The Sacrifice of Service

Another in the Scholarshgip Essay Series, this one on sacrifice. 

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In many ways I was a late bloomer.

Problems at home had required me to stick around long after high school in order to help my mother make ends meet. As I whittled away the years helping to feed and house younger siblings, the rest of my cohort went off to college, or jobs, or to seek their fortune far from the reach of our small, remote corner of the world.

Our little village was the best and worst of small-town America.  The number of bars equaled the number of churches.  No one felt the need to lock their doors. But the lack of challenge meant that this young woman entered stasis in her journey to social and professional maturation.

And thus, from graduation until the age of 27, I hardly grew as a person, or a professional, nor did I experience much in the way of the world. The one blessing was that I had not hitched my naïve self to one of the local boys; men who, like me, had stayed and were slowly growing into aged versions of their high-school selves.

Life was not lonely. I had a small group of friends and numerous siblings.  But I was plagued by wanderlust and so it was that when I ran across a Coast Guard recruiter at work, the seed was planted, and I decided to enlist.

The recruiter told me not to do it.  “You need to go to college,” he said.

But college cost money I didn’t have, and I had no idea what I wanted to be so, with images of new horizons and the G.I. Bill, I enlisted for four years.

Between boot camp and my first duty station I went home. It was during this time that I became aware of the first sacrifice of service I had made, but it was too late for regrets.  The small town which had once been home now felt like a memory, even before I had physically left.  Like a too-small shoe, it no longer fit.  My path had diverged from that of my friends and my siblings, and with no small amount of melancholy, I realized I would never be back for more than a visit.

There were occasional calls and letters, but life moved on, even in that small town. As I stood the watch in service to my nation, marriages and babies and graduations occurred—but I was not there for them. My visits “home” became less frequent and though a measure of love remained, I eventually became a memory to my family.

Yet homesickness was eventually routed from my thoughts. The challenge of the new job saw me grow, stumble, and overcome. The Coast Guard’s small size meant that each person had a significant amount of autonomy to complete their part of the mission, and this suited me.

It suited me so well that my former plans to head to college after four years were tabled. Each day was new, different.  I flew Search and Rescue missions as part of a helicopter crew, I got promoted. I worked hard at my job, and just as hard when off-duty, studying for promotion. I applied to officer candidate school, got in, graduated and found a new stride.

This shoe fit.

Then came New Orleans.  Hurricane Katrina hit the year after I transferred in. I was the command liaison to City Hall, where I served in a fog for some of the longest months of my life. And on the tail of Katrina, Deepwater.

In the wake I found I had sacrificed much of my emotional health.  Finally spent, I washed up on the beach of retirement after 25 glorious, agonizing years.

The chasm of time and distance remain between me and my former life, but there is a silver lining.  The new life, The Coast Guard life, was the life I was meant to have lived and there I found some of the closest friends a sailor could ever wish for; forever friends, the “friend that is closer than a brother”.

Friends that forged my new family.

Semper Paratus; I am now finally embarked upon the next chapter, the next adventure—the journey has been worth the sacrifice.

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