Twenty-one years ago, I joined the U.S. Army. Memories were still somewhat fresh about the War in Viet Nam back then and when I told my parents I had made a decision to join up and serve my country, they were supportive, but reticent. I was 24 years old then and so I'm sure my parents felt that outright discouragement would be counterproductive.
I didn't quite understand their lack of full-on support back then. "They should be happy about my desire to do my patriotic duty," I thought. I wanted them to feel and see my decision the same way I did.
Today, I have three children, I got started late on the family thing and so my family is pretty young - ranging in age from one month to three years. Today my eyes are wide open to why my parents might have felt less than fully supportive of my decision. I'm sure they were proud that I had taken my life by the horns, made a decision about how I would support myself and so on. Looking back however, I'm sure they simply wondered, "of all professions, why the Army?"
As a parent, it is impossible to ignore the inherent dangers of a child's service in the military, and especially now as we prepare to deploy to a war zone. I wish I could tell you that we were able to remove any and all risks associated with our deployment, I can't. And I wouldn't think of telling you not to worry about them, that "they'll be fine," - worry is hardwired into the soul of a parent, when it comes to their children.
I know that some of you have served in the armed forces as well, and may understand the point I now make. I am now on both sides of the fence on this quandary. As a Soldier I love the Army and the service I am rendering my country and family. As a parent, I can't imagine allowing my child to be placed in harms way. It's a little internal war I fight regularly and not with just this issue. Parenting is a delicate balance of providing protection to our children while allowing them enough latitude to protect themselves.
Three days a week, I leave my daughter, Araya (uh-ray-uh), with strangers at pre-school. In a world where the news reports molestation, school shootings, abductions and child abuse, to name a few, as regular occurrences, I feel a certain apprehension each day I drop her off at the school. Some days are easier than others, but that anxiety remains.
On the other side of the coin, each day when I pick her up and get her report on the day, my smile widens and my mind sees her limitless potential. I am amazed at what she learns, how she retains concepts and how she is developing her independence. She's in good hands at the school and they are doing their best to teach and protect her. She's making friends, having a great time and preparing for a time when I won't be able to watch her every move.
Your Soldiers are in good hands. We are doing all within our power to teach them and protect them. They are incredible individuals who make our unit strong, effective and fun. Their personal reasons for being here are varied, but they are all serving with honor. The memories and experiences they have over the next year will certainly change their lives and the lives of those associated with them. We have all become great friends, we look after each other and we sometimes even hold hands when we're crossing the street.
We hope that when you get their reports from Iraq, you will see how they are improving, how they are reaching their limitless potential- how they have developed their own sense of belonging in the world.
Thank you for lending them to the us for a while. We appreciate all you have done to prepare them for this moment in their lives. We'll do all we can to add to your efforts.
First Sergeant Anthony Martinez
Father of Araya, Ammon and Alivia