A while ago we were watching TV and my husband saw that the movie “Blackhawk Down” was on. He decided to watch it despite the fact that the kids were around. My son wasn’t really interested in watching TV anyway, he was running in and out playing with his trucks, but my daughter was upset because we weren’t watching a “family movie,” ie a cartoon. We tried to explain that the movie was based on a real story and that her daddy had gotten to train with the Rangers as a cadet the summer of ’99 and had then SFC Eversmann in his unit. That interested her for a few minutes as she asked about the actor that played Eversmann. We had to tell her that, no, he was just an actor and he was not the real guy. She soon lost interest in “daddy-tv” and went upstairs to play. I had tried but failed to explain to her the importance of having the right heros in life- ie the people that the movies are based upon, not that actors that play them or the ones in the comics.
So many thoughts ran through my head as I watched the rest of that movie and it brought up a lot of raw emotions. I remembered why I usually change the channel when movies like that came on. It was for the same reason my mother-in-law and I gave my husband crazy looks when he switched the channel to “We Were Soldiers” many years ago when we were on leave for Christmas and he was set to deploy to Afghanistan in a couple of weeks. We didn’t really want the vivid reminder of everything that we were trying not to think about. We took the remote and put on something like a romantic comedy. That wasn’t an option this time so I sat and watched the movie.
My thoughts went back to the time when “Blackhawk Down” came out, when I was a young lieutenant in the Army- one that jumped out of airplanes and didn’t really have a lot of fears. My kids never knew that woman, so how do I explain to them the importance of the bravery of our servicemen and women. How do I help her understand the heroism of those that wrote a blank check to their country for a sum up to and including the cost of their lives and headed into places that they may never come back from? On top of that, how do I help her to understand what an honor it was to be entrusted with the lives of America’s sons and daughters and to be told on a regular basis that you may or may not have to lead them into such situations? Is it something that I would ever want her to have to experience?
I remember as a cadet I had sat through a speech from our Commandant, then BG Abizaid, where he had warned us to keep an eye on the 3 K’s- Korea, Kuwait, Kosovo- because we could be in any of those places during our careers. I can’t speak for the rest of my classmates, but every conflict in recent history had been a get-in-quick-blow-stuff-up-and-get-out-quick kind of thing, so I listened to his words, but didn’t really take them to heart. I could not imagine what was to come. At all.
There are many things that I’ve done that some would consider brave, while others would consider them crazy. I was young and kind of an adrenaline junkie. I did rock and ice climbing at West Point. I loved rappelling out of the helicopters at Air Assault School. They actually made me a chalk leader during jump week of Airborne School because they thought if all the young scared soldiers saw a “girl” go out the door first then they would have to “man up” and not chicken out. And I was happy to do it, it didn’t scare me. While some would say I was brave, others would say that an act is not truly brave unless you’re aware of what you have to lose. As a young person I was totally unaware of what was at stake. Only a few occasions during my short time in the Army do I remember being afraid.
My husband left for Afghanistan a few weeks before I got notice that I was going to Kuwait. I was gone a few weeks later. My whole unit got to the Kuwait City International Airport two weeks before our equipment, a week before showers were even set up for us. None of that really bothered me. It wasn’t too hot yet, but the windstorms weren’t fun. We were kind of chilling in place waiting for word to go North. Going about our daily battle rhythm of meetings and drills. Then it came. A siren we weren’t familiar with. We looked at each other and then it registered that it wasn’t one of ours. It was from the Kuwaiti airport and they meant business. We put our gas masks on and sprinted for the nearest bunker. We crammed more and more people into little bunkers that were only slightly bigger than and twice as tall as my current coffee table and listened as the giant voice gave reports about SCUDs being fired over Kuwait and Patriots intercepting them.
So many thoughts ran through my head. First, I was praying that none of them would hit us. I prayed that we’d be safe. Then, I thought about what would happen if we were hit. All of those old battle drills ran through my head. It turned out that we never were hit. Then a few drills and gas-masked sprints to a bunker later we found out that the Kuwaiti airport alert system went off anytime there was a missile anywhere over Kuwait, not just near the airport. Finally, we got our own alert system up and running and were able to make it through the night on a regular basis without having to get out of bed and run for a bunker even when the Kuwaiti siren went off. We were able to joke about it. But that initial fear had been real. Very real.
About that same time my husband was in Afghanistan and he had been given the mission of establishing a remote firebase along the Northern Pakistan border. The most northern one at that point was getting too much action. He and half of his company were supposed to set up the firebase, along with the help of a few special forces personnel. They were supposed to make contact and established rapport with the locals, gather intel, and run a few missions to take the heat off of the other base. They were also told to conserve supplies as they were so far out that they could not count on being a part of the regular resupply route yet.
He could only call out through a satellite phone and somehow managed to get ahold of the number to my TOC, a number that hadn’t even been live for that long. Luckily, I was in there the few times that he called and he was able to reassure me that he was fine. I had no idea where he was or what kind of things he was going through. Only after he came home did he show me a picture of where he was- a valley. The worst place to set up a firebase is surrounded by mountains filled with possible enemy hiding places. As he told me some of his stories, I got angry that he had been put in that position. I felt afraid for what could have happened and grateful that it hadn’t. I realized the true power of prayer when he told me of a visit by the commanding general. The general had been in awe of the fact that a firebase in such a bad spot had not been hit by enemy fire and wanted to know what he was doing that made it so successful. Charley told him about the rapport he had worked on with the locals, his constant supervision of supplies and guard towers, but nothing other than the hand of God could have provided the answer.
Here it is over 11 years after I came home from that deployment. The following summer Charley and I got the honor of participating in the 60th Anniversary of the D-Day invasion (the 70th is coming up in a few days). The summer after that we got out of the Army with our newborn baby girl. So many thoughts have been running through my head since Memorial Day this year. Thoughts about soldiers, friends, and West Point classmates that never came home. That don’t get to go on with their lives. Some will never have kids while others will never get to see them grow up. It has been very heavy on my heart recently as I took the day off to stay home with my son who has been sick. So many things that I take for granted. “First-world problems” like traffic jams and dead batteries on my iPhone.
Lucky for me I get to witness the greatness of the human spirit on a regular basis, in my friends and clients. So many come to me nervous about getting started on the path to fitness and a healthy lifestyle. They’ve spent their lives taking care of kids, starting businesses, caring for others and they’ve finally realized that they need to take better care of themselves. I am so inspired by their stories and their spirit. It’s this spirit to improve themselves for the world around them that pays tribute to those that aren’t here today to do the same. This spirit keeps me on my toes to always strive to better myself. When I get down about something and go to work, I am always encouraged by those I see at the gym, clients or friends.
Take this one young man that I’ll call Matthew. He was raised by a single mom with no real help from his dad and when he was 16 he was in an accident that left him severely brain damaged. They didn’t have insurance so he was sent home from the hospital still in a coma with little hope of living, let alone ever walking again. His mom didn’t listen to those doctors though. She worked her butt off at her regular jobs to pay his medical bills, then came home and gave him physical therapy that she had researched about. She did this tirelessly day after day, until he not only woke up, but learned how to walk and talk again. He comes into the gym on a regular basis. Some days he’s moving slower than others, but he’s there. His spirit and that of his mom are tributes to those that are no longer with us- the ones that gave their lives so we could have the liberties that we currently enjoy.
So I will encourage my daughter to rethink her definition of hero. Because I think that real heroes are real people, not the ones that play them on TV, the ones that died for us and the ones who honor them with their lives.
Take my cousin for instance, he joined the National Guard after 9/11 and spent more than half of his daughter’s first 9 years of life deployed, he’d be gone for a year and home for a year. Until he finally said enough is enough and got out so he could be there for her.
I have many friends who stayed in the military even after they got married and had kids. They have to move frequently and leave their family on a regular basis for routine training or deployment. I admire their courage and dedication so much. I could go on and on about how much I am inspired by the people I see everyday and the friends and family that are far away, but I’ll stop here.
Here I am, two days after Memorial Day. I spent the weekend at my daughter’s soccer tournament and am now sitting in an auditorium while my kids practice their dance recital. My daughter is in jazz and lyrical and my son is in hip hop. I’m trying to hold back tears as I watch my son do some dance moves, mess up a little and then give a shy smile and look around to get back in step.
These are all things that I get to do because someone else doesn’t. All the graves at Normandy that I saw 10 years ago, the other soldiers that lost their lives in World War II, and all the wars before and after. They fought and died to preserve something that I take for granted so often. It’s very real for me now as I try to remember them and honor them by continuing to live my life to the fullest and passing that on to my children.