Exactly 1 year ago today I finally returned to my TX home after leaving my wife, kids, family, and friends to serve a 1 year tour to Africa. It was challenging to leave all the people and things I loved in the good old U.S. of A, and the separation from family, the hectic schedule & transportation, sacrifice of everyday comfort & freedom, the rigor of war-time operations, and the miserable heat of the desert were enough to make me think hard about why I chose to join the service in the first place. My own friends and family in their own way of caring would ask if I was sure that this was a good choice. To me, it was absolutely, without a doubt the right thing to do.
Why would I be willing to depart from my beautiful wife, fun-loving sons, and everything near & dear to me to go to a barren, scorpion-filled desert? You have to know a little about my family history first…
“No history; no self. Know history; know self” – Dr. Jose Rizal, Filipino revolutionary and national hero
My family immigrated to the USA for the opportunity of a better life. My paternal Grandfather (Oscar Dizon), an artist and a writer, moved to the US for freedom of speech upon becoming a target of supposed treason by Ferdinand Marcos. After writing in the local newspaper column about the political corruption of the Filipino president and becoming a target of the regime, my grandfather and our family escaped to America. My maternal Grandfather (Guillermo Joya) was a fireman by day and singer/actor/musician by night. His home was burned down in World War II by the Japanese and in search for a better life, they looked for a land of safety, security, and freedom. My mother would tell me stories where she had to eat ketchup and rice because that’s all they could afford to eat while living in their humble province in the the Philippines.
I don’t know where I would be, or IF I EVEN WOULD BE here had it not been for my family’s chance of moving to a free country. In my twenties, I felt so much gratitude for this I wanted to pay it forward. Inspired by my late father-in-law, LCDR (ret) Eleno Corpuz, Jr and Godfather, LCDR (ret) Winston Centeno, I submitted an application/package to be a U.S. Naval Officer. (Contrary to popular belief, it was NOT Tom Cruise or Val Kilmer in Top Gun that moved me to join)! In 2010 I received my commission, and trained at Rhode Island, California, Florida, Texas, South Carolina, and Virginia before deploying to Africa for one year leaving my wife and kids – ages 5, 3, and 8 months-old at the time. I wanted to pay my dues to Lady Liberty, and this was a chance to serve the people of the USA by following the sound of chaos and fighting in the war against terrorism. I felt moved to live out the things I valued more importantly than simply talking about it or thinking about it. To be in the arena was a different ballgame than watching from afar – and it excited me. I felt and still do feel that if I die, then I’m going to die proudly. The worst thing for me is the thought of living life with nothing to die for. I know that when my time is called to knock on St. Peter’s door, the earth will still turn, the sun will still rise, and the Dallas Cowboys will still remain winless in the Playoffs (so long as Jerry Jones is GM). And if I’m taken from this world, I hope the example I embodied showed my children even just a little something about character, values, and morals. My prayer is that my wife and kids will take all they have been blessed with and serve this planet to their greatest ability – even more so when I die. But the fact is I’ve already lived enough life in the back seat and now I’m at the helm. So I put on my big-boy drawers, fit into my Kevlar vest, and went on an extended “all-inclusive” desert expedition. To be perfectly honest with you, I walked away at the airport on the way to my first training-stop bawling my eyes out when my wife, sons, and mother-in-law turned around and walked off, knowing the count down to seeing them again had just begun.
“A true soldier doesn’t fight because he hates what’s in front of him. He fights because he loves what he left behind.” – G.K. Chesterson
The year went by super fast and super slow at the same time. I had some really great times during the deployment. I met some of the best human beings on the planet and shared an espirit de corp with my brothers and sisters in arms. They showed me what Honor, Courage, and Commitment looked like in real life. To this day, I still keep up with them and plan for the next reunion we can get together again in some part of the globe. But I also faced some tough times as I battled myself, my fears and limiting thoughts. For those married couples out there – imagine fighting with your spouse while thousands of miles apart, or hearing about the difficulties of your wife/husband/kids without the ability to be right there. Or hearing others complain about their comfortable life that seemed to burden them like it was the end of the world, when people in poverty or civil/political upheaval were facing real problems like not knowing IF they could eat or feed their family, or whether they would live to see the next day. When things got serious overseas, these kinds of thoughts left a bitter taste in my mouth and would keep me up at night. But I learned to accept things I couldn’t control. If people were oblivious to the destruction, death, and despair in other parts of the world, then that would mean that people of service were doing their jobs.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” – T. Roosevelt
Day by day, another wake-up and task was completed until my mission finally came to a close. I was so excited to get back home, but at the same time I was just hoping that I could pick up right where I left off the year before; and that same love could burn for my wife, sons, family, and friends. And homecoming was even better than expected. The taste of freedom was oh so sweet – the endless choices of how to spend time, people to connect with, places to see, different food to eat, what type of adult-beverage to drink – I was like a starved fat kid at the pizza buffet. But soon after the ‘honey-moon’ phase of partying, celebrating, and feasting ended, reality struck. Joan and I had to re-learn to live as a husband and wife again in the same house. I had to re-learn how to be a Dad, and peel off my cover as a warrior, officer, and manager. We also had to make some critical decisions that would affect our lives forever. After my wife guided me to sit still, meditate, and pray again we decided to sell our house, our stuff, our material things, and do something we love to do together – TRAVEL. People must have thought we were a little crazy, wild, and volatile for choosing to give up that life of comfort and live a nomadic and improvised lifestyle. I had to trust that our daily needs would be taken care of by pure faith alone. But I knew without a doubt that I didn’t care about my house, swimming pool, toys, and comfort more than I cared about my wife, sons, and our freedom to live life on earth on our own terms. The decision didn’t come easy or without debate, but I’ll tell you that this past year has been THE BEST of times. We reconnected with family & friends back in TX, did the Disney World thing in Florida, visited family in Jacksonville, celebrated with my sister’s family & friends at her wedding in Colorado, moved my parents to Arizona, visited family in California, and explored Europe this year – all together as family even with the kids. The chance to stand still, enjoy “carefree timelessness” with my family, quiet the rapid blabbering story inside my head, and regain the sense of living life to its fullest is something money can’t buy. And we have more adventures on deck: Las Vegas, NV, Fort Myers, FL, Pensacola, FL, and the Philippines! To say that we’re excited to travel, reconnect with friends & family, meet new people, and help others along the way is an enormous understatement.
“What’s the use of a fine house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on?” -H.D. Thoreau
I have to call out and thank my wife, Mrs. Limitless, for putting up with me and my crazy ideas and projects. She helps keep me grounded when I start flying off into chaotic territory. I can’t tell you enough about how much this woman does for me, my family, and for others. She has this brightness about her that can make a blind man (me) see the light. I’m not shy in saying quite literally, “I LOVE YOU TO DEATH!” I’m so very grateful for my three sons, even though they may not understand this story now. But they served as well and continue to serve our world by being the strong, independent, and curious little guys they are. I’m really having the time of my life seeing them grow into awesome young men, and they surprise me with their humor and gifts every day. I’m also thankful for my parents for always supporting me and the family – to my Dad, Mom, and Mother-in-law: You’re the best parents anyone could ask for! To my Father-in-Law up above – I hope to make you proud and look forward to the day we catch up on life. To our friends and family and the people who are always there, both near and far, and share both the good & bad times – y’all make life fun and worth living for. Thank you to all the Sailors, Marines, Airmen, Soldiers, and Coasties that I had the pleasure to serve with. Your friendship, mentorship, and followership will never be forgotten. And last but not least, thank you to the warriors and heroes that are away right now, defending freedom & democracy around the world, and bringing the fight to terror’s soil – thank you for your service.