Editor’s note: This is the fourth essay in a 12-part Father’s Day series entitled, Honoring Fathers Who Serve. In May, we asked readers to submit essays about the men who have served our country.
My amazing dad, Richard Olivella, enlisted in the U.S. Army in May 1978 shortly after high school. He wanted to serve a purpose and what better way than by serving your country.
A vivid memory of my childhood was when we were stationed at Ft. Drum, New York where my dad was part of the 10th Mountain Division. I was in second grade when I overheard my dad tell my mom about an upcoming humanitarian deployment to Somalia. At that time I really didn’t understand, but I saw the look on my mother’s face. I was one of three and I was the oldest. I think back now and can only imagine what went through her head knowing that her husband was about to take off to another country leaving her behind with three little ones.
She didn’t react, as far as I can remember, in front of us three children, but I’m sure she knew that was part of the game being an Army wife. It was brought to our attention that daddy would be leaving for a little bit but that he would make certain to write every chance he could get. He reminded us that we were to behave and help mommy and that my younger brother would now be the “man of the house.”
It didn’t quite click, until I saw my dad dressed head to toe in his fatigues. It looked like he had packed his life backpack.
We drove him to the base where we saw more soldiers wearing the same uniform and carrying the same bag. They were all lined up in front of parked buses. Dad got out of the car and we all lined up as we hugged and kissed him goodbye. Mom huddled all three of us in the dark as we waited for the buses to take off. All I remember was dad pushing his window down waving good bye and saying “I Love you!” Mom’s eyes were watery but she remained strong telling us to get in the car.
Days went by and I noticed dad wasn’t home. I know sometimes I’d ask where he was and mom would tell me, “He’s in the field.” This time though, it was a lot longer. We started attending more functions at the youth center and playing with kids who didn’t have their dad’s around either. Now, I look back and see that it was more of a support for all families whose loved ones were off wherever duty called. We would go to the commissary and buy all these treats like beef jerky, cookies, and cadies dad. Every couple weeks, mom would pack him up a box.
After what seemed like forever, mom got extremely excited and said we were off to get daddy. We my siblings and I got so excited. I remember going to a decorated gymnasium on base; it was decorated with handmade posters, balloons, and ribbon. It was the most inviting place I have ever been to yet in my life. Everybody’s faces were filled with joy. I didn’t understand why everyone was so happy and literally jumping up and down full of excitement. I just knew I was there to see my dad.
All of a sudden it seemed like the whole place was silent for one second and we all looked in the same direction to see an Army full of men and women. They walked in looking just as how they looked when we last saw them in the same attire and large bags. Then a soldier started singing “Proud to be an American” while mom was frantically moving her head looking for dad. After what seemed like forever, we saw dad. He had the biggest smile on his face and dropped everything to greet mom. My siblings and I started jumping up and down. We felt so happy. It was a happiness I could never compare to any other moment because this was a moment that will always go down in history. It acts as a reminder of the first time I felt what it was to miss someone close and to celebrate their return. I’ll forever treasure that moment in my life.
I consider myself so privileged to have experience life as an Army brat. The life is not like any other. People around your community and the base became your family. Friends could sympathize with one another because nine times out of 10 they were feeling and experiencing the same thing. We got to explore so many different areas and gain a piece of the military that will always lie within my heart.
Both my mother and father are my heroes in so many different ways. I’ll always tend to sway more towards my dad’s side but that’s only because I’m a daddy’s girl at heart. The Army is what I know as childhood and I’ll forever cherish it. Anytime I see soldiers coming back home and they’re children running towards them, emotions take over because it brings me back to being a little girl and lets me know these children were missing someone important.
The strength a soldier and an Army wife both have are remarkable and can’t be compared. But can only be defined in their own way and it should always demand respect because of the courage they both have. I’m an extremely lucky woman. And dad, Happy Father’s Day. You’re forever my hero and my rock. Love you always and thank you for instilling in me what it is to appreciate life and taking it with a grain of salt. Life isn’t always fair, but no one said it would ever be easy…. It would just be worth it.
Jacelyn Olivella is a Contract Specialist for the Department of Veterans Affairs.