We all know that freedom isn't free. I am thankful to each and every American who has or is serving. This tribute is dedicated to a soldier from my hometown, Kenny. I'm sure he's not very different from the soldiers, airman and sailors serving from your hometown.
Kenny was activated in 2003. This was the first time he had been called to active duty in his almost 20 years of National Guard service. Over 40 with a few health problems he considered minor, he could have sought a waiver. The thought never even entered his mind. When a friend mentioned the possibility, Kenny said simply it was his turn to serve and he was proud to do it.
The first time he called me was from NTC, the desert training ground in California. He told me about how much he was learning and he was proud how his unit of reservists blended smoothly into a group. He didn't complain, but his days were 18 hours. Suddenly, he went from being a shipping foreman at a factory to hauling supplies through the desert. Being a veteran myself (and being 40), the descriptions of his days left me exhausted. But Kenny realized the seriousness of his mission. If caught in a battle, he knew he would be fighting for something much more important than democracy in Iraq. He would be fighting for his buddies, and he didn't want to let them down.
That first tour was relatively safe, in the Kurdish region. Kenny became attached to the children that hung out around the base. He asked me to send candy for them instead of treats for himself. He tried to make sure the Iraqi citizens that worked with him made it home safely each night. But his first worry was always his fellow soldiers.
When his unit returned, our hometown welcomed the troops home with a spectacular small-town celebration. Hundreds of people lined Main Street as the convoy came through. Kenny wasn't there to enjoy it. He felt it more important that troops with children get home sooner. He returned to town a few weeks later with no fan fair to meet him. His family was waiting and that's all that mattered.
Kenny's employer went out of business during his deployment, but he was able to land another job quickly. He was home less than a year before he received his second activation notice. Now, he cannot tell us where he is serving and the e-mails are few and far between.
What if he's activated for a third tour? Again, he'll answer that call with pride. Kenny, I salute you and all of the full- and part-time soldiers who put their lives on hold for our country.
Of course, if I win the gift card it will go to Kenny. I doubt that he'll spend it on Kenny. He'll probably send his mom flowers. Or maybe he'll pass it on to another soldier who needs it for long-distance calls.