I grew up on the island of Kauai in a close knit family.
My family was what we in Hawaii call a "mixed-plate,"
with ancestral ties to Ancient Hawaii, China, England, Germany,
and the mid-western United States. As a child, I learned early
on that I was the product of generations of migrants who had come
from all over the world. How do you define such a variety of backgrounds
coming together? Our pot pourri of culture could be summed up
in one word, "American."
I never really thought about it as a child or even as a young
adult. I had loving parents and grandparents, I lived on a beautiful
island where everyone in the community was like family. I was
free, and I was safe. I never thought that what I had was anything
special, and I never feared that it could be taken away. I took
it for granted.
For my whole life, I was told that I was lucky to be an American
and to live in a free country. I was told that freedom wasnt
free, and that my grandfathers on both sides had fought in World
War II and my father in Vietnam. All to give me a good life. To
give me a good life, I thought? To give me freedom? These ideas
were abstract, and I never came to understand them until years
My father believed that everyone should serve. Whether it was
military service, the Peace Corps, or public service, somehow,
you would give something back. My father also told me that women
from Kauai were known for being tough and had been strong
warriors in the days of ancient Hawaii. So, as a freshman
in college, I asked myself, how was I going to give serve. I enrolled
in Army ROTC. Although my husband, brother, father, and grandfathers
had all been in the military, I did not grow up in a military
atmosphere. I did not watch war movies, and I was not interested
in reading about them. At the time, I made a living dancing the
hula on a dinner cruise for tourists. The military life was not
something that came naturally. How in the world was I going to
be an officer? I never really planned on staying in ROTC. I was
going to try it, I probably wouldnt like it, and I would
most likely drop out after one semester.
Then, I met a woman named Major Kathy Schlimm. MAJ Schlimm had
all the qualities of a true leader. She was tough, smart, and
dedicated to her cadets and the Army. She managed to balance her
professional life as a soldier with marriage and motherhood. She
was like a mother to her cadets, the kind of mother that teaches
you right from wrong, picks you up when you fall, and beams with
pride when you succeed. She dedicated herself to the profession
of arms and to training the future leaders of the Army. She didnt
do it for the money. And, she did not do it for recognition. She
did it because she loved soldiers and she loved her country.
So, when the opportunity to drop out of ROTC came, I did not.
I stayed in, got knee deep in Army training. I was afraid that
I would not amount to much as a soldier. But, I had to try my
best. There were so many opportunities out there for me, opportunities
that were not there for my mother and grandmothers. The women
who served in Vietnam were so much braver than I was. The decision
to join the Army and go to Vietnam were choices that women of
that era did not have to make. When it would have been completely
acceptable to stay home where it was safe, they chose to do something
that was larger than themselves, and go to war. Women were fighting
for rights at home in America, and yet these courageous women,
took an extra step, and went to Vietnam. The men and women who
went to Vietnam fulfilled an obligation to serve our country to
advance the cause of freedom. Yet, so much of what they did was
unappreciated, and so many of them were condemned by fellow Americans.
So, why did they go to war? The reasons for going to war are not
easily defined. If I were asked why I went to war, I would answer:
I chose the profession of arms because I love my country. The
decision to go to war was made. I am a soldier, and I will willingly
do my duty. I dont mean to imply that my response was robotic.
I want to believe that I went for the right reasons. And now that
I have served in Afghanistan and Iraq, I know that I helped advance
the cause of freedom. I saw people there who were so desperate
to have just a little piece of what we have. Men would stand in
line for days at the front gate of our base camp, just for the
chance to earn four dollars, a meal, and a bottle of clean water
for a full days work. The majority of the people I met were seeking
what I always thought of as the simple things in life. Now, the
people of Iraq and Afghanistan have the right to vote, the right
to pursue an education, and freedom to practice their religion.
The soldiers who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan sacrificed
their lives to give others freedom. These brave soldiers come
from all branches of the military and perform various duties.
Brave soldiers, like my cousin, Infantry Platoon Leader, First
Lieutenant Nainoa Hoe, and my friends, Maintenance Officer, Captain
Pierre Piche, blackhawk pilot Second Lieutenant Jeremy Wolfe,
and the Sergeant First Class Kelly Bolor, our Laundry and Bath
Platoon Sergeant. Now, my husband and I are both home from the
war, and my brother and brother-in-law are serving in the Middle
East. When I think of all them, the soldiers who have died, and
those who continue the fight, I am comforted to know that the
people of Afghanistan and Iraq are beginning to taste the fruits
So, when I think back to my childhood, and my parents telling
me that my freedom did not come without sacrifice, I can truly
say that I understand. I am so grateful to all who have served
so that I can be free, and I hope that by serving in the Army,
I can someday be worthy of their sacrifice.