Sunday, November 10, 2013

a personal Veteran's Day tribute

It was early 2003.  I was about to graduate college and get married.  I was 21, almost 22.  My brothers were 19.  I remember the day that I got the call that they were both signing up with the military.  I was so sad and scared, and all I wanted to do was talk them out of it.

It had only been a year and a half since 9/11 and we were about to start invading Iraq.  I was terrified for them.

Keith signed up with the Army National Guard and Kevin with the Air National Guard. Keith began his basic training in Ft. Sill, OK and Kevin began at Lackland AFB in Texas, followed by Keesler AFB in Mississippi and AIT at Sheppard AFB in Wichita Falls, TX.
Kevin & I, Sheppard AFB, Wichita Falls, TX. June 2004.

Keith graduated from basic training on October 30, 2003.  He was immediately put on orders to meet up with the rest of his unit in Ft. Hood, TX and then onto Ft. Polk, LA.
Keith & I. Ft. Sill, OK, basic training graduation.
Keith's unit (Bravo Battery, 39th Infantry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division) were in the process of pre-deployment training.  It's just so unreal thinking back.  He immediately left basic training to begin training for war.  Keith's mission was artillery, specifically- howitzers. 

They deployed to Iraq in January 2004.  They were part of Operation Iraqi Freedom.  They were stationed at Camp Cooke in Taji, Iraq.

At that time, I was the closest thing Keith had besides the soldiers that he was with.  We had grown really close while I was in college and had stayed close.  He wrote me a lot and called as often as he could.  During this deployment, Internet was expensive and not always dependable.  If a soldier was killed, there would be a communication "black out" and I would be so worried until I heard from him again. 
I also knew most of the soldiers in Keith's unit because a majority were from our hometown. 
Waiting and not knowing was so hard.

On April 24th, 2004, 4 Arkansas soldiers were killed in a rocket attack at the base camp of Arkansas' 39th Infantry Brigade in Taji, Iraq.  The fear I felt until I heard from Keith is still so real today.
I just worried the entire time he was gone.  So many soldiers were losing their lives in this war and I just did not want my brother to be one of them.  I remember checking the Department of Defense casualty website daily.  Rocket and mortar attacks were a daily thing at the base and Keith talked about them all the time.  
Later, after he was home, Keith would never talk about that day.  He said that he had seen things he never wanted to see that day.
  How we so quickly forget the horrors that soldiers witness as they are risking their lives to protect us and our country.
The rest of the year went by and in December, Keith came home for R&R.
Can I ever fully explain how good it was to have my brother back?!  Those 2 weeks of knowing he was not at war were so great!
Kevin & Keith

Keith returned to Iraq to finish his deployment.  One of the happiest days of my life was March 13, 2005.
We drove to Ft. Sill, OK to welcome Keith and his unit HOME!!!
He received an Army Commendation Medal for his service in Iraq.
But, the happiness didn't last too long. 
 In June 2005, Kevin's unit, the 188th Fighter Wing of the Arkansas Air National Guard deployed to Balad AFB in Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.  
They were an F-16 unit and Kevin worked on the planes.

Thankfully for my pregnant self, they were only deployed for 2 months.
It's still not easy to know that your brother is at war, no matter the length of time.
We welcomed him home August 9, 2005, a mere 8 days before C Girlie was born.

The war continued to drag on.  
Keith served on Mexican border security in 2006.
In 2007, a troop "surge" was announced.  There is nothing like a term like that to put fear in your heart.  
Keith was put on "alert" and then received orders for yet another deployment.
In January 2008, Keith's unit left for pre-deployment training at Camp Shelby in Hattiesburg, MS.
In March 2008, they deployed to Iraq for Operation Enduring Freedom.

Since I was living in our hometown again, I joined the Family Readiness Group.
It was different this time as well, because Keith now had a niece, nephew, and a girlfriend that he had to leave behind.
The mission was different for the deployment.  Keith was part of QRF and being in humvees most of the time.
Knowing that he was traveling around base and even leaving base frequently was SO hard.
Internet was available this time and made it so much easier.  We were able to keep in contact almost daily.

We talked to the kids about Uncle Keithy being a soldier and him being across the ocean fighting the bad guys.  We had pictures of him hanging in both the kiddos rooms.
Keith came home for R&R in October 2008.
And we were so happy that our soldier Keithy was able to come home from deployment before Christmas 2008!
We really hoped that there were no more deployments in the future of either Keith or Kevin, but the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan still drug on.

In April 2010, Kevin and his wife, Veronica deployed to Afghanistan for Operation Enduring Freedom.  They were in Kandahar for two months.  Kevin worked on planes (A-10's) and Veronica was a missile loader.
In April 2011, Keith was put on alert once again for deployment.
In May 2011, Keith went to California for his 2 week annual summer camp.  The plan was to begin training for a summer 2012 deployment to Afghanistan.
At the end of January 2012, the deployment was called off!
Yay! because Keith was in the first year of marriage and had a newborn!

Once again, in July 2012, Kevin was deployed to Afghanistan for Operation Enduring Freedom.  
By this time, Veronica had left Guard duty to become a teacher.  
Kevin was at Bagram Airfield this deployment.  
This deployment was great because we were able to Skype frequently!
He returned home in October 2012.
 Before Kevin left for Afghanistan.
Kevin's son, Noah- my sweet birthday buddy nephew

As of today, the Iraqi war is over and the war in Afghanistan has been going on for 12 years, 4 weeks and 1 day.  I'm so ready for that war to be over.  I'm so ready to never have my brothers deploy again.

They both continue to advance in the military.

Just this past week, Kevin got an Active Guard Reserve job!  
Active Guard Reserve (AGR) Soldiers serve full time and enjoy the same benefits and entitlements of active duty Soldiers. With an Active Guard Reserve job, you can receive full pay, medical care for you and your immediate family, and the opportunity for retirement after 20 years of active service.

Since Kevin has been at the 188th, they have transitioned from F-16's to A-10's and now to drones.
He won't be working on planes now, but he will still have a very important job in monitoring drones and activity.

I am so very proud of my brothers.  They will always be my biggest heroes.

Happy Veteran's Day.

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