San Antonio is the Alamo City but is also known as “Military City USA”. Everywhere you look, you see someone in uniform. And you don’t have to look far to find a veteran—many call San Antonio home. I see one every day when I look in the mirror.
The media is full of images, stories and reports of the heroism and tragedies military members’ face every day. But the reality is most members of the military and its veterans see themselves as ordinary people, just doing their part because they can.
So I want to tell you about everyday events, good and bad, from my military service and that of my friends. We are the veterans who sit next to you on the bus, stand in line behind you at HEB and wait our turn at the dry cleaners. Just ordinary people with some really interesting stories…
Members of the military do ordinary things in extraordinary places.
- Overseas tours are common in the military. The average military member (and their spouse) have experienced moving to a foreign country, dragging the dog and kids along, of course. Then… Find a place to live. Buy a car. Learn how to pay the rent, water, sewer, electric, propane, kerosene and trash bills, all in cash, in Japan. Which you have to plan for because even Japanese ATMs have a daily cash limit.
- Also in Japan, you can also buy anything in a vending machine. Anything. Eggs. Bathing suits. Clean underwear. My favorite: hot coffee in a can (one of the best inventions ever and great to have in your pockets during a snowstorm).
- A friend of mine spent four months in Africa. He sent home some great photos, including ones of the mop buckets he did laundry in. Wash. Rinse.
- When I lived in England it was extremely easy for me to adapt to shopping for groceries at the local markets in Bury St Edmunds and Cambridge instead of going to a grocery store. Which is why I love The Pearl Farmers Market.
Members of the military live with extraordinary things during an ordinary day.
- When deploying, both parents have to update wills and other legal documents and figure out how the kids are getting to and from daycare with only one parent, plan how to pay the bills. And when the military member is a single parent, you have to figure out which friend or family member you trust to be a temporary parent. Bigger decision than who can take care of the cat while you’re gone for six months.
- Military members deal with their own mortality and that of their friends. One friend lost in a plane crash is one too many, and unfortunately that tally didn’t stop at one. I’ve stood at the still smoking crash site of an aircraft, not knowing if I knew either of the pilots who were still inside the wreckage. I’ve sat in a room full of people several hundred feet underground, waiting for the search and rescue team to get to a crash site…and knowing exactly which pilot they didn’t recover. Never recovered. I was chatting with a friend one day over coffee when the two of us figured out he lost a friend who was in the student seat of a trainer airplane that crashed at the Air Force Academy and my friend was the Instructor Pilot. Neither survived. It was a bond that unknowingly linked us.
Members of the military get to do some really cool stuff.
- The photo above is a friend and I at a Combat Dining In, one of many I had a hand in organizing. If you’ve never heard of it, think of it as a formal dinner with an obstacle course, where everyone wears creative camo additions to their uniforms. And carries really big water guns. And bags of water balloons. And sometimes other projectiles. And at the sound of a vuvuzela, war breaks out. After the first one, I learned to limit the ammo to water after seeing what happens when eggs and day-old jelly donuts are thrown by a slingshot inside an aircraft hangar. Ah, good times…
- I’ve spent an entire weekend skydiving with friends out of Army helicopters. I’ve walked amongst castle ruins, visited the Coliseum, driven through the Chunnel, driven across France, had a horribly expensive expresso in San Marco Square, been to a few dozen holiday street festivals in northern Japan and visited every museum and memorial in Washington DC. These are things the average military member does on the weekend and the foundation of some stories every veteran can tell.
My friends, many of whom are veterans now, built the buildings we worked in and have flown, maintained or controlled every aircraft the Air Force has to offer. One of my favorite of their stories is from Dixie (whom you met here). She went to a “civilian” Halloween party one year dressed as Xena. At the party, there was a guy who was trying to impress the girls because he was a pilot. She thought he was an idiot and needed his ego deflated, but she stood in the circle of his admirers to listen as he talked about his private pilots’ license, how many hours he had in his log. She asked him what type of aircraft he flew. A Cessna-something was his answer. That’s when Dixie told him she was also a pilot. So he asked her what kind of aircraft she flew, still playing up to his admirers. Dixie smiled and said, “An F-16.” Then Dixie turned and walked off into the party.
Take a moment today to thank a Veteran for their service to their country.
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