Happy Veterans Day.

What being a veteran really means.

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Petty Officer Michael Aldrich (center wearing white) on board the USS South Carolina, early 1990's.

Every Veteran’s Day, I’m wished a good day by someone, usually more than once. Most of my friends know I served in the U.S. Navy. They know I’m a veteran and respect it enough to notice on Veteran’s Day.

I wonder, do they know what they are thanking me for?

Serving in the United States Navy was an honor and a privilege. I didn’t appreciate how much at the time. I loved my time in service. Friends and I hung out in places I’d never dreamed of visiting, like Rome, Naples and Lisbon.

Author, 1989, USS Emory S. Land

I also experienced a sense of community like no other before nor since. The Navy wasn’t just my job. The ship I served on, I lived, worked and went to sea on. I shared close quarters with a large group of women, had a diverse work environment and loved it all.

I met Mike in 1990, in Portsmouth, Virginia, a moment I’ll cherish forever. His blue eyes held mine in a steady gaze as he smiled at me, white teeth under a pretty spectacular Navy mustache. If there is such a thing as love at first sight, I felt it.

We married in March, 1992. It wasn’t long before we adopted our first child in 1994. Mike decided to get out of the Navy. I’d already been discharged in 1992. When Mike ended his enlistment, we moved to Indiana, where I was born and raised. Our daughter grew and we adopted our second daughter. We started and ran a successful company together and life was good. But Mike was missing a piece of himself he left with the military. Then, in 2011, a window opened. U.S. Army enlistment was opened to citizens with prior military service. After much discussion and prayer, Mike enlisted at age 45, thankfully more physically fit than most 20-year-olds.

SSG Michael J. Aldrich, US Army 2015

At 45, he left for five weeks of boot camp, then for a year on Eglin AFB at EOD (Explosive Ordinance Disposal) school, to learn the ins and outs of how to disarm or render safe a bomb. From there, he was sent to Maryland for two years. I sold the company in Indiana to be with him full-time. Then the Army sent him to Korea for a year. Now we are in Georgia. Mike was home for only eight months when he got orders to Afghanistan.

I remember clearly the moment he told me about his deployment. He could’t decide how to deliver the news. I’d asked him early on, when there was something important coming up, not to tell me until we are face-to-face. When he finally named his destination, my heart fell. I was devastated. He was torn between love for his family and the excitement of being able to perform his job in the field. He thought nothing of the danger. I thought of nothing else.

He’s been gone now for nearly two months. I miss him every day. When we are able to talk, he tells me he is safe, then talks of times the base’s alarm will sound in the middle of the night to alert them to incoming rocket fire. I try to leave him in God’s hands. Some days are easier than others. I worry about the trauma, the scars he may come home with. I wonder if he’s as okay as he claims. I hope he knows how much I love him.

The next time you wish someone a happy Veteran’s Day, remember that many of these veterans have actually been in combat, fighting to keep what happens in other parts of the world from happening here. WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Panama, Grenada, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, all are/were conflicts of varying durations. In them, all gave some, and some continue to give all.

They do it because they believe in America and what she still stands for. They leave their families, parents, brothers, sisters, wives, husbands and children to fight for others. When one serves we all sacrifice. We do so in gratitude for our freedom and our love of America. We do so to keep others safe.

Happy Veteran’s Day.

Originally published at medium.com

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