You Rock, Dad

This photo tells a beautiful yet haunting story.

Servicemen and their daughters hit the dance floor at the San Diego Armed Services YMCA Father and Daughter Dance. More than 450 military fathers attended the 7th annual event, themed “A Night in the Spotlight.” U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class James R. Evans (Released) 130216-N-DR144-466

Military men in uniform dancing with their young daughters would strike a chord in most hearts. This photo certainly did in mine. I haven’t stopped thinking about it since I posted it on Facebook a few days ago. 

You can learn much about any military member from the devices and ribbons on the uniform. Here’s what we know on closer inspection of the man on the photo’s right (whom I’ve never met): He’s a first class hospital corpsman with at least eight years of naval service. He wears warfare devices that validate rigorous formal qualifications in both surface warfare and fleet Marine force. His ribbons indicate that he’s deployed overseas and served at sea multiple times in support of the global war on terrorism, that he’s an expert with a rifle, and that he’s seen combat action. The top ribbon is the most impressive: a Navy and Marine Corps Achievement medal adorned with a gold “V” for valor.

This proud  dance floor dad knows, from personal close experience, the horrors of war. He’s put himself into harm’s way to serve his country and to bring medical care to sailors and Marines in combat. 

That’s just what we know from his uniform. The story runs deeper. What about the little girl in her gorgeous gown and her carefully coiffed brown tresses? How much of her young life has this dad missed, especially when he was in combat and at risk of never seeing her again? Was he present when she was born (many deployed sailors miss the births of their children)? Did he hold her hand on her first day of school? Dry her tears when she fell down, or when other children were mean to her because she was the new kid in the neighborhood? Tell her stories at bedtime? How many days, weeks, months did the two of them think about and yearn for each other when they were apart? 

Personal and family sacrifices are the real cost of war, for service members and their loved ones. You won’t find those represented in ribbons and medals. They are burned into the hearts and souls of those who have served, and the families who — in every real sense — served with them.

The men and women of the Navy hospital corps are true heroes. Like most military members, they leave it to  the nation’s leaders and its people to debate the ultimate value of where they go and what they do. To the best of their ability, they carry out the orders they are given. And they do it to near perfection, regardless of the risk of death or injury, or the cost to their personal lives. 

Corpsmen are especially vulnerable in combat. Enemies target the medics as a means to disrupt and demoralize their adversaries. In the last ten years, more corpsmen have died in combat than any other Navy rate. It’s always been that way, in any modern conflict.

May the little girl in the photo, and all others like her,  always remember that night as one of the most special nights of her whole life. May she always know and love and cherish her dad, not only for being a war hero, but  for being the handsome Navy man in uniform who danced with her on one very special night.

And for the dad, may he some day experience a father’s ultimate joy and dance with her at her wedding.

Bravo Zulu, and Semper Fi, Shipmate.