It has been just over four years since I left the active duty military, but it was only last week that my official commitment to the U.S. Army ended. For the past four years, I have been on something known as the Individual Ready Reserve, meaning that my name was simply on a list; a list from which my name could have been selected and I would have been called back to active duty service.
Perhaps needless to say, I often cringed when opening the mailbox in fear of receiving a letter from Uncle Sam stating that my services were required. It is not that I would be scared to go back to Iraq, or to go to Afghanistan for the first time—well, not any more scared than any reasonable person would be when going to such places—it is that now, unlike when I initially joined the Army, I have a daughter. I could not imagine having to leave her behind, not able to see or hug her for potentially one year or more. It is the feeling of great sadness I get when thinking of such a proposition that underscores for me the meaning of Memorial Day.
I am now able to understand the heartsick looks on the faces of my fellow Soldiers when, in a crowded gymnasium, they were whisked away from their families the day we left for Iraq. They exemplified true strength and sacrifice. Even more significantly, there are those who give the ultimate sacrifice, never returning to their families, forever missed by sons and daughters, husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers. To me, Memorial Day is about remembering the men and women of our Armed Forces who are either serving far away, or who are no longer with us, as well as the families who miss them all so very much.
Through this column I advocate for volunteerism and community service. People serve in different ways, no way less significant than any other. Not everyone needs to join the military and go off to war to serve. In fact, getting involved in the community is an excellent way to honor our military men and women serving overseas. While they protect us from afar, we can take care of the home front, making our communities better places to live while they are away. And to the extent someone needs some extra motivation or inspiration when deciding whether to get involved in their community, they should think about the strength and sacrifice of all of those who have served in the military, especially those who have died.