Ticker tape parades no longer exist. Parades only happen when wars definitively end. Now the progress of war is measured by when we turn over responsibilities to local police or army. This means it isn't as easy to recognize veterans returning from war. Sure, when a unit comes back from deployment, families, the United Service Organizations (USO), and various veterans groups are there to welcome the troops. But often those who need to be thanked the most do not return with their units; they come back sooner.
Despite having supported Operation Enduring Freedom twice, combat had remained distant for me-until my recent experience. Prowling the halls of Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany brought me closer to the front lines than any of the "combat missions" that earned me points toward my undeserved Air Medal.