LIANE HANSEN, host:
From NPR News, this is Weekend Edition. I'm Liane Hansen.
Unidentified Man #1: I believe in adaptation.
Unidentified Woman: I believe in a silver lining.
Unidentified Child: I believe that being flexible keeps me going.
Unidentified Man #2: I believe every single person deserves to be acknowledged.
Unidentified Man #3: This I believe.
HANSEN: Veterans Day is this Tuesday. Today's This I Believe essay was sent in by TJ Turner of Yellow Springs, Ohio. In 2006, Turner was deployed to Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan by the Air Force. As the executive officer for the 455th Expeditionary Mission Support Group, he went on convoy missions to supply reconstruction teams embedded in local communities. Here's our series curator, independent producer Jay Allison.
JAY ALLISON: TJ Turner says he wrote about the things he saw in Afghanistan as therapy. He would send out emails as a kind of journal, and that's how his essay began. He says he's still haunted by the faces of villagers over there and that his belief is tied to them. Here's TJ Turner with his essay for This I Believe.
Mr. TJ TURNER (U.S. Air Force): I believe in the power of teddy bears. I know that sounds a little funny coming from a military man, and I'd be laughing myself if I hadn't seen the power of teddy bears firsthand. Two years ago, I was deployed with the Air Force to Bagram Airfield in northern Afghanistan. The area around Bagram is filled with extremes. It is both ruggedly beautiful and desperately poor. It is peaceful and serene, but punctuated with unbelievable violence and the scars of decades of conflict. It is an area where landmines coexist with children playing in the fields.
One day, we were driving back home through the Panjshir Valley. As we went along, I saw the destruction left from the seven-year conflict with the Soviets. I saw the damaged houses and damaged bodies of the people, and, written on their faces, I saw their despair. It occurred to me that this is what hell is like - not a place that's destroyed, but when hope is destroyed. I saw this in the faces we passed. Except for the kids. The kids still played and their faces were alive, not infected with despair. There was the hope amid the hell.
On our way out of the valley, we passed an old man and what I guessed to be his grandson. He heard the vehicles coming and pulled the child in close. His expression seemed hostile, but maybe it was just the snow and the cold. As we slowed down to pass, I held a bright blue teddy bear out the window. I remember feeling bad that the bear was so bright, more of a girl's teddy bear than a boy's. The little boy didn't care. He grabbed it right away, and hugged with both arms. The old man looked right at me. Tashakkur, thank you, he said. I watched until they disappeared around a bend behind us, the child still hugging his bear. I can still see the look on the old man's face. Maybe it was just a smile, but it looked more like hope - hope that his grandson wouldn't live in the same world he did. I guess we all hope for that.
I hear lots of talk in our nation about the global war on terror, and my opinions evolve with that debate. However, we seem to miss the root cause. Hell is what causes terrorism. It's about pure desperation and feeling like there's no way of recovering the hope of childhood. I'm not saying that we'll be able to win this conflict with teddy bears alone, but when I deploy next, I'm packing a bag full of them, just in case.
ALLISON: TJ Turner with his essay for This I Believe. Turner has says he hopes to be redeployed to Afghanistan within the year. And that along with teddy bears and soccer balls, he'll take something else the kids go crazy for, notepads and pens. We hope that you will write an essay for our series. Visit npr.org/thisibelieve to send it to us. For This I Believe, I'm Jay Allison.
HANSEN: Jay Allison is co-editor with Dan Gediman, John Gregory and Viki Merrick of the new book "This I Believe, Volume 2," more personal philosophies of remarkable men and women.