and naïve a 19-year-old young man can be — in spite of the physical and external toughness young men often show at that age.

Deployment to a foreign country, on the front lines, carrying 80 pounds of ammo, weapons and gear, and in dangerous, remote places on the other side of the world — where nothing makes sense -— is an entirely different thing. Innocence is lost quickly. The contrast between his situation and ours is powerful.

As winter settles in here, we complain about the cost of electricity and gas. As winter settles in on him, he worries about sniper fire and roadside bombs.

While we complain about the clerk at the mall, he must trust local Afghans fighting beside him who cannot speak a lick of English.

He deals with stretches of boredom interrupted by absolute chaos. He sees men die in the most horrible and sudden of ways — while we read the sports page. He’s learned to think like a warrior and use expletives as a normal part of his brash conversation. But he really misses his Mom.

Ironically, our oldest son gets his braces adjusted tomorrow. I’m sure that’s why I can’t shake this. He has two tests at school on Friday, he tells me. Mentions he’ll probably swing through the drive-through line at McDonald’s for a snack before going to work tomorrow. He’s worried about a quiz next week.

Meanwhile, his counterpart in Afghanistan, a mere two years older, wakes up at 2 a.m. to patrol a dark, cold, angry mountainside in a land as foreign and hostile as anyone can imagine.

So I give up.

No real estate stuff this month, friends.

This is the 19-year-old warrior’s column this time, a column written for him and for all of those serving with our military overseas.

May we never, ever take them for granted. Not even for a minute.

And, if and when he comes home, may he be the hero he deserves to be for taking on such a difficult task for us at such a young age.

Tom Hoban is co-owner of the Everett-based Coast group of commercial real estate companies, specializing in commercial real estate management, sales, leasing and investment. He can be reached at, 425-339-3638 or

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