I was born the oldest of two kids, five years older than my sister, Audrey. Within weeks of my birth, my mother and I moved to Fort Bragg, North Carolina where my dad was stationed in the Army as a paratrooper in the 82d Airborne Division, also called the All-American Division. My childhood was shadowed by the absence of my dad, Jesse. I was too young to understand it then; where was he, and why was he gone all the time? As I grew older and more able to search for answers about my dad, I’ve never been anything short of impressed for what he’s done. What has he done?
He graduated high school in 1989, an exceptional athlete longing for a challenge. That was when he signed up for the Army, and was curious about the airborne so he joined it.
He found his challenges in the airborne: the only conventional unit in the military trained to fight while being totally surrounded; jumping from–as paratroopers say–a “perfectly good airplane” flying 800 feet above the ground.
When I was seven months old, my father’s unit (2/505th Parachute Infantry Regiment) was ordered to Iraq to suppress the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. He was one of the first 3,000 soldiers that arrived in Saudi Arabia for the build-up of military strength before the war.
As a “commo” (i.e. radio-man) guy, my dad’s job was to relay information from the battlefield back to bases, naval ships and aircraft. In the Battle of An Nasiryah, my dad explained that the Iraqi division holding the city, was a tank division. This tank division had a total of 250 tanks in Iraq. With better communication, they would’ve brought every tank to fight off the airborne, and it would’ve been easy. Why? Airborne divisions simply can’t use heavy tanks like the M-1 Abrams–the airborne needs tanks that are light enough to carry and drop with the troops. All my dad’s unit had in An Nasiryah were a few anti-tank weapons.
Airborne infantrymen are badasses. Not only because my dad was one, but if you were to research their training and requirements, you’d line up buckets for the drool that you’d leak. During training exercises, my dad’s company would go on 30 mile marches overnight, with full packs. A full pack as an infantryman, is a 50-80 pound hinderance, in addition to the 5 pound kevlar helmet, bulky M-16 rifle and clumsy combat boots. You want to know the greatest athletes in the world? An infantryman, a very intimidating force.
Here’s an example:
When Cuba (mainly Fidel Castro) was being a hoochie back in the 80s, the White House sent two C-130 cargo planes full of Army Rangers to Cuba to “take care” of Castro. (The reason that the government was sending the Rangers is unclear to me at the moment). While the plans were en route to Cuba, the U.S. government called Castro pretty much to say, “Yo buddy, we have 2 planes full of Army Rangers headed to take care of the situation.” Either Castro or his men basically said “No, that’s okay, we’ll do what you want.” The planes turned around and headed back to base. Imagine a football team so initmidating that the other team walks off the field before the coin toss. Yikes.
My dad saw lots of action in Iraq, relative to the length of the Gulf War ground assault. Funny thing was when the U.S. first went back into An Nasiryah while invading Iraq in 2003. My grandpa told me that my dad was over at their house after work one day. They were watching CNN showing footage of the fighting in An Nasiryah. My grandpa said my dad pointed out a building and told them “I remember running by that building.” Funny how the soldier can leave war, but the war never leaves the people. If a soldier still makes it home alive from war, there is always a part of him that died in the land he fought.
He came home alive and healthy. Shortly after, we moved back to our hometown area. I got into hockey while my dad got a job working at a copper mine and my mom was a stay-at-home woman. The mine shut down in the mid-1990s and we eventually moved into our hometown of Ontonagon, Michigan. Within months he applied for a job at a paper mill that makes corrugated paper for cardboard boxes. He also coached a teenage hockey team, and was successful as his teams went downstate a few times for the state tournament. Usually, I had a practice that preceded my dad’s team’s practice so I spent many hours around the rink.
He’s been a strong supporter for what I’ve done both in and out of sports. But especially in sports. Unless he’s had to work, I don’t recall him ever missing a game and he’s always pointed out things I can improve on. His dedication to my success is priceless.
I’m biased of course, but I believe my dad was the most influential and inspiring coach I’ve ever had, and the best coach that anyone in this area could have. The pride, motivation and perseverance that the military seared to my dad’s soul was brought out with his teaching. His passion in passing on his knowledge and love for a game made playing for him more meaningful. All of his players I’m sure felt the same. He once brought a hockey team downstate (lower Michigan) with 8 total players including a goalie. They beat teams with 15 skaters and a goalie. Talent of course was also a major factor. I mean, Wayne Gretzky was born with talent but you have to be taught how to use it.
I take the field and the ice with the passion and determination my dad instilled in me. I have many great memories of him and being with him. He’s been a source of my strength and he showed by example how to play through pain. Last January I played 2 hockey games just an hour after breaking my left foot, I don’t think I deserve a medal for it or anything you know? I just admired my dad’s toughness, and he’s been a big influence on the discipline I have. And my discipline has given me a high pain threshold.
He’s done too many wonderful things in his life to be anonymous. He’s been too big of an influence on so many different people to go unnoticed.
An infantry soldier is very hard to understand because they’re thrusted into a life that’s very uncommon from what you see in typical civilian life. Every time he talks about his days in uniform… he tells his stories with such a high level of confidence, even a slight hint of arrogance. And he should. Not many people in the world can say they’ve done what my dad did in the military.
The thing is that my dad still kind-of thinks like a paratrooper. It’s a very gung-ho attitude. Even when he goes deer hunting, he’ll hunt all day. Hunting from a blind for 12 hours is nothing for him. Sports has been a type of medium at which both of us have met and shared. Sports is a place for my dad to recollect a soul that was ravaged by losing friends and fighting door to door in a foreign land. It’s easy sometimes to tell when he’s had nightmares about his experiences there because he wakes up in a short-tempered mood and he’ll lose focus and zone out at times. Flashbacks; I can’t imagine what he sees in his head.
Here’s to you dad. You’ve represented yourself exceptionally. You’ve been the epitome of a sports ambassador, teaching your players and exponentially improving themselves as athletes and more importantly, as growing men and women.
I found out everything I’ve always wanted to know about you. It truly takes an All-American to do what you’ve done with your life. There are no words for me to properly acknowledge the guidance you’ve provided for me, it’d be an insult to only say “thank you” for what you’ve been, when you deserve so much more than that.