My Dad Knows How to Serve
A couple of months ago, I wrote a blog post Celebrating My Mother, and I have been mentally writing the one about my dad since. These kind of posts are hard to write because there is so much incredible information I want to share for people who don’t know my parents personally. How do biographers capture everything and convey the person they’re writing about? For one they have chapters. I think my dad would be mortified if I wrote chapters and published them, but his life is so rich and could easily fill pages and pages. My dad retired as a LTC in the US Army after thirty one faithful years of service, cared about our family and the soldiers he took care of at each of his duty stations, and has a rich medical background as a Registered Nurse.
Servant Leader for His Family, Teams, and Country
I come from a family of hungry goal setters and my dad is no different. When he was a young kid in New York City, getting slapped on the knuckles by the Catholic nuns, he worked in an exotic boutique food store. He would sample foods from all of the world igniting a travelers curiosity that was only fueled by the classic novels he devoured like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Gulliver’s Travels, and The Lord Of The Rings.
He VOLUNTEERED for two tours in Vietnam in the US Air Force during the height of the war where he would jump out of helicopters after battles and search for downed pilots with his dog, Fang. During this time he “explored” Vietnam, the Philippines, and other regions of southeastern Asia. (He probably didn’t expect he would return to adopt two baby girls from South Korea, but the experiences he had built a foundation he shared about the continent his girls were adopted from.)
While he was stationed in Hawaii, he would work 12 hour nursing shifts during the day or night while attending school full-time to complete his Master’s degree. Further education was so important to him — while we were growing up there was no doubt in our minds that we were not only going to college, but it would be for a degree that would keep us financially independent and secure. He taught me that nothing is more important than taking care of and providing for your family.
During this time I remember going to a couple of unit picnics, playing together with his soldiers, their families, his peers, and some German contractors. I remember going to this incredible restaurant for escargot, dipping the crusty bread in the rich, garlic butter, and exploring the cobblestone town in the beautiful summer and snowy winters. It was important to him that we travel and travel we did. My parents got a special blue van we fondly named Nellie Belle, after the jeep in The Roy Rogers show we used to all watch together. We drove hundreds of thousands of miles to France, Holland, Italy, and Austria. We stopped in Luxembourg, Switzerland, and many cities in-between.
After Germany we went to Washington State and drove more! We went hiking on Mount Rainier, to the little German-inspired town of Leavenworth, and white river rafting down rapid rivers. Next he got stationed at Persidio in San Francisco, California, securing a beautiful 4 story home with hardwood floors. With education and stability so important to my parents we returned to Washington State without my dad and learned how families don’t have to be physically together to be a family. We celebrated Christmas during winter break and birthday summer breaks returning to San Francisco by car or plane when we could. We went to Alcatraz Island, Coit Tower, and drooling over dim sum that we took on picnics or as takeout he brought with him on the plane rides home.
From Persidio he traveled to Ft. Detrick where he was in charge of U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID). Back home in Washington, my sister and I would brag that our dad worked at the place where the movie Outbreak was shot. We got to tour the facilities that we were allowed and watched James Bond style as he would scan his hands and other biometrics for entrances to the inner circles of the building, and lead high-profile visitors and news anchors through with charm and humor.
From Maryland, with his family was going to great schools with close friends in Ft. Lewis Washington, he was sent on an unaccompanied tour to South Korea and Camp Casey.
We received letters in the mail mentioning his jaunts over the DMZ bridges between North and South Korea that were packed with explosives in case war ever broke out. He also started to write us stories that I need to dig and find, a chapter per letter about a fantasy, whimsical world like those JR Tolkien wrote about with epic adventures, breathtaking landscapes, and unexpected heroes you could really rally behind and different faction clans.
After the stint in Korea we would reunion as a family in Grafenwoehr, Germany where we lived an hour off base in another wonderful home in the middle of Weiden, famous for their beautiful Chrystal. During this time he was the commander at Graf Clinic and the highest ranking Hispanic soldier. My dad is very, very humble, and does not always feel comfortable when the spotlight is on him. He embodies the definition of a servant leaders ensuring not only that his soldiers are taken care of but also making sure his leaders are taking care of their teams. It is never about the individual but the team, except when the individual is not carrying their weight and the team suffers.
He commanded respect but was very empathetic as a leader too — bringing home soldiers who just needed a family meal. He would have mass casualty simulations, what to do if the training base we were on was attacked and always coordinate with the local Germans fostering internationally friendly relationships. He would always attend the high school football games with a couple of his medics and an ambulance so they could respond immediately as needed. Sometimes when both your parents are nurses you take for granted what they know and can do but its really nice when it’s time for immunizations to have them lovingly done by someone you trust.
My dad is someone who roots for the underdog. He isn’t a die-hard football fan — he watches the Super Bowl and together on the seasons we were physically together we would cheer over snacks for the unexpected winners and also the best commercials and half-time shows. He has a fantastic sense of humor and a personable nature mixing his New York dotted directness with his satirical sense of humor.
When we left Germany he was stationed at Fort Sam and when he wasn’t working with software solutions for medical training to prepare medics for the war (right after 9-11), he tried to volunteer his time volunteering at the then BAMC burn unit. The burn unit at now SAMC is renowned in the country as the foremost authority on burn wounds — its an intensely emotional area to work in and one many don’t volunteer but my dad has spent years in the civilian sector at Tampa General’s burn unit.
My dad’s final duty station was in Landstuhl, Germany where he implemented an “aggressive approach to women’s health through a multi-tiered program that improved access to care, improved preventative health, and generated goodwill in the community…serving as a blueprint for future comprehensive preventative health programs.”
My dad went where the mission sent him and everything he did he held himself to a high accountable level. If no one saw the work, if no one saw his boots, it still would have been pristine. There were no shortcut taking with him and if you said you were going to do something you got up and did it. Both at home and work. 🙂
My dad is the humble, fair, and caring hero who you read about in books that did whatever needed to be done, because it truly was the right thing to do. Happy Veteran’s Day Dad. I love you.