In my family, Veterans Day holds great meaning. I come from a long lineage of men who have taken the oath to “defend the constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic…”. My great grandfathers, grandfathers, uncles, cousins, and dad all vowed to willingly give their life for their fellow man. I grew up learning the importance of being a patriot. My dad spent 26 years, and nearly all of my life, in uniform defending the freedoms we all enjoy here today.
To put it all into context, my dad was an officer in the United States Marine Corps. You might already be able to draw some accurate conclusions about him, but that would be insufficient to explain who he really is. More specifically, he was a Marine fighter pilot. Does the word intense enter your mind? By his example, he taught us character. And he always holds us accountable. I am the oldest of 11 kids, and many people picture a drill sergeant running around the house with a whistle around his neck. This is not my experience of being a military dependent.
Yes, my dad has a steely-eyed glare that would scare off even the toughest enemy. And yes, my dad has very high standards for all of us. But he has never asked us to do anything he wouldn’t do himself. Perhaps his greatest attribute is humility. His “war stories” revolve around other heroes, men and women who served alongside him, people who did the grunt work or the little tasks that nobody else wanted to do. And when he brags, he brags only about others. He builds up his comrades and rarely, if ever, talks about himself. His conversations with all of us have always been about working hard, treating others with respect and kindness, and to be a part of something bigger than ourselves.
These conversations have been imprinted on my soul from the day I was born. For me, life in a military family has shown me the merits of sacrifice, discipline, and pride.
My father's departures and returns will be a big part of what I remember most from my childhood. Equally as indelible will be my relationship with my mother that was born out of those experiences. My dad's time flying the F/A-18 Hornet or F-16 Viper required months-long deployments for training to bases all over the United States and to the far reaches of the world. The painfully long combat deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq hurt the most. I felt dad’s absence right from the beginning. On the day that I was born, December 8, 2001, my dad was in the north Arabian Gulf flying combat missions into Afghanistan off the aircraft carrier John C. Stennis. I was six months old when I met my dad for the first time.
For as long as I can remember, my dad wore a flight suit to work. Green flight bags packed and waiting at the door signaled a pending long absence. It was tough to see my mom go through the extended deployments. She always supported my dad, but I knew she was sad too. One vivid memory I have is when I was five years old. My dad’s bags were packed for a lengthy tour in Iraq. I became very upset. He asked what was wrong, and my response said it all, ”You need a new job!” Dad replied, “What kind of job would you like me to have?” I firmly answered, “One with a desk where you can move the papers around and come home every night!”
I know we all sacrificed a great deal during those years. The hardest parts of dad’s deployments were on Sundays when families all around were off doing something fun together, and my mom and my siblings and I were alone. It was tough to see another dad playing catch with his kids in the yard, or spending time at the park or coaching on the sidelines when my dad was on a mission somewhere other than playing with me. We were separated for many holidays, including Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, birthdays and other special moments. Being around the extended family was almost more difficult without my father around. However, I knew he had an important job, and I also knew that there were many kids who would never see their dad again. I understood at a very young age that we were lucky when my dad finally walked in the front door, exhausted but beaming as he reached down to scoop us up into an enormous bear hug.
I do not want anyone to feel sorry for the military community, for I loved my childhood and family. The men and women who serve, choose to wear the uniform. They want to serve, and they see their service to our nation as a vocation. For our family, it was the same. Dad loved serving in the military, and we knew it. When he was home, he made the most of our time together, and we all spent as much time with him as possible. I have many awesome memories of hiking, swimming, playing backyard football and lacrosse, and sleeping outside under the stars with my dad. I think this immense joy of being with my dad intensified the separation for all of us.
There was and still is a high emphasis on values in my home. With 11 kids running around, organized chaos sums it up best, but never to be used as an excuse to lose one's bearing! A family dinner table is an event at our house each night, and that is where all roads meet. It’s also a time when dad’s absence was felt strongest. My mom works incredibly hard to make sure we all participate with the making of dinner and the cleaning up after. The time spent at the table is when my parents ask each of us about our day, and the focus of conversation always ends up covering a value, the definition, and ways we can improve. The dinner table is also where dad introduced us to some of the most brilliant minds. We have met people from all walks of life, and listened as dad’s friends from the military shared their varied experiences in peacetime and war. The discipline and commitment it took for them to reach the pinnacle of their careers was not lost on me. My dad’s friends are heroes, and I feel blessed to have met many of them.
Two years ago, dad retired as the Commander of the 158th Fighter Wing. On the day of his change of command, hundreds of men and women in uniform stood at attention to honor his leadership and service. The love they had for my dad was evident. As dad saluted the more than 1,000 Green Mountain Boys who served under his command for the final time, tears welled in his eyes. I stood in the front row with my brothers and sisters and mom, and I realized how much of his life was lived for others. I felt tremendous pride.
I will never fully understand the gravity of my father's service but every day I garner more appreciation for what he sacrificed. He was on a noble mission to defend our country’s freedom. He flew off the most dangerous piece of real estate in the world, the deck of an aircraft carrier, mostly at night. He accumulated more than 3400 military flight hours and more than 200 aircraft carrier landings. Every time he stepped into his single-seat jet, his life hung in the balance. And yet, he had faith.
My dad’s strength and commitment and bravery were palpable to me as a kid. Now, as I am older, I am beginning to see the hero he really is. He has been to war, and he has seen things that nobody should see. I imagine that takes a toll. However, he remains positive, a devoted patriot who would lay down his life for his fellow man. My father, Colonel Patrick M. Guinee is a great American. I am proud to call him Dad.
Most of all, I hope that someday, I might be able to pay forward the sacrifice he made for my mom and my brothers and sisters, and all of us standing here today. It is my intent to make him proud, and to do my part, whatever form that may take.
May we all find our way to a noble mission, a way to give thanks, a way to give back to the United States of America or whatever country you call home. Thank you so much for your time.