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Ten years ago September, the Army rolled into my life with booms louder than artillery, stealth like Rangers, camouflaged in the abysmal black paint of national crises. Like so many, my dad heard the cries that filled the Sept. 11 air and resolved to fight. He deployed for a total of three years with the 361st to various parts of Afghanistan.
My eyelids, a feeble dam to the many waters of my heart, are filling now as I stare at the white and black of the pixellated screen as letter after letter appears erect and uniform. Dear Reader, I confess it has taken many years for that 10-year-old little girl to understand his love and sacrifice.
Fall of 2003, two of my siblings went to college: one to West Point, the other to A&M, where she fell in love with an Army man. The summer dad finally came back from the Middle East, another sibling entered West Point as a freshman. The Army really did roll in and set up camp in my home base. We have the 25-foot flagpole to prove it.
What our soldiers sacrifice, no real or figurative insurance can get back. The peace of body and spirit they risk all to provide and protect is all too often forever robbed. Deep down we all know that, injury or not, war changes men.
"I'm doing this for you," daddy whispered passionately. I didn't know what he meant yet.
"You are so special — you can do things I never could, things for the world, for people. That's why I'm going: so you can be everything you are meant to be," my best friend and brother said, his voice decidedly steady through tears. He cradled me while I shook with abandoned sobs, heavy and stinging like hail, suffocating as smoke.
I wish I could say that I became an unstoppable force for good in that moment. Yet the rubble flung so violently that September day ripples still; the words of love and sacrifice that I carry close to my heart are a steady-moving current in my soul.
Fast forward a few years, past JROTC and a dysfunctional cadet first sergeant-dom, to college. I'm a junior with a double major in vocal performance and English at a small, private liberal arts university. Not what you expected, huh? Me either. I tried so very hard to serve the way they served, but I can't.
Soldiers are hope with ammunition. Though I carry no gun, my family and the Army have taught me to prepare myself, to help, to join in the fight, to fight for people and for hope. My career goal is to be a music therapist and freelance writer, to give myself to helping the wounded and broken, the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free.
For their love and honor.
"This we'll defend."