At the wrap of a busy week of travel, I worked my way onto the tiny plane to catch the final leg in my flight home to Austin. I was surprised to find out I had been upgraded to first class–surprised not because of the upgrade as much as the idea that this sardine-can of a plane actually had a first class section!
Anyhow, as I came to my seat I saw a woman in military fatigues in the seat next to me… I had no idea the impression the story I was about to hear would have on me. I typically plug in my headphones and get work done on planes, but as Dawn told me her story I was taught a lesson in honor, commitment, and service in the face of adversity. And I was taught it by a simple, honest, and humble woman from southwest Minnesota.
Turns out Dawn was on her way to Iraq via Fort Hood. She is accompanied by her 21-year-old daughter and her 19-year-old son, each of them in the Army National Guard and headed to a 1-year deployment to Iraq (including 3 months of training they just wrapped up in Texas).
“I’m the luckiest person in the world,” Dawn told me. “I have three in my family serving our country. I consider it an honor for me and for my family.”
Dawn’s unit will be stationed at the Iraqi border with Kuwait. She and her daughter are in logistics and communications, mostly driving trucks she explained. Her son is a gunner.
There’s a lot more to Dawn’s story. She leaves at home her 15-year-old daughter and her husband. The family is expected to be reunited in April on 2010. Very fitting for Dawn, they leave for Iraq from Fort Hood around the 4th of July.
“The 4th of July is my favorite holiday,” Dawn explained. “I love the military and doing something for my country.”
It is not all rosy for Dawn, however. In fact, she was obviously torn up inside with the pain of leaving her daughter and husband at home. When she joined the National Guard in 2006, a unit from their area had recently been deployed, so she never expected to be deployed, at least not before her youngest was out of high school and on her own.
Dawn was fulfilling the commitment she’d made, honoring the choice she’d made three years ago to serve her country, and doing it in the face of leaving her family behind. I couldn’t help thinking if more people put commitment before self in many aspects of life our society, our country, our families would be all the better.
To soothe her distraught 15-year-old (I overheard her talk to her on the phone right before takeoff and immediately after landing in Austin), Dawn explained they made a commitment to each other that helped give perspective.
“We told each other that every night when we look up into the sky, even though we’re so far apart, when we look up we will be looking at the same stars,” Dawn said. The idea comforted both her and her daughter. That, plus reflecting on the fact that our experiences in life make us stronger are what help Dawn have perspective.
“I think all things happen for a reason,” Dawn said. “If I can look at it that way it’s easier. But it’s still hard. But we’ll have email, letters, and Skype. I just don’t know how reliable it will be over there.”
Dawn’s humble, candid, and straightforward manner of facing life head on touched me. And, apparently, not just me. The Delta flight attendant, seeing her coming down the jetway in her fatigues pulled her aside and brought her to the first class seat where I had found her on the flight–a respectable move by Delta.
To Dawn, the act was kind, but not necessary.
“I don’t need to be honored,” Dawn said. “I feel honored to serve my country.”
You know what-she meant it. I’ve heard, and worked with, many politicians who say the same thing. But, Dawn… well, I believe she meant something altogether different, something very much from the heart.
Thank you, Dawn, and thousands more like you who serve daily with honor and commitment. We can all learn a bit of how to face adversity and fulfill our commitments even when it’s not easy.
Dawn’s journey is one of genuine, simple endurance and service. Thank you for sharing!
UPDATE: Had some questions, so I’ll add more of the story about Dawn.
Dawn was in the Navy for 8 years earlier in her life. After she started having children, she got out of the military. In 2006, she was with her son meeting with the recruiter for the National Guard. She decided to ask him, “you wouldn’t take an old lady like me would you?” The recruiter knew she had been in the service and confirmed that, yes, in fact, they would be happy to take her as well.
So she joined at the same time as her son. I’m not certain when her daughter joined–we didn’t cover that part.