Assembly helps soldier find pride in service

(From The Pasadena Citizen- November 12, 2003)
By MARCUS TANTILLO
Reporter

Being a veteran may not seem like much. In fact, in 1992 when I was getting out the Army, being a veteran did not mean much to me at all. I had just put my life on hold for the four years I was in the service, and I was ready to get it back.

I would advise anyone who has just gotten out of the military and feels this way to go visit a school assembly on Veterans Day. It will choke you up inside.

It has been more than 10 years since I was a member of United States Army, and each time I go to one of the school assemblies, it is a moving experience.

While you are in the service you know there a lot of people "with you," but, somehow, you forget the numbers. During the first assembly I went to as a veteran, everyone was seated in a gymnasium. During a portion of the program, members of each branch of service were asked to stand up and remain standing. I was amazed at the number of people who had been in the military. It makes me proud to stand with them.

I was never very patriotic as a child or young man, but when the time came, I was on the lines during Desert Storm. Originally, I enlisted for college money, but over the years, I have learned that being in the Army has given me so much more. Being in the Army has given me the chance to have experiences that I would not trade for anything. Being in the Army has also given me a better understanding of what it means to be a veteran and to have served during a time of war.

In a communication unit like I was in you do not see a lot of action, thankfully. But you are part of the team trying to defeat the enemy.

One of my friends in a different unit has a friend who lost the use of his legs before he ever made it to the front lines. No matter how small the war is, there are still losses. During the war you never know what is to come. You are constantly asking yourself questions. Will today be my last? Will I ever see my friends and family again?

I have many memories about the war. Some are fading, like the faces of those I served with. But one will always remain with me.

After the war, I was part of a team responsible for making sure all of our equipment made it back to our unit. During that time, when we were not moving equipment or guarding it, we would go to town in Saudi Arabia to relax. One night a friend and I walked into town and a group of about six children approached us. At first we did not know what to do because we did not know what their intentions were. You hear all of the stories about people making terroristic attacks to kill soldiers, and even today American soldiers are being killed by terroristic attacks.

However, the children appeared to be harmless, so we let them approach us. The children, who were most likely between the ages of 7 and 12, began to thank us. In broken English they thanked us for protecting their country. I shook hands with each one of them, and they appeared grateful that we were in Saudi Arabia. While they were thanking us, the children gave me a small key ring like what would come out of a gumball machine. I still have the key ring, which has a horse-shaped figurine on it, in a box with my other military stuff. While people at home were saying we were fighting for oil these children made me feel proud to be a soldier.

Each time I go to an assembly for Veterans Day I get that same feeling, like when I was with those Saudi Arabian children and I am proud to have served my country.

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