Winning the Race

| Staff Columnist on Deployment

On a dark, crisp summer morning, choices I had made more than two years ago were reappearing.

The sweat dripping off of 23-year-old Tyler’s face was evidence of a goal he had set just a few days earlier. His legs were tired, but he wasn’t giving up. The two-mile run was nearing an end; he was going to finally pass the Army Physical Fitness Test. Tyler joined the Missouri National Guard after hours of discussion with his wife, Ashley. They have a 1-year-old son named Lincoln who actually made the decision for them. As a Troy police officer, Tyler desired another way to help his family. So he became a soldier.

Over the last few months I’ve received a lot of emails about why I joined the Army. Many of my fellow students as well as my co-workers seem curious as to why I would leave a great college and a career to join the military. Like other soldiers, I have various reasons as to why I joined, but let’s get back to Tyler.

I met Tyler one evening while I was practicing firing a handgun for an upcoming training event. I wasn’t the best shooter, so he taught me a few tricks that he had learned as a policeman. His experience and pointers helped me qualify a few days later at the firing range. Since then, I’ve gotten to know him as a fine soldier and as someone other soldiers enjoy being around.

Lincoln has a father to be proud of.

A few days before our physical fitness test, I overheard Tyler discussing some difficulties he had with the running portion. The sit-ups and push-ups weren’t his problem; it was his run time that he couldn’t pass. If you looked at him, you could never tell. He’s tall and skinny, and his dark hair and facial features show maturity beyond his years. He’s quiet and leads by example.

After hearing that his passing time for a two-mile run was around 16 minutes, I quickly realized how I could repay his earlier help. My normal run time was around 14 minutes, so I volunteered to run with him and help him pass. He accepted. The morning of our test I found Tyler in line waiting for me. We had both passed our sit-ups and push-ups and had one more event to complete the challenge.

The Army likes soldiers to be up early in the morning. Around 5 a.m., to be exact. Before the sun could clear the horizon, we gathered around a designated course for the run. As the clock started, we sprinted off into the darkness. Tyler and I kept an almost identical pace, never leaving each other. We crossed the one-mile marker at around seven minutes.

One down, one really hard one to go.

After you do 70-something push-ups and 60-something sit-ups, the second mile of a two-mile run isn’t as easy as it sounds. We were keeping up, however. Our pace began to slow a little, but never once did either of us think of quitting. We didn’t say a word as we ran. Our muscles ached.

What started as slow inhales and exhales, now became heavy, labored breathing. There were people stationed near the sides of the course with lights guiding the way. As we turned towards our final quarter mile, I knew we had to push ourselves to meet the established time. I began to sprint toward the end, but shortly after I viewed the finish line, I realized Tyler wasn’t with me. I slowed down to make sure both of us would keep the same time. He quickly joined me. So close now…The run was coming to an end, just a few more feet. Our times were called out as we finished.

We both went our separate ways as the other runners flocked together past the finish line. The summer light was breaking through to start the day. I found Tyler resting with one arm on a knee. I asked him his time. It was the same as mine: 15:24.

We had made it.

Embracing in a hug, other soldiers in his platoon congratulated him, knowing how hard he had worked to achieve his goal.

This is why I joined the Army.

Every soldier joins the military to serve our country and defend freedom. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not always the guns and tanks that fulfill the demand. Tyler joined to serve two people whom he loves. He knows their faces and thinks of them often. I joined to serve my country, but simply put, I joined to serve the people who wear the uniform.

I write about the courageous men and women who sacrifice so much so we can be free. My goal is to tell their stories to anyone who will listen. I take a lot of photos of the soldiers, mostly for their families back home. This helps them rest assured that their loved ones are safe and prepared for whatever lies ahead. There are many other stories I will tell in a book someday, I’m sure, but for now, I will tell you what I experience as I’m surrounded by so many amazing young soldiers like Tyler.

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