Friday, August 27, 2010

My American Hero

When my daughter graduated high school at age seventeen, her only wish was to join the Navy. While her mother was against it, I was willing to sign her up and sign her up is what I did. She was a terrific student and daughter. Smart as a whip, fantastic grades all through school and never any drugs or alcohol. How could I say no?

I will always remember the day we left her at boot camp. She was so young and vulnerable and I wondered if this wasn't the biggest mistake I had ever made in my life. I was consoled by the knowledge she wasn't signing up to be a marine. Navy guys and gals would be at sea where it was relatively safe, right? There was no way she could end up on land and in battles, right? The next twelve years would be a proving ground, not only for my daughter, but also for her mother, father and stepmother.

I was so proud of her at boot camp graduation day. She didn't look the same anymore. She looked older, wiser and certainly not vulnerable. She was now a woman and no longer my little girl. I had to release her that day, and it was gut wrenching to know that she would now be assigned to a Naval boat, God only knows where in the world.

My daughter wrote when she could, and we sent care packages when we could. She was on a nuclear submarine tender somewhere in the Gulf area and then moved on to a nuclear aircraft carrier cruising the highseas.

From the carrier we got word from her that there would be a Tiger Cruise from San Diego, California, to the Puget Sound in Washington State and she wondered if I would I like to go. Would I like to go? Hell, yes, I would like to go! I drove a rental car to San Diego and met up with her and some of her shipmates for a baseball game at the Padres Stadium before the boat got underway. It was so much fun to be with my grown daughter whom I hardly knew anymore. She was self-assured, aggressive, and even smarter than before. I was bursting with pride!

When we got underway the next day, my excitement was over the top as I marveled at the sheer size of the aircraft carrier. This was going to be a blast....but unbeknown to me, I would soon learn just how dangerous the work environment was and how cramped the living conditions were. This was not a pleasure boat. It was a floating battle city, ready and willing to defend our interests worldwide with weapons of truly mass destruction.

By the time we reached Puget Sound, I was more than ready to get off and kiss solid ground again. The cramped airplane ride home would seem spacious after my boat experience. I gained such appreciation for what these young people accomplished each and every day, and they weren't even at battle stations! How in the world could they stand six-month deployments? It was obvious that training and dedication to their country were the answers.

I left my daughter once again wishing she would just come home, but of course, she reenlisted, only this time, was sent back to her original boot camp base to train in law enforcement. Oh, great...more danger, and more danger it would be when we got the news she was being sent to Iraq. How can that be, I wondered? It was simple actually, she became a drug dog trainer and eventually she and her dog, Katie, were deployed to the one place I just knew she would never have to experience.

My daughter survived Iraq and did come home. It was the happiest day of my life when she drove into our driveway with what I perceived as the meanest, baddest dog I had ever met in my life. Yes, she was able to bring Katie home too! Unfortunately, only a few months later, Katie had to be put down, which I know was the toughest thing my daughter ever had to do. Their relationship was and still is just between the two of them. My daughter had to deal with trauma issues I can't even imagine after returning home. I don't ask, and she doesn't tell. It's better that way, I suppose.

I can tell you this, our men and women who risk their lives daily for our freedoms deserve our eternal gratitude and respect. I salute you all and I thank God for returning my daughter from harm's way. At the same time, I mourn the fallen soldiers and civilians who are not returning home. I also feel deeply for the parents, wives, husbands, children, relatives and friends who will not know the joy of greeting their loved ones back home.

I am just saying,


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