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When I reflect on my childhood, I don't remember pop culture as the defining moments of the 1980s and '90s. I remember my father leaving in the middle of the night. I remember climbing around the storage shed examining his Army equipment. I remember Operation Just Cause. I remember the smell he had on his clothes when he returned.
My dad is my hero. Always has been and always will be. In the late '80s into the early '90s, my mother, who stayed home with me and my four sisters, became ill. Later we discovered she had cancer. The cancer was terminal and she was making her peace with my father who had spent most of my childhood at this point deployed. When she passed away, my father was wounded emotionally; he loved my mother. I was 8 years old at this point and the world seemed to have ended to me. With loss and the emotional damage set in, my father decided to change things for the better. He had the option to leave us with relatives, but he couldn't leave us behind. He transferred to Fort Huachuca, Ariz., and took us with him. His goal was to raise his five kids on his own while serving his country.
My father never deployed again after that point. He retired in 1998 after 20 years of service, as a master sergeant. His career is one that many would be surprised to hear. It started during the draft for Vietnam in the '60s when he first volunteered. Then he separated from service to attend college and served a short stint as a sheriffs' deputy, later returning to service in the late '70s. When he retired at 20 years, I remember him telling me he wasn't ready to quit, but the time had come. He was 52 when he retired. To this day at 68 years old, he could still outrun half the twentysomethings currently on active duty.
Sept. 11, 2001, I was a senior in high school, I remember sitting in my English class watching the news and feeling the fear that poured into the room. The class of kids who grew up in the '80s and '90s whose fathers and mothers served in the Army. We all felt a strong sense of patriotism. That patriotism wasn't born from the hype of the political machine, but from our sense of duty that was shown to us as kids by our parents. The sense of duty was what encouraged me to enlist into the Navy. I served six years and left service to attend college using the Post-911 GI Bill. I've married and have children of my own and I don't know if I will return to service. When I have my degree, I will weigh my options and decide then if serving my country once more will be beneficial to my wife and kids. Regardless, my father is my hero for showing me what it means to be a patriot.