“I did five years as an enlisted broadcaster. He graduated West Point and did thirty as an officer and an engineer. I hid a puppy in my office, he commanded men. But we’re both veterans. He’s told me how proud he is of me, but I haven’t told him.”
By ALEX COOK
Last weekend my dad retired from the army after 30 years of service.
I intended to write a blog entry about it, but I wasn’t quite able.
His ceremony was a big deal for everyone in my family: we’ve been there right along with him, jetting around the world to wherever the army sent him. He honored us all at the ceremony, and even presented me with an American flag that had been passed through service members from each of branch of the military. It was emotional. I didn’t quite know how to feel.
I never felt particularly supportive of my dad as a kid. I didn’t make moving easy. I blamed him for ripping me away from my friends every few years. Now I cherish the fact that I spent my childhood seeing the world, but I fought every single move.
I never thought much about what he went through as an army officer. I had no idea what his world was like. To me, it was just his work. Any time one of his friends asked if I’d follow in my dad’s footsteps, I indignantly cried that there was no way I would ever join. He commanded a recruiting battalion when I was in high school, and the army recruiter assigned to my school took special care to hunt me down whenever he was around. Once he snuck up on me in the bathroom, and I fled. I didn’t know what it meant to be in the army, but I knew it was a life I didn’t want.
I enlisted when I was 18 years old. I was a confused kid. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life or how to do it. I liked the idea of a crucible to become a man. September 11th was still fresh, and I was in Texas. Unlike many kids that decided to join the army, I felt like I knew what I was getting into.
I’d lived on military bases my whole life. I ate Anthony’s Pizza at the PX and got pulled over by MPs for not wearing a helmet on my bike. I spent a summer working in a support battalion’s financial management office. Really though, I had no idea what it meant to be a soldier. I enlisted as a broadcaster, imagining that I might just be one of the voices my family listened to on AFN in Germany. Yes, we’d just started two wars but I figured the bad guys would be taken care of before I even got out of training.
Things didn’t work out that way. I found myself in an infantry brigade, where I would deploy to each of the wars years after I thought they’d be over. I learned what it was to be a soldier. I discovered the world my dad had been a part of and excelled in my entire life. When I went to war, I had the same thought every so often: thank God I don’t have a wife and kids. I don’t know how the people that did managed it. I don’t know how my dad did it.
Actually I do. He was strong. He was a professional. He believed in what he did and he did it the best that he could. I imagined him among the officers that I knew, picturing how he might deal with certain situations. When I saw people fail to live up to the army values, I knew that he wouldn’t approve. I realized how much of his personality at home came from the environment he spent all day in.
Through my time in the army, I finally started to understand my dad.
And now that we lived in the same world, we could relate to each other in a way we never had.
I did five years as an enlisted broadcaster. He graduated West Point and did thirty as an officer and an engineer. I hid a puppy in my office, he commanded men. But we’re both veterans. He’s told me how proud he is of me, but I haven’t told him.
Of course I’m proud. I’ll keep the flag he presented me on the day of his retirement forever. There’s one thing I’ll never regret about my time in the army: it helped me understand him, and it brought us a little closer.
Congratulations on your retirement, Dad. I love you. I only have one last thing to say: I’ll never say it again, but I mean it from the bottom of my heart.