My son Justin was a calm baby in the womb, usually perfectly happy to just sleep calmly close to my heart. That all changed when he was born six and a half weeks premature, and spent his first weeks in the NICU. That’s when we knew he was a fighter.
Growing up, Justin would always zero in on one particular thing in life, and be so passionate about that one thing. First, it was dinosaurs. Then wolves, pirates, and sunken ships. After that, it was a love of knights, castles, and finally, the military and its history.
My own family could trace its military history back to Europe and the Revolutionary War. My father-in-law was a West Point graduate and veteran of both Korea and Vietnam. Having two grandfathers who both served in the military was something Justin admired very much.
It came as no surprise when Justin told us he wanted to be in the Army. I don’t remember how he told us, but it just seemed to be the natural order of his life. It was in his genes, and we supported him.
Justin wanted to attend West Point and follow in the footsteps of his grandfather, Brooks. After doing everything necessary, he was not accepted. Justin was very disappointed, but took it as a challenge to fight for what he wanted. He took an ROTC Scholarship to his dad’s alma mater, Florida State University.
At the end of his freshman year at FSU, Justin chose to give up his ROTC scholarship, and join the Florida National Guard. Much to our dismay, he followed his heart and finished Basic Training in the summer of 2008. A few months later, his National Guard Unit was activated and deployed to Iraq. As a full time student, Justin did not have to go. However, we were surprised to learn that he made the decision to deploy with his unit anyway.
We asked Justin, “Why?”
He told us he felt the need to serve, and thought the experience would give him a better idea of what it would be like to lead his fellow soldiers in the future. Just like that, he was off to fight.
When he returned, he received the Bronze Star for his service, which is unusual for a Specialist to receive. He shrugged it off and said he was “just doing his job.”
Justin was commissioned as Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army in April 2012.
It was a proud moment for us all. He completed Ranger School, Sapper School, Airborne and Assault, and was assigned to the 101st Airborne, 1-506th, 4th BCT at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. This was a dream come true for Justin, as he had always admired the Airborne Unit. He deployed ahead of his unit on April 2, 2013, as part of TORCH, a group sent to light the way in preparation for everyone else to follow. Just like that, he was off to another fight.