Stuff happens. A major conflict flares up, and then things die down and people stop caring. Remember when “Operation Iraqi Freedom” was a big deal and everyone had “support our troops” magnets stuck to their car? Now, some people are oblivious that we still have troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Tomorrow is Veterans Day, a day to remember those who have risked, and continue to risk, their lives to defend our nation’s freedom. It doesn’t matter if one agrees with or supports wars and conflicts. What matters is the fact that there are real people wearing the uniforms. Real people with real lives are out on the front lines.

I am proud to be an army brat. My family sacrificed a lot for our country. I was born on base at Darnell Army Community Hospital in Fort Hood, the beginning of my ties to the military world. Soon after, my family got orders to relocate to Germany where we stayed for three years. When we returned to the U.S., my dad was stationed in Oklahoma City. We stayed there for three years before we received new orders to return to Fort Hood. We stayed there until my dad retired from the army in 2007.

I appreciate Veterans Day more than most, because my dad and brother are both veterans. My dad served 21 years and some months, and had one tour in Iraq. My brother served eight years and had two tours in Iraq. In April 2003, my dad was sent overseas and served a one-year tour. I was nine when he left my mom, brother and me behind to fulfill his duty. He was a Sergeant First Class when he deployed, then after a few months became acting First Sergeant. He was the man in charge of 602nd Maintenance Company which consisted of 236 soldiers. They were stationed near Fallujah in the Al Anbar province airport, Al-Taqaddum.

Of course, my family and I knew none of this back then because it was classified. We couldn’t know where my dad was — only that he was alive. My dad came home with a Bronze Star — although I have yet to find out what for.

While my dad was overseas, my mom served as the leader of the Family Readiness Group of my dad’s company. It was basically all the families left behind coming together to support each other. We would make care packages for our soldiers, and when they returned we painted signs and hung them up on the fence lining the motorpool. Mine read, “Welcome Home Daddy,” and I made my dad drive by it after we were reunited.

My brother was 17 when he joined the army. He knew there was a war and he knew he would be sent overseas. He was deployed twice and was stationed in Ramadi, Fallujah and Tikrit. He was an interrogator and has described some missions he went on — all of which sounded like they came straight out of a videogame. He came back with the Combat Action Badge, which means he engaged, and was engaged by, the enemy. He phoned as much as he could. He also wrote letters, which to us modern kids made it feel like we were back in the 1800s. His chicken scratch was barely legible, but I still have every single letter hidden inside a stuffed animal he brought me that reads, “Going Ape #$@! In IRAQ.”

I remember counting down until he could come home, and sending him and his friends, who were all young, Easter baskets and candy for Halloween. I remember when he called me one day after a friend of his was killed. We were both too young to know how to react, so we just sat in silence on the phone until he had to go.

I appreciate Veterans Day because it makes me stop and appreciate my veterans. In our fast-paced world, it is easy to forget that there were times when I couldn’t talk to my soldiers for days when communications would be shut down after a casualty. Every email from my dad was signed off with, “Love you, Girly Girl,” and every night I felt his absence. It is even easier to forget how lucky I am that my soldiers came home.

This Veterans Day, take a moment to remember.

Jackie Benavides

UP Contributor

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