REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. --Growing up, I embraced the patriotism that came with being a part of a family with a rich history of military service.
My uncle served in Vietnam and my maternal grandfather served two overseas deployments over the course of his three-year military career including, Nellingen Field in Ostfildern, Germany, and Saalfelden, Austria. The remainder of his time was spent at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, where he ended his career as a sergeant first class.
My paternal grandfather, part of the greatest generation, served in both WW II and the Korean War. While he was stationed in Germany, he met my grandmother, who at the time was a German-to-English translator for the U.S. government.
He married my grandmother, or Oma as we called her, and brought her back with him to the United States – a country she soon began to love more than her own. Everywhere Oma went, she wore a gold American flag brooch and talked often about her newfound freedom.
Oma would gift my father with G.I. Joe action figures she had brought him back from her trips to Germany– enticing his first interest in the military.
Nearly 12 years later, at the age of 18, my father answered the call to military service and signed a delayed enlistment into the U.S. Army in November 1976 – a time where the Army was heavily recruiting following the Vietnam War. He wanted to be just like his father before him.
His dream was to be an Army ranger. Two years after enlisting, my father achieved his goal of becoming an Army ranger -- jumpstarting his military career. He would credit his success to the mental toughness the Army instilled in him.
The man who was once afraid of heights, rose through the ranks to become the chief instructor for the Military Free-Fall Jumpmaster Course at the United States Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School where he completed more than 1,100 jumps.
“Your mind is very powerful,” he would say. “You can do the impossible when you set your mind to it.”
As a child, he would tell me stories of his time in 3rd Special Forces Group (A) and 7th Special Forces Group (A), as well as his freefall jump into the Australian Grand Prix and his time in Bangkok, Thailand, where he was selected to train with and teach freefall to the Royal Thai Air Force.
Even in retirement, my father took pride in his military service.
When I was 8 years old, he took my family to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, his duty station of 13 years, to visit the USAJFKSWCS Museum and bronze sculpture of a Green Beret Special Forces non-commissioned officer.
To this day, he leads our family in carrying on Oma’s tradition of placing American flags out at the cemetery of his hometown primitive Baptist church, honoring the veterans who served before him and gave their lives for my freedom.
He was always the one to stand when the preacher recognized the veterans in the congregation, and recited the Special Forces Prayer by memory at several holiday family gatherings.
Nearly 44 years after my father joined the Army, I took the Army Civilian Oath of Office, continuing the family legacy of military service as a Department of the Army Civilian.
As a public affairs specialist, I tell the Army story, and this Veterans Day I am honored to tell the stories of the veterans that mean the most to me. Working for the Army has given me a new appreciation for my father’s service.
To my dad, you are and always will be my hero.