Even though my dad can fly Predators from the outskirts of Vegas, he still has had to go to Iraq to help better integrate the Predators with the ground troops. These trips worry my family because he already has a Purple Heart.
When I was in elementary school, terrorists bombed a U.S. military barracks in Saudi Arabia. The Kobar Towers were torn apart by a semi truck packed full of explosives. It was my dad’s complex. We didn’t know for two weeks whether he was alive. We knew the building had been blown up and we knew Americans died. Later he told me, “There was a river of blood running down the stairs. Everyone was cut up.” A few minutes before detonation, he’d been on his way to the other tower for a briefing. He felt sick to his stomach so he went back to his room. That’s when the blast went off. Glass flew everywhere, slicing skin. His head and back lacerated from the shards, he had barely avoided death. A lot of people died in the conference room my dad should have been in — the blast affected that building more than the one where his room was. Nineteen U.S. Air Force personnel lost their lives as a result of the attack. That was more than 14 years ago, but there’s not a week that goes by where I don’t think about it. On his more recent stint in Iraq, his barracks were attacked again. Of course, he didn’t tell us this right away. He knew how much the Kobar Towers bombing had shaken us up, but a couple of weeks after his return to the States he casually said, “Yeah, they were shooting mortars at our base. Not a big deal.” A mortar can easily blow your head off.
I hate the people responsible for almost killing my dad. Those same bastards caused my family to lose our house after 9/11 because he was laid off from his airline pilot job. He went back to the Air Force. It’s unclear whether his motivation was to fight or to support his family. Most likely both.
I would enjoy shooting a few extremists, yet I’m happier improving myself academically and individually. No matter how many of them we kill, they will keep coming back. You can’t fight a war on religion because for extremists, beliefs overpower logic. I don’t think either my dad or I want revenge. We would rather do something positive for our family and country. My dad does this by gathering life-saving intelligence on the front lines. Once I get my UCSD degree, I’ll have a better opportunity to change lives as well. Maybe one day I can help veterans deal with post-traumatic stress disorder or create new medicines for combat injuries.
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My dad is now retired and will never have to go back to the sandbox again, I hope. He’s a military contractor for the company that makes the MQ-1. I still consider myself a Vegas person, but these days I appreciate my old city with a different perspective. Californians don’t pay much attention to the possible consequences of revelry in the desert, and I got caught up in that mindset during that weekend with my friends. In San Diego, you can’t drink on the beach or anywhere outdoors, while on the Strip you can stroll down the street sipping on a 40. The Strip is an entirely different world compared to the city proper. While there, I almost forgot that my old house was only 15 minutes away.
I found one of my San Diego friends wandering the casino floor at 5:30 in the morning. He was disheveled, clearly inebriated and happy.
“Man, I love this place,” he said.
“Where have you been?”
“I don’t even know how I got here, but I’m tired.” He started to laugh. I grinned because as a tourist he only knows half the story. Las Vegas Mayor and ex-mob defense lawyer Oscar Goodman says: “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” But what happens in Afghanistan stays digitally recorded on the hard drives of Creech AFB computers.
I still wonder what kind of person I would be had I stayed at the U.S. Naval Academy. I certainly wouldn’t have as much debt as I do, and I would have never disappointed my dad. Maybe I would have had a chance to launch a cruise missile at some al-Qaeda members. Despite these occasional thoughts, I’m glad I’m in San Diego. It was the first major decision I made where I ignored the opinions of my loved ones, relying instead on freedom and personal choice.
After returning from the Vegas trip, one afternoon on my way home from school I got in the heinous 4:00 p.m. traffic on Genesee. I took a moment to reflect on the efforts of our military and how I might have been out there fighting with them. These men and women work to keep us safe while we play in the surf. They give up their freedom while we stretch our liberty to the limit in Las Vegas. I never take this for granted.