Veterans Day has always been important to me because the military has always been a big deal for my family. Both my grandfathers were fighter pilots for the Army Air Force in World War II. One of my uncles has a Purple Heart from the Vietnam War, and I have a few cousins and close friends that have served in the Afghanistan and Iraqi wars. Growing up, I remember hearing stories from my grandfathers, visiting air shows to see the jets they flew, and visiting Arlington and other cemeteries on Veterans Day to see the graves of my great grandfathers who had also served. But the main reason that the military has been such a big part of my life is that I can tie it to a lot of memories and experiences because my dad was in the Army for 25 years.
My earliest military memory was during Desert Storm. We had just been transferred across the country and it was the first (and only) time we lived on a military base. I was only in kindergarten but I could understand that living on a military base was much different than any other neighborhood. There was a huge sense of unity because everyone was in the same situation and had the same fears and hopes of what the impending war would hold. Christmas that year is one I’ll always remember—my dad was on the list for deployment so Santa spoiled all of us because he didn’t want my brothers and me to forget about him if something were to happen. I remember watching TV and the holiday messages from the troops coming on. We would run up to the TV to see if we could find any of our friends’ dads that had been deployed and worried that we would be looking for our own dad in them soon. The holiday messages still make me tear up every year. Luckily for us, the war ended right before my dad’s unit was called for deployment.
I was in high school when the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan began and my dad had a leadership position in the hospital he was stationed at. I remember being out places with him and he would get a call from the hospital. We would have to stop what we were doing and he would rush down to the hospital so he could retire a critically wounded soldier in order for his family to be able to receive the maximum benefits for their sacrifice. That process has changed but I will always remember the one time I had to go with him. He was trying to make calls and then he turned to me and said the solider was only a year older than I was. That put a lot in perspective and made me realize how much of a sacrifice the men and women in the military make for us. I couldn’t imagine, especially at 17, being able to have the courage to do what they do.
In college, I took a social problems class and one of the requirements was to shadow someone that dealt with a current social problem of society. I chose a social worker for wounded soldiers in military hospitals. At this point, the wars had been going on for a few years. I believe I learned more from this assignment than any other during college. Two people I met will always stand out for me. One was a wounded soldier who told me he was one of the “lucky ones,” because although he had extensive injuries and a long recovery process ahead of him, he was alive and had not lost limbs like others from his unit. Another was the wife of a wounded soldier. Her husband also faced a long recovery, including relearning how to walk on prosthetic legs. She had to quit her job and move from her home in order to take on a new job as full-time caregiver for her wounded husband. Neither of these individuals were more than a few years older than me, yet I couldn’t imagine living their lives, and realized that life can change so quickly. The experience also reminded me that it isn’t just the soldiers that make sacrifices for us.
Growing up with my dad in the Army helped shape the person that I am today. I learned to appreciate life because you never know how quickly it can change. I learned the importance of community and how they can be a big support system. I learned the importance of helping others and not always putting your own needs first. I learned that courage is needed in life, especially when facing the unknown. Most importantly I learned about honor and respect and how heroes, like soldiers, deserve to be shown these.
This year on Veterans Day, don’t just post on Facebook how much you appreciate what veterans have done for us. Take some time out of your day to actually show your appreciation. This can be as simple as calling your grandfather to say thank you, buying a beer for your friend that just got back from deployment, sending a care package to a deployed soldier, helping put flags on veterans’ graves, or donating money to an organization that helps soldiers and their families.[divider] [/divider]
Kyla is a first-time mom to a very cute, one-year-old little girl. She works in the food regulation and safety field but really wishes she could be a stay-at-home mom. She also lives with her firefighter husband (I know, every girl’s dream since the FDNY started their shirtless calendar!) and their three other babies: two lovable and crazy Labrador Retrievers and a cat that better identifies himself with dogs. When she isn’t changing dirty diapers or having 2 a.m. crib parties, Kyla is a 4-H leader, raises and shows rabbits, enjoys baking, watching NASCAR, and running half-marathons she put off training for.