Men and women in the military have always been held in high regard in my family. My maternal grandfather was in the Navy. My paternal grandfather was in the Air Force. My aunt was born in Hawaii before it was a state, as my grandpa was stationed there. My dad lived in Japan and Europe before Grandpa was able to settle in St. Louis. My dad, then, too joined the Air Force out of high school and spent a tour in Germany. I have a cousin who spent years in Iraq and Afghanistan, too.
My family’s military story isn’t as glamorous — or, as tragic — as others. There were no grandiose national honors or unforgettable historical milestones, and, thank God, my family’s soldiers all came home safe. But, believe you me: the sacrifice my own family members made ingrained in me an enormous respect for those willing to take on the task of winning and maintaining freedom for others.
See, it doesn’t take being scarred by war to be changed by it. You don’t have to bear the agony of loss to understand the finality of sacrifice. No, I didn’t need to know the individuals buried at Arlington personally for my eyes to well up with tears when I saw it, or for my chest to be heavy standing at the base of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Because, on some level, I do know. Even without having known them, I know.
I know that they had moms and dads, wives, children, brothers, sisters, cousins, friends, teachers, neighbors and coworkers who watched them go off to a war they didn’t cause, to fight for people they’d never know, to bring peace to the nation and the family they loved.
I know that they could have been doctors, or writers, or baseball players, or musicians, or movie stars, and instead they learned how to avoid IEDs and to look out for snipers. They learned to fly military jets through hostile airspace while I learned to drive my Toyota on icy roads.
I know that my best friend from high school could have done anything she wanted to do. But she chose to do something to serve others. I know that my roommate’s boyfriend could have chosen a career that didn’t take him thousands of miles away from friends and family. But, he chose to go anyway.
There’s plenty about military sacrifice that I’ve been fortunate to not know. What I do know, though, makes me grateful every day that there are men and women far braver than I who take no thought of the risks, and instead choose to focus on the reward.
So, thank you, each and every one of you, for all the things I know you’ve sacrificed and all the things I’ll never know.
This post was brought to you by Tara Wellman of Aaron Miles Fastball
You can follow her on twitter @tarawellman