Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

The Days You Never Forget

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

The Days You Never Forget

Article excerpt

There are few memories in life that you will truly never forget. When you recall these memories you remember how blue the sky was that day, the smells that wafted around you, the sounds of the crowds surrounding you, the tastes of your meal before it happened, and the distinct feel of the objects you touched. Ironically, these memories for me represent the best and the worst. You see, these memories entail the joys of becoming a parent and the tragedy of becoming maimed on the battlefield.

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On December 14, 1999, I was a college senior taking my finals. It was a challenging time, but in one more year I would reach my goal to graduate and become a commissioned infantry officer in the United States Army. I came home after a final to find my apartment decorated to the theme of "It's a boy!" I was dating someone in college and we later broke up only to find out that she was expecting. She went into labor during my final and I drove as fast as I could to be with our new baby boy, Caleb. He came and delivered faster than expected, but laying my eyes on him for the first time, I knew he represented everything that was good and pure about life. Over the Christmas season, I spent as much time as I could with him, never feeling more complete then when he was sleeping in my lap. It is truly a blessed miracle to be able to bring life into this world. That next year, I spent as much time as I could with him before I went off for training in the Army.

I commissioned in May 2001 and shipped off to Ft. Benning, Georgia to learn how to be an infantry platoon leader. I was there training for 1 year, but really one day defined the rest of my life in the military. One of those few days that I will never forget started out walking through the Georgia pines learning maneuvers as an infantryman when we were blindsided by the news that planes had crashed into the towers of the World Trade Center and into the Pentagon. America was at war, and it was upon the shoulders of us, the American Soldiers, and our other brothers and sisters-in-arms to step up and defend this nation at all costs. Of course, I am speaking about the day that none of us will forget--9/11.

In May of 2002, I finally left the sleepy pines of Georgia for the rolling limestone hills of Ft. Riley, Kansas. It was finally the start to my life as an infantry platoon leader and it presented the opportunity to be back closer to my son, who lived 2 hours away. As they say, separation does truly make the heart grow fonder.

The fight was raging in Afghanistan to defeat Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. As a Mechanized Infantry Platoon Leader, the chance of us getting into the fight was slim to none, due to the terrain. We trained hard and I spent time with my son on the weekends and holidays. On March 19, 2003, President Bush launched the invasion into Iraq. It was finally my chance to get into the fight, or so I thought. We didn't wind up deploying and the President declared "mission accomplished," on May 1, 2003. Later that summer we were preparing to go to the National Training Center in Ft. Irwin, California for training. In late July we were allowed to go on leave before our 30 days out in the desert. On July 28, 2003 (my 28th birthday), I received the call that we were deploying to Iraq and that I needed to immediately get back to Ft. Riley to begin packing stuff up. I rarely remember a challenge harder in my life than looking Caleb in the eyes at the tender age of 4 and telling him Daddy has to go to Iraq and help rebuild a country.

For the next 2 months we packed our things and trained for combat and rebuilding infrastructure. We were truly Soldiers and Statesman. I had 42 men who, for the foreseeable future, would be my privilege and responsibility to lead and bring home alive. Shortly before we deployed there was an insurgency on the rise and the talk of "IEDs" or improvised explosive devices. No one that I knew really understood the challenge that we were about to be presented. …

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