I left the conference at Ft. Bragg early on Wednesday evening in an attempt to make it back to Tampa before Hurricane Nicole shut down travel. What should have been a direct 2-hour flight became a travel odyssey. I spent the next 48 hours dealing with canceled flights, multiple delays, and being rerouted at every airport. It felt like “Planes, Trains & Automobiles” and was reminiscent of the challenges coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan over a decade of hundreds of trips back & forth to and from the sandbox. But the travel comparisons ended at canceled flights…
I didn’t have to sleep on the ground at Baghdad International Airport (BIAP) for two nights in a row waiting for a Space-A flight home. I wasn’t stuck in a “gen pop” tent where finding an open, dust-covered mattress was next to impossible among the snoring occupants. Their kit littered the floor as you tip-toed blind through the minefield in the darkness, trying not to wake anyone else. The bathroom wasn’t a port-a-potty more than three blocks away or a communal trailer shower that only had hot water in the 120-degree summers and was an ice-cold drip in winter. I didn’t have to scrounge for an MRE or drink a piss-warm Rip-It energy drink in the galley tent.
This time, I was able to find a hotel only minutes from the airport, spent a night in a comfortable bed, and was able to take a warm shower in the morning. The USOs in Raleigh, Charlotte, and Nashville provided a home-like atmosphere with coffee, drinks, food, and conversation with fellow vets and the USO volunteer staff.
In Nashville, I struck up a conversation with an elderly gentleman who happened to be a 1968 US Naval Academy grad who went to BUD/S in 1967 on the East Coast - the year I was born. He did a tour in Vietnam with Underwater Demolition Teams (UDT-21) and spent a career in the Navy reserves retiring as a Captain. He went to law school and later served as a Circuit Court judge before retiring for a second time. He returned home to the Tennessee family farm where he lives today.
I was only able to spend that extra hour in the Nashville USO because of a weather delay. It was a blessing in disguise. I’ve passed through USOs thousands of times over the past 30 years. There have always been volunteers, usually veterans themselves, like the UDT Navy Frogman, who continues to remind me of what it means to be a veteran. Fellow Americans who commit to a lifetime of service to this country and to others. Some wear the uniform for four years, and some serve forty. Many take on similar civilian careers, becoming police officers, firefighters, school teachers, nurses, doctors, lawyers, and business owners, where they tap into first responder & leadership skills honed in the military to excel.
Many, after two-lifetime careers, still feel the need to give back to others long after retirement, like Captain Royce Taylor USN (ret) still does to this day. I am proud of my veteran status and even more humbled to be a “son of UDT.” The UDT Navy Frogmen set the standard Navy SEALs strive to live up to today. Captain Taylor sets the standard Commander O’Shea will strive to emulate tomorrow.
Non sebi sed patriae, "Not for self but for country"
Dan O'Shea is a combat veteran with more than twenty five years of leadership and special operations experience built upon multiple Middle East and Africa tours spanning more than two decades. O'Shea, is a retired Navy SEAL Commander, Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran.