It was a gloomy winter afternoon as I paced the floor of a swanky high-rise hotel room in downtown Seattle. I had just finished working on event staff for a big Microsoft convention and was beginning to pack up my belongings to board the bus back home. It’s possible that I drank too much coffee that morning because I had to pee like a racehorse and in the time it took me to use the restroom and wash my hands, I had missed a phone call. It was a phone call from my stepmother. Seeing that she had left a voicemail, I quickly dialed it and sat in stillness as I heard the panic in her voice. Her message was simple, “Mandy, please call me back. There’s something I need to talk to you about . . . about your dad. It’s important so please call me back as soon as you can.” My heart sank.
A few months before that, my dad had willingly re-enlisted himself to serve in the Army and was being stationed in Iraq. Iraq—the land flowing with horror stories and terrorists . . . yeah, that’s where my dad was. In that hotel room moment, everything sounded louder and I could barely breathe. I immediately thought the worst. I frantically dialed my stepmother’s phone! No answer. No answer. Busy signal. No answer. No answer. As I laid there on the bed, my face covered with tears, I cried out to God “Please don’t let him be dead. Please bring him back. I just want him home.“ I waited and waited, no call back. Just time and space . . . and fear. In that moment, I hated the Army. I thought they had stolen my father from me and I didn’t care if he was fighting for our Nation—he was my dad and I wanted him home safe.
As it turns out, he had not died, but WAS being sent home. He was suffering through some medical issues and was being sent (honorably) back stateside to receive proper care. I cannot express to you the relief I felt knowing that my dad was not just going to be “okay,” but that he was going to be home! Although it didn’t change the fact that I was thousands of miles away from home, at least I’d be closer and set more at ease. Every day that he had been overseas was a struggle for me. To know that your parent’s life hangs in this ever-changing balance that you have NO control over is nerve-wracking! However, it was what he wanted to do. He served gladly, lovingly, willingly, and selflessly. I remember how he had told me about the kitchen crew he worked with. It was made up of both American soldiers and Iraqis. He shared with me that he had gotten to know the crew and was teaching the Iraqis some modern American slang and would make friends among them—that they weren’t all bad people. He looked for the good in them and he found it! It reminded me not to make assumptions about people based solely on mass media exposure, but to take time to get to know people on a genuine non-judgmental level. It inspired me so much to hear about his new friendships, though I knew that their encampment as a whole was under constant threat. He was able to see light in the darkness—I always loved that about him!
Nowadays, I still have mixed feelings about war and what it brings –vs– what it costs, and that may forever be my own internal battle. However, what I do know is that it’s not all for loss and evil. It brings hope. It brings freedom. It brings families closer together. It causes people to value life and love. On days like today, I think about all the brave soldiers who have died in battle. Being an Army Brat, I consider it pure joy to know that as involved as both my parents have been in the military, I am alive and free—I am lucky. I am blessed. I don’t take that for granted. Because of the sacrifices they have made, I am able to live a full, happy, fulfilling life.
If you’ve ever known someone whose family member(s) have served overseas, you know that the same struggle is there—the struggle between letting them live their dream -vs- knowing they are easily accessible and safe nearby. I remember going through the Emergency Family plan with my dad and stepmother, covering all of our bases “just in case.” I hated those conversations. I hated those feelings of helplessness. Regardless, I loved my dad more. I knew his dream and happiness mattered more in those moments and eventually came to terms with the fact that it wasn’t my call to make. For so many years I had called the shots in my dad’s life, as a needy daughter growing through a rocky teenage/young adult life. It was his time to shine! It was his time to make his dreams a reality! He joined the ranks of other brave men and women who helped (and are still helping to) shape the future of freedom for generations to come and I can’t hate that one bit. Those who have died while serving are not just heroes—they are WORLD CHANGERS. They are the real American Idols. They have given selflessly, unashamedly, and with their whole hearts to serve this country in hopes of building a better future for all. I am grateful for them and the prices they paid. May they forever be honored!
I also want to take a moment to honor my Uncle Sam, who did not die in battle but is no longer here with us. He also fought bravely and helped to bring freedom and hope to all those around him! I love and miss you, Uncle!