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My occupation is a chaplain assistant in the USAF; this often takes me away from my family. During my career, I have offered hope to someone's brother and prayed for sisters who were in doubt and losing their way. I have saluted fathers of those who served, honored and paid the ultimate price for freedom with their lives. My hands have brought the message to other nations that America is a strong, hardworking nation, committed to serve and protect.
I have planted trees in Montenegro during a medical training exercise in Eastern Europe. In Japan, I helped to teach English. I served tea and learned how to absorb the Japanese culture during my five years there. In England I labored to build a community with our host country; I served pie to thousands of people on Thanksgiving at Ely Cathedral. During my six years in England, I shook hands, broke bread and toasted glasses to better develop relationships with our European partners; all the while, I was trying to balance a career in the military with raising three boys at home who understand that being a good citizen is important.
During my two tours to Iraq, my hands became combat hands. Chaplains in the U.S. military are not allowed to bear arms. As their assistant, I was their protection. I did my best to remind people they were not alone; inspiring hope, and healing hearts. Last Christmas I helped my four children open their gifts; made breakfast for my family; then I picked up my bags to start my travel to southwest Asia for a six-month short-notice deployment. Writing letters, emails and Skype became my tools to help me stay close to my children through the distance of yet another deployment.
Four birthdays and my youngest's first steps were just a few of the joys that I have missed by answering the call to serve my country.
People who were never in the military will never truly understand that when you are in a military family, it's not just one person in uniform who serves; the whole family makes the sacrifice. The real risk is not only losing my life, but also losing the most important relationships by not being there because I have to fulfill my duty to protect and serve our country. At home station, where I feel like I am on the front lines of military marriages, my base chapel puts on quarterly events for military families called "Operation Cope." It helps families reconnect after a deployment. To help couples date, communicate and connect are just a few of our objectives for that weekend. Before the military, if you would have told me that marriages were a readiness issue, I would have not had a clue what you were talking about. But now, being a military family, I realize that military marriages are worth fighting for because they are the reason we in the uniform can do what we do and come home.