Story by: Sgt. Ben Hutto
FOB KALSU, Iraq – As an American Soldier, I've witnessed bravery in a variety of forms. Whether it was observing my battle buddy overcome his fear of heights and repel down a 20 foot tower during basic training or watching one of my best friends overcome the amputation of both his legs and become an amazing non-commissioned officer, I've seen countless instances of men and women setting aside their fears and and doing what they had to do.
To be honest, I've sort of come to expect it.
I believe this determination is instilled in most Soldiers during basic training and is further developed as we serve around people who have learned to push through their anxieties in order to fulfill the oath they took to defend our country.
As I returned home from my 15 day leave, I saw it again in the most unlikely of places.
My six year old son isn't a warrior. He didn't volunteer to be the child of a Soldier. In all honesty, his opinions have very little effect on me when I start talking about deployments and how long I'm going to be away.
He is put in the unfortunate situation of being stuck with my decision to serve our country.
I'm sure he is proud of me most days, but there are sacrifices he must endure in my absence.
Dad isn't there for every holiday or birthday.
I can't tuck him into bed every night.
When he goes to Cub Scouts, he is one of the few boys whose father isn't there.
The list of every day things that I'm absent for could go on for pages and it takes a toll on his young psyche.
He has nightmares some nights. Most nights, he sleeps in my bed with his mother for reassurance.
Many days, he asks her if I'm going to come back home. He has been pulled out of school to deal with separation anxiety, further making him "different" from the children around him and hindering his ability to be a good student.
It isn't fair. I'll admit that.
Despite my best efforts to provide for him and his younger brother, they are both forced to live in a single parent home every deployment.
Both of them live with the specter of Daddy not coming home or returning home with an injury they can't understand. My oldest has seen one of Daddy's injured friends, the one with the "robot" legs, and noticed that Daddy walks with a limp now.
A six year old might not understand all of the details, but he has a unique perspective of what war is and he also understands what that could mean for me.
Unfortunately, I ask him to accept this and not worry. I ask him to go about his life "like normal" and await my return.
To be honest, I try not to think about what a huge task that is.
For many of us, "talking to the kids about deployment" is one bullet on a huge list of important things we have to get done before we get on the plane to go overseas.
I wish I could say that I've eased my child's mind and he is performing normally, I wish I could say he doesn't cry when he talks about Daddy being gone, I wish he wouldn't worry that Mommy is going to leave him now, as well; but that isn't the case.
There are a lot of days he struggles with it, and I hope one day I can help him understand how proud I am of him for the sacrifice he is making.
I want to pull him close and thank him for being as brave as any Soldier I've ever served with.
Armed only with a child's hope that "everything will be ok," he has done a wonderful job of getting through this deployment.
Unlike me, my kids will never get an award for their service. Generals typically don't give "Hooah" coins to children.
The only award they will receive is the countless toys and kisses they'll get from me when I get off the plane next October.
For them, it is enough.
As I got out of my car at the airport, I walked around to the backseat to give him a kiss goodbye.
I opened the door to see him, his eyes shrink wrapped in tears, trying to give me a gapped tooth smile despite a quivering lip.
I smiled my best reassuring smile, gave him a big hug and kiss, and told him "It's going to be all right, bud. I'll be home soon. I promise."
Without shedding a tear, he just gave me another quivering kiss on the lips and whispered, "I know, Daddy. I love you. Please come back quick."
That, folks, is as brave a thing as you'll ever see. Take it from someone who sees it every day.