There are a myriad of qualities I look for in a guy: Smart, funny, sweet, thoughtful, tall, well dressed, romantic, strong, honest and kind are just a few. But there's one quality that means more than all of those combined. An Army man.
I love Army guys. And I know what you're thinking: It's the uniform, right? Well, I'd be lying if I said no. Of course the uniform is part of it. The BDUs are my favorite - The camouflage pants tucked into jump boots, the blouse with sleeves rolled up to reveal tanned forearms, the olive drab t-shirt peeking out from behind buttons and camo. The rank pinned to broad shoulders, the patch on the arm, the nametag above the breast pocket. The hat: camouflage and resting atop close-cropped hair, the metallic rank symbol smack in the middle. I love it. I love the Class As, light green shirt covered by an olive jacket. Dress Blues, black pants with a yellow stripe down the side, a black jacket adorned with pins delineating accomplishments, a crisp white shirt, a black bow tie. I love them all. But you take the man out of the uniform, and all that's left is a man. You can put pretty much anybody into a set of BDUs and he becomes sexy. It takes a special Army guy to be the complete package.
The complete package is a man in the Army who loves what he does. He signed up for the Army not because he didn't know what to do with himself after high school, or because he felt like he had to. He joined the Army because he wanted to. He wanted to fight for his country, and he wanted to be on the front lines. He weighed the crappy pay against the honor the Army affords and chose to forge ahead. Being in the Army, in infantry especially, is about as manly as it gets. The camouflage, the guns, the helicopters, the patches. You can almost taste the testosterone. Nothing makes me feel safer than a man in the military. I feel like he can protect me no matter what happens. He loves his country enough to fight for it, surely he'll love me enough to fight for me, too.
But there's a reason I'm fascinated with the Army. There's a reason I know all of the acronyms and cite We Were Soldiers and Saving Private Ryan as two of my favorite movies: My dad.
The best memories in my childhood find me in our living room watching cartoons as he folded the sleeves of his uniform before work. The room smelled like soap, Old Spice and boot polish. I remember driving with my mom to Ft. Campbell to have a picnic lunch at the park, my parents sitting on a ratty old blanket sprawled across the patchy grass, talking as I slid and swung in the playground. I remember my dad's 101st Airborne office, with its Bald Eagle in the entrance way, pictures of soldiers from years gone by staring down at me from the walls. The musty smell of the staircase that carried me to his office, and the bookcase behind his desk displaying the sum of his awards. I remember waiting and waiting for him to come home from his trips to the field, eager for a gift upon his return. I was greeted with an MRE and a glow stick. I couldn't have been happier. He wore a blur of patches and pins on his uniform: Ranger, Airborne, Infantry, Jumpmaster...Looking at him through a five year old's eyes, he was a hero.
After twenty years of service, my father retired as a Major. We went to his retirement party as a family, my mother, father, brother and I. We listened to his soldiers speak of him with respect, his Colonel speak of him with pride, his coworkers speak of him with admiration. When it was his turn to speak, my father went to the front of the room in his BDUs, collected his plaque, and took a seat at the podium.
"Well, I imagine that my leaving is pretty much like dipping your finger in a bucket of water. You don't really notice that anything's missing," he began. He went on to talk about his service and thanked some people in the room. His speech was short and sweet. He hated leaving the Army. I was only ten years old, but I couldn't imagine anyone not noticing my father's absence. My father is the greatest man I have ever known, and I was sure that those who cared enough to attend his retirement party must've felt the same.
He's been out of the Army for over ten years now. He no longer jumps out of planes and helicopters, he no longer goes to the field for weeks at a time. His once jet black hair is salt and pepper, but he works hard every day, he still has his southern drawl and he still calls me "Sugar Booger." I absolutely adore him. He no longer wears patches or medals, but through the eyes of a twenty-four year old, he's a hero.