One of our own, Rick Phelps, is off again on a great adventure. It’s not an adventure of his own choosing; rather, it’s an assignment with the Texas National Guard, and it’s one he has accepted with resolve.
You’ve seen Rick’s byline on various stories over the past four years or so, although his reports were interrupted by a year’s deployment in Iraq, and then a business tour of duty within our company working with weekly newspapers in Runnels County. But this week, he’s off again on another one-year deployment with the National Guard — presumably to be sent somewhere in the Mideast after a period of time training stateside.
The deployment notice came unexpectedly, and with only a couple of weeks of advance notice. And by e-mail, no less. I happened to be sitting at the desk next to him when he opened it.
That e-mail told him he was being shuffled out of one unit and into another — a unit whose members had known for months that they were being mobilized this fall. Had Rick not been transferred, he could have still expected to be deployed sometime next year. But that was going to be next year, and maybe those plans — we thought — would change as mid-term elections approach.
This is not offered as a whine, although this development is indeed a tremendous inconvenience to our news staff — a team in which every member is critical to producing a newspaper each day. But how do we dare think right now about how Rick’s service to his nation will inconvenience us — especially today, Sept. 11? It’s Patriot Day in the United States. It’s a time to appreciate the sacrifices made by those who serve the public in both military and civilian life, as well as the hardships endured by their families.
Throughout our nation’s history, most of the citizen soldiers who joined the Guard have been asked infrequently to serve in a war. Their duties have more often involved assisting with emergency situations after natural disasters, or at the scenes of major unrest, in support of local law enforcement. Rick has done that too, after major hurricanes hit the Gulf Coast and flooding struck areas of Texas. The possibility of going to war, and the training needed to be ready for it, were always there. The need for Guard members to be called into battle has arisen occasionally, however, and they have always served with distinction when asked.
It’s been a different world since Sept. 11, 2001.
To say that the burden of our nation’s ongoing military presence in the Mideast is being unequally shared by American families would be an understatement. Yes, it’s true that those who are serving are all — to a man and to a woman — volunteers. Whether they’re in an active duty branch of the armed forces, or the Guard and Reserves, some seek out multiple deployments because they consider this to be a mission greater than themselves — the most noble thing they may ever do in their lives. Others accept their orders with mixed emotions and less enthusiasm.
Either way, no matter how much they understand the importance of serving and protecting their country, they also realize how much they’re giving up when they leave behind their spouses and children, jobs and hobbies, civic clubs and churches. In the case of Guard members like Rick, they are interrupting civilian careers in addition to losing months of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences we all cherish while watching our children grow up.
Coincidentally, as these words were being written, Rick walked through the office Wednesday afternoon to say his goodbyes after using up what was left of this year’s paid days off. It was obvious that the reality of what awaits him over the next several months had hit home.
“Well, I’m off,” he said as he shook hands with the guys and accepted hugs from the ladies. “I’ll get a few hours sleep after the VFW ceremony tonight, and then be on the road early.”
In the Marines, it’s “Semper Fi.” In the Navy, it’s “Fair winds and following seas.” I’m not sure what it is for the Guard, but in my lingo, Rick, it’s “Godspeed” — to you and to everyone else in similar circumstances. Come home soon — hopefully in plenty of time to observe Patriot Day 2010.
Gene Deason is editor of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Friday. He may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.