The 8th Annual Operation Patriotism Portland Sea Dogs game is on August 30th at 6:00 PM! This is an opportunity to celebrate Maine veterans and their families who support them.
In anticipation of the game, AARP Maine and WLOB will be profiling a Maine veteran online and on the radio each week. AARP and WLOB host Ray Richardson will each choose a profiled veteran to throw out the first pitch at the start of the game.
Veterans and their families are eligible for free tickets to the game. Requests for tickets can be made at www.rayrichardson.com. There is no ticket limit.
As part of Operation Patriotism, this week we will profile Sarah Mears. Read below to see how she has served our country.
I was fortunate enough to attend a suburban Chicago high school that had a course catalog the same size as a small community college. Because of all the electives to choose from, I never had a reason to take a study hall. My sophomore year, I decided to join the track team. It was a no cut sport and I was just interested in the exercise. Illinois is the only state still, to my knowledge, that requires at least 30 minutes of physical education, five days a week, first through 12th grade. At my high school, once you were on a junior varsity or varsity team, you were able to change gym class for a study hall for the duration of the season. My junior year came and spring semester started. I went to PE for a couple weeks but after the season started I decided to take my study hall instead. My parents had just told me only weeks before that they didn’t have any money saved to help pay for college and that I should start looking for scholarships. This white girl, with blonde hair and blue eye, from suburbia USA, did not think that was going to be an easy task.
One day, a National Guard recruiter came into study hall and started talking about how anyone that joins is eligible for free college. My ears perked right up. All this National Guard stuff sounded like an easier option than filling out scholarship applications and writing a bunch of essays with the HOPES that SOMEONE would think I was good enough for their FREE money. After practice that day, I drove to my dad’s part time job and asked him what he thought about the whole situation. He told me that he would support the decision but it would ultimately be up to my mother. Since I was only 17, I was going to need a parent to sign my enlistment contract with me. That night we talked and my mother told me a phrase that she uttered for the first of many times, “If that’s what you want to do, I’ll support it.” It was the tone of her voice though, that made me realize only in hind sight, that she knew I was growing up. I could ask her permission but ultimately it was my life and she knew I was going to have to learn from my choices; she couldn’t protect me anymore.
Within two weeks, I was the newest member of the Illinois Army National Guard. I had a report date for the day after school let out for summer. I was guaranteed to be back for the start of my senior year. While I wouldn’t have thought so at the time, in reality, I was your typical selfish high schooler. I chose my Army job based on the chances I had of being killed during my six year commitment. Even though I had the test scores to do just about anything in the Army, I decided I wanted to be a Chaplain Assistant. To date, not a single Chaplain Assistant had been killed in combat. As perspective, I enlisted post 9-11 but before President Bush declared war. Veterans of the Iraq or Afghanistan Wars were not who they are today. I had no idea what our country was going to get into and how it would all impact me. I ignorantly shipped off to Basic Training unaware of how the next six years would shape my life.
Once I understood that Basic Training was all about being broken down and then put back together as a soldier, I was able to enjoy the experience. I shot a gun for the first time. I learned land navigation. I was the skinniest I’ve ever been. I also learned a lot about our country, what it meant to defend it, and more importantly about those who served before me that fought and DIED for the freedom we have today. The experience, while thrilling, was more importantly, humbling. Despite this new outlook on our military and being part of it, I swore up and down that after my initial contract was up, I was out. April 29, 2008 was quickly approaching and I found myself unable to commit to being a civilian. Just one day before my commitment was up, I promised to continue defend this country for another six years. I couldn’t help it. Serving was in my blood.
I have been enlisted for over 11 years now. I don’t think I’ve done much to deserve any kind of recognition for my service. There are people who live among us that have done far greater things than I ever have. I’ve done border patrol missions in Arizona and I’ve done peace keeping missions in Kosovo but I’ve never seen combat. I stand in formation with people who have a patch on their right shoulder that says they have fought for this country. Missing that patch makes me feel like I haven’t. For a long time, I felt guilty for not having this part of my uniform. Then someone told me that the patch I felt guilty for missing was only a patch. That patch didn’t tell the story of all the things I’ve done to support the mission here at home. That conversation really put things into perspective for me.
I said I was only going to serve for six years and now I’m on track to serve 20. I’ve graduated from college and have changed my job in the Army to something a little less safe. You may be wondering what changed. How could I go from being a high school student who just wanted an easy out of paying for college to being a proud member of the armed forces? I’ve spoken with and have shaken hands of many great men and women who have inspired me. I’ve had friends killed. I’ve seen the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and Arlington in all its glory. I look at this country and know that good or bad, She needs to be defended in order to continue our freedom. I serve so my friends and family don’t have to and so that those who have died protecting this nation may not have done so in vain.
To get your free tickets to the Sea Dogs game on August 30th, go to www.rayrichardson.com
Photo: Sarah Mears