I’m a veteran. That’s about it. I didn’t serve in combat, I wasn’t sent to Iraq or Afghanistan. I spent a total of about 3 months in a “combat zone”. I served from 1985 to 2006. I was in military intelligence. I consider myself a sub-par soldier based on various criteria. I did not try and avoid going into combat. Indeed, I tried as hard as I could to get into a combat zone. During Desert Storm, I was at my Battalion Sergeant Major’s door just about every day asking if I could be sent to Southwest Asia. When my enlistment was up in 1991, I volunteered for Arabic language training because I knew there would be continued tensions and probable combat in the Middle East. I then requested to be sent to the 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) so I could have the biggest chance of deploying to a combat zone in the future. When 9/11 struck, I had already been transferred to a joint unified command (in 1999) with no chance of going to combat. When my time there ended, I received orders to go to Korea. I called my branch manager in D.C. (who makes assignment decisions) and asked why I was being sent to Korea when I was a German / Arabic linguist with a special operations identifier and a war going on in Afghanistan. I requested to be sent back to the 5th SFG(A) or to Central Command (CENTCOM). But both were turned down because I had spent eight years stateside and had to serve an overseas tour. It didn’t matter that both units had already deployed to Afghanistan (and I knew it was just a matter of time before we were back in Iraq) and so were “overseas”. So they approved a request to transfer to Special Operations Command – Europe (SOCUER) in Germany. I thought I might have a chance to deploy from there to the Middle East. But that never happened either. Finally, after my tour in Germany ended in 2005, I requested to return to the 5th SFG(A). It was approved and I was to be there in July 2005. After speaking with them, I knew I would deploy to Iraq in August 2005. But sadly, this was not to be as well. When I arrived at Ft. Campbell, KY, I was diagnosed with 4 herniated disks and degenerative arthritis in my neck. The doctor told me I could not be on airborne status anymore and so 5th SFG(A) was going to try and transfer me out. I had received telephonic notification that I was going to be reassigned to Ft. Knox, KY to write intelligence doctrine for armored units (This was sheer stupidity. I had never been assigned to an armor unit and wouldn’t know the first thing about intelligence doctrine for armored units. I was not happy at all). At about the same time I received notification that I had made the promotion list to Master Sergeant. But I had already put in my retirement packet.
To this day, I feel less of a soldier because I did not serve in combat. The closest I got was going to Jordan for a month when it was labeled as a combat zone for some reason and to Kuwait in Oct – Nov 1995 when Saddam Hussein threatened to invade again. We arrived there 3 days prior to this in support of an ongoing operation in that theater. For those few days before two U.S. divisions came into Kuwait, we were the only combat unit in country.
There is little anyone can say to make me feel different about this. So don’t try. I am proud of my service, but I will never live down what could not be. I believe I contributed significantly with my service through intelligence assessments and such, but it doesn’t equal what others have done.
I have gone through stages of being a veteran I suppose. When I first retired, I wanted to stay as far away from the military as possible. I didn’t go on the nearby base except as needed and I I stayed out of contact with anyone in the military for the most part. That lasted about 5 years I suppose. But as time went on, I began to have dreams of being back in the Army and wanting to be back on base. It isn’t the misery I remember, it is the camaraderie and shared misery I remember – making the most out of the little you had when you were deployed.
I’ve never been ashamed of my service, it’s just that I don’t think I did anything spectacular or “above and beyond” so I think such congratulatory accolades should be saved for those who did more. I appreciate the appreciation from civilians, but I think it is undeserved in my case at least. Save the appreciation for those who actually did put themselves in harm’s way.
As a teacher in an alternative school, you never know when a student when will be the only one in the classroom during a period for one reason or another. This has been an unusual year in that we’ve had very few students sent to us from the regular high schools. I have a contemporary issues class and It went from six students in August down to currently two. One was absent today and the one present departs on Friday to return to his regular high school. I asked him to look up some articles on the internet and we would talk about them. So for the first twenty or so minutes we’re both looking up articles and talking about them and just kind of finding some pretty cool news articles and such.
Then he asks me what the minimum age is for getting married and we look it up and discover that in Tennessee you can be as young as 16 and get married with parental consent. We get further into the discussion and we start talking about commitment and relationships and marriage. I talk about how when you’re younger you only have to look out for yourself and you shouldn’t make a commitment to marry until you’re ready to consider someone else in all your decisions. I ask him if his parents are married and he told me they never got married. I told him I’ve been married for almost 21 years, my brother has been married for over 20 years and so has my sister, but our parents were divorced after about 18 years or so. I told him that my wife almost got divorced in 2001 but we reconciled. I told him about how marriage is not easy and not for the faint-of-heart or the quitter. He then asked me the question…
“Why did you decide to marry her?”
I thought for a second, not that it was a hard answer really. I remembered my wife as a young woman and how beautiful she was (and still is!) and all we’ve been through since then and time has changed us and made us grow and the children we’ve brought into the world. I smiled and told him, “It has been a long time since anyone has asked me that question.” I paused and then smiled again, “I suppose you can sum it up into a real simple answer. I loved her and I was ready to make the commitment.”
I’m glad he asked me the question. Sometimes we need to be reminded of our decisions of commitment from an unexpected source.
It was a great discussion. One I won’t forget for a while. Especially since I’m blogging about it now. And it’s one I hope he won’t forget for a while either. This student rarely opens up and is somewhat of an odd duck, but an interesting kid. I like having him in class and I hope he finds his place to fit into this wild world. The conversation hit on drugs, addiction, alcohol, abuse, and a host of other topics that deal with relationships, divorce, children of divorce, etc. I’m smiling now as I think of it.
Moral to the story? Take time to be open to even the “oddest” of your students and those who are very closed-off. You really never know how much they are listening and want to ask you questions until you do become more transparent to them and receptive to their uniqueness. If they believe they matter to you, they’ll tell you a lot and you gain their trust. The buy-in after that to what you would like to do in the classroom will increase exponentially.
In dying, you taught me to live, to be strong, to be humble, to be selfless, to be faithful, to have hope, and to keep a sense of humor.
I miss you more than words can adequately express. You were my sounding board, my keel, my touchstone. I valued your advice and words of wisdom in more ways than I can count. My anger would always be abated after talking to you, my eagerness encouraged, my doubts erased. You held me up when I wanted to give up. You would help me see the long distance goals when all I could see were the short term obstacles. Your reminiscences showed me that doing dumb things is part of growing up and being a kid. Your seeking forgiveness for your failures reminded me that we all continue to need forgiveness. Your approval of those things I made with wood always made me glow with happiness. Your guidance in how to use tools and methods to build things never ceased to make me think you were always by my side when I completed them. Your listening ear without judgment allowed me to speak freely with you about so many things. Your constructive criticism was invaluable to me because I knew it came from a position of love and respect. Your joy at my success motivated me to keep persevering. Your sense of humor allowed me to see the silliness in things and to not take things so seriously. Your childlike humor kept me young. As I grew older I realized how hard it was to be a father and became quick to forgive you for your shortcomings when I was a child. You tempered me in the way fire tempers steel.
When you discovered you were dying, I told you that your last lesson was to teach me to die. I am so glad you never taught me that lesson. Instead, you taught me how to live. You were strong, oh so strong, in the face of overwhelming odds. You were humble, incredibly humble, and knew that it was not by your hand that you would pass away. You were selfless, completely selfless, and always thought of everyone else even in the midst of horrible pain. You never gave up hope, always believing that you would be healed. Your humor never gave way to despair and you made those around you laugh until you simply could no longer do so. You never lost faith in God and leaned on him throughout these last years. A son could not want more from his father. In dying, you taught me to live, to be strong, to be humble, to be selfless, to be faithful, to have hope, and to keep a sense of humor. These are the definitions of love. You taught me to love.
You were a successful father even with your failures. I am proud of you, who you were, what you became, and what you taught me. I learned how to be a father from your shortcomings and your successes. My earnest hope is that I am half the father you became; that my children say about me what I say about you.
I love you and will always miss you and yearn for the day that I see you again. Death does not hold the same…prospect for me that it once did as I know I will see not only our Lord, but I will see you again. I will enjoy seeing my children grow and rejoice with them in their successes, victories, and triumphs. I will enjoy grandchildren when and if they should arrive while I walk the Earth. I will always remember you in all I do and say. Your example is my example in how I deal with students, my children, and other people. Your kindness, compassion, and forgiveness have been my watchwords for many years now. As I deal with students I consider how you would have dealt with them and the compassion you would have shown and the heart of love you would have displayed.
In retrospect dad, your last lesson was not about dying. It was about living and about love. And I am eternally grateful for what you taught me those last two and half years.