Happy Veteran's day to all the brave. To those who have served, sacrificed, and to those who have given their lives. Thank you. Again and again. Many of my loved ones have served in the military and I am incredibly grateful for them and their service. My father served for 25 years in the Navy as a fighter pilot. The smell of jet fuel and a ready room are familiar and remind me of him. As a military family we were used to sacrifice and sending him off to missions and praying for a safe return. And he always made it safely home.
We got used to the hard goodbyes and the safe returns. It became routine and ordinary. September 11, 2001 was a game changer for us. The story is a great one of God's grace and protection on my father, but in short, its a miracle he is with us today. That day made my family take a step back and reevaluate how comfortable we'd become in sending family into dangerous situations. We've never been the same since that day. We never say goodbye without a long hug, a look in the eyes and the words "I love you."
My younger brother joined the Army after graduating from JMU. We are so proud of him his service and the strength of his wife. This past April, through teary eyes, I watched the two of them say goodbye for what was to be a 9 month deployment. That was one of the sweetest and hardest things I've ever witnessed. We prayed together and sent him off after those long hugs, and the "I love you" and the "see you soon!"
10 days after the above photo was taken we got the phone call you think you'll never receive. My brother had been wounded in the war. The routine my family was used to-the hard goodbyes, the safe returns...this did not match up. After days of surgeries overseas, phone calls, prayers, he came back to the US to recover. When my family was gathered in the hospital room we prayed a prayer of thanksgiving for Justin's life. And prayers of comfort for the families of his friends who did not make it home. And we still pray for them.
A few weeks after Justin arrived home, the Army gave him permission to attend our sister's graduation at JMU. We grabbed a row in the back so the wheel chair could fit. As things got quiet, we were asked to rise for the National Anthem. The rest of my family stood beside Justin, so so proud of him. And then it happened. I heard a thud to my right and as I looked over I saw Justin grabbing onto my brother Ryan's shoulder and pulling himself up out of the wheel chair so he could stand to honor the country that he serves. The country he sacrificed for. The country his friends and fellow soldiers gave their lives for.
And that is the moment I snapped my most cherished photo. With shaky hands. On my phone. But its still my most cherished. I actually can't put into words what this photo means to me. It represents so much. Freedom, strength, honor, and sacrifice.
Take a moment today to thank a veteran. Look them in the eye. Hug them longer.
Thank you for the sacrifice of your lives, R.J. Hess and Aaron Blanchard. 4/23/2013 | Army Strong