Friday, November 10, 2017

Veterans day holds such mixed meanings for me. I am one of the approximately 22 million Americans who can proudly hold their DD214 in their hand (That’s paperwork for discharge from active duty, for you civilians out there. I actually have seven of them). While the number of veterans sounds impressive, it represents only 7% of our nation. I am also a very active reservist.  In June I returned from my fourth deployment to Afghanistan. So I also fall in with the approximately 0.7% of Americans who still serve.

Whichever number you choose to look at, it’s a small portion of the population that carries this particular burden. What makes that fact even more astounding, is that this past September marks the 16th year our nation has been at war—our longest conflict. I have friends who have deployed, five, six, even ten times. I have friends who never came home. I have friends who never came home whole.

Many family and friends who have never served often ask what it’s like. I don’t even know what to tell them. I see many friends post on Facebook with photos from their deployments, or time in uniform. Usually those are the good times—the memories of a shared kinship. What we hardly ever see is the adversity and the suffering that forms those bonds. That’s what I don’t know how to describe to those who have never served.

Those are photo and memories we might not share. For instance, I know exactly where I was on 19 May 2010, when the Taliban made it over the wall of Bagram Airfield—the alarms got me out of bed in the middle of the night and to the armory. Or on 21 Dec 2015, I was sitting in a coffee shop about to enjoy Christmas with my family when I first heard I lost six family members from my careerfield in Afghanistan. That kicked off my fourth deployment, where I ran straight into 12 Nov 2016 when a suicide bomber killed five Americans about a football field away from where I stood. We don’t post those pictures on Facebook.

And behind each of us, there is someone waiting. Those people are also veterans in their own and different ways. My wife Nancy has held down the home fires on four occasions, even welcoming in our youngest daughter without me. My oldest is the veteran of four deployments, her little brother and sister made it through three each. In many ways, their job is harder—trying to keep the normalcy of home life going while a parent is away.

So what is a veteran? To me, a veteran is a person who collects dates and writes letters. I’ve already talked about the dates. But what about the letters? I hope Nancy won’t mind me sharing this, but I feel of all days this is important, especially when so few of us serve. A veteran is also someone who writes letters they hope never have to be delivered.


I want this to be a love letter, although I’m sure you won’t see it that way. If I was better at telling you how I felt or how much I appreciate you, then you’d already know what I’m going to say.

I love you.

I need you to know how much you mean to me. You are my best friend. You are the love of my life. I fell in love with you the first time we met. Looking back at our time together I can’t imagine it without you. Our relationship is a gift that I too often squandered—forgive me. I wish we had more time together.

And so it is hard to explain why I had to leave, especially as it takes me so far away from you and the kids. I don’t expect you to understand. By any rational measure it makes no sense. We have a great life, a good job, a happy home. It would be easier to stay. But I can’t. Too many have gone before me and laid the foundations for the freedoms I enjoy, that we all do. And that is a decision I struggle with even as I write this. The only thing I can leave you with is this: I owe a debt that I had hoped to repay without you reading this letter. But since you are, please know that leaving you was always the hardest part.

I know you will bear the burdens for my decisions, and for that I am sorry. Again, please forgive me. It was selfish to choose this path and ask you to follow. But the irony is that I could never have done it without you.

We rarely spoke about what comes after this world. I know your faith is strong, something that I admire and am envious of at the same time. I never confided in you how it made me challenge my own beliefs. I do not profess a faith like yours, but I know God awaits me. I don’t know exactly what that means, nor do I have a need to define it. But if there is a way for me to watch over you, I will be there.

Whatever decisions you need to make, I support them. You are a wonderful mother, and our children could have no greater guide or confidant in life. They are beautiful, and I can only imagine what they will grow to be with your love. Their memory of me will fade. That’s only natural. Please don’t feel like you have to fight that. When they ask, tell them how much I love them. I will watch over them, too.

I love you. I miss you. And I know I will see you again.

Happy Veterans Day. May the dates stop, and the letters never be needed.

My veterans.