Honoring the Sacrifices of Four Sons this Memorial Day
Tim Carlson, Senior Associate on DHG’s Digital Technology Services team, is father to four service men currently serving in the U.S. and abroad. He joins us in honor of Memorial Day to talk about their respective journeys to get where they are today and the pride he has for his sons and their courageous service.
Where are your sons currently stationed and what are their respective roles?
Daniel is a Major in the Air Force, the oldest of my four sons, and is stationed at Hurlburt Air Force base near Fort Walton, FL. He and his wife have three children. Nathan, the second oldest, is a Captain in the Air Force Air National Guard. His unit is in Seattle, WA but he lives in Chattanooga, TN. Our third born, Andrew, is a Captain and is stationed at Tinker Air Force base in Oklahoma City, OK. He and his wife have an 18-month old daughter. And my youngest, Stephen, is a Captain in the Army and, and he and his wife recently arrived at U.S Army Garrison Wiesbaden, Germany.
What ran through your mind when they first told you that they were going to go into the armed forces?
It was a progressive thing. Our second born, Nathan, was looking at colleges and wanted to go into engineering. Clemson, he recalls looked “awesome” but was expensive as an out of state option so Air Force ROTC at Clemson turned out to be the best option. Daniel first went to a junior college, Caldwell Community College in Hudson, NC because he wanted to learn to fly since he was a child, and it was one of two colleges in the state that had an FAA-approved aviation program.
When Nathan first decided he was going to go ROTC, I thought, “Great!” I didn’t really think about everything that meant, that he was going to be giving many years of his life to the Air Force, and that he would be deployed in very dangerous situations. I just thought, “If this is what he wants to do and where he wants to go to college, okay.” The longer he was in ROTC program, the more the reality of my son going into the military began to hit home.
After Daniel finished his first 2 years he transferred to UNC Charlotte and was accepted into the Air Force ROTC program there. He wanted to fly and getting into Air Force ROTC meant his likelihood of becoming an Air Force pilot was greatly increased. Upon graduation from UNC Charlotte, he was accepted into Air Force pilot training. It was a scary thing as we contemplated what that meant for two of our sons to be involved in potential military conflict in a very chaotic and shaky world scene. Three years after Nathan started at Clemson, Andrew applied, was accepted, and was recruited by the Air Force ROTC. He wanted to pursue Air Force aviation also. He went through a very rigorous screening process, passed, and was accepted into the program. Andrew and Daniel both went through the Air Force aviation training program at Columbus AFB in Columbus, MS.
Today, Daniel is a Reaper Drone pilot and Andrew is an E-3 Sentry pilot. The E-3 is the Boeing 707 with the radar on top. The crew on the E-3 provides surveillance and communications among other responsibilities. It’s a lot like an air traffic control center in the sky monitoring both friendly and unfriendly air traffic. It became an increasingly scary thing. I thought, “This is looking more like all of our sons are going military.” Nathan is an Air Force TACP which stands for Tactical Air Control Party – he tells fighter pilots what to do. He’s in the Air Force but aligns with the Army or Marines to provide strategic air strike guidance. In a combat situation, he would communicate with pilots about what kind of artillery is needed and provide target coordinates among other things. Stephen, our youngest son, is a Black Hawk “Mike” helicopter pilot – the “Mike” is a very sophisticated computerized helicopter, He says, “It’s so sophisticated, it basically flies itself.”
Stephen didn’t really want to follow in his brother’s footsteps. He had the opportunity to go into Air Force ROTC and get scholarship assistance but at first, he just didn’t want to go the ROTC route. He did, however, want to go to Clemson. After he was accepted and made it through his first semester, the reality of paying for college set in. Although the Air Force ROTC option was no longer available, Army ROTC was still accepting students and offered scholarship help. Stephen decided on Army Aviation, which for the most part, means helicopters, although they have a few fixed wing aircraft, because he wanted to learn a skill he could use if necessary when he got out of the Army. His brothers give him a hard time and joke around telling him he’s just a taxi driver in the sky for the military.
It’s been a lot of fun for us to travel and visit each of our sons and their wives and families in their unique settings. When Daniel and Andrew were in flight training we visited them and toured their base and even had the opportunity to try out the flight simulators pilots train on. With Daniel’s first assignment, we visited them in Las Vegas where he was stationed at Creech AFB. It is a very interesting and beautiful part of the country. Now they’re in the FL panhandle. They’re near one of the prettiest and not very well-known beaches in Navarre, FL. Andrew and his wife are in Oklahoma and live close to the University of OK, a beautiful campus we love to visit where she works for the OU Law school. We’re looking forward to going to Germany this Fall to see Stephen and his wife.
Talk about the pride you feel for your sons and their dedication to our country, especially this time of year as we are coming up on Memorial Day.
It’s a pride, that’s not based on anything I can take responsibility for. “Wow, what did I do to have FOUR sons willing to make this kind of sacrifice?” It’s a very humbling thing to know our sons care enough about our country that they were willing to sacrifice and devote their lives in service to the USA. It wasn’t just the need to help pay for college. They have true respect for our country. They live out and believe in an authentic culture of honor and realize they have a debt to pay for all the freedoms we’ve been given. We tried to instill that in our kids, but I can’t take credit for what they’ve done…but their mom probably should!
It’s an amazing and humbling experience to know your sons are willing to make that sacrifice. It’s been hard on them and their families to travel and move around but they’ve come to grips with the reality that home is where the Air Force, or Army, sends them. Their deployments are often really hard – being away from their wives and kids and being in harm’s way. When the news programs show patriotic events where the parent surprises their child or spouse after being deployed a long time, such an emotionally moving thing, there’s a lot of reality to that! The tears of joy are real…not only have they been gone, but you’ve been worried and anxious wondering the whole time, are they in danger, are they okay?
So, we pray…a lot! Oftentimes, they can’t really give you details about where they are or the specifics of that they’re doing…makes me think of Andrew flying his plane in the Middle East, Stephen flying helicopters in Afghanistan, or Nathan being embedded on the ground with Army and Marines. So hard! When Stephen was deployed, he sent a picture of himself flying his Black Hawk helicopter with a Clemson flag hanging out of the doorway with the Afghan mountains in the background. That was fun, but at the same time, it was a great message of hope to us!
Why do you think it’s important for us to celebrate Memorial Day and recognize those fighting for our country?
We remember – in our current culture that is such a self-centered, me-oriented culture, that our history has been of men and women who have not been so self-centered; they were happy to say, “I’m honored and willing to sacrifice my life for my country, to sacrifice my current situation and to serve my country.” So many people have died and given their lives.
Memorial Day is all about remembering the sacrifices they made. I think it’s important for us to think, in view of what we have today, that our freedom is not something we deserve, it’s something that’s been earned; it’s something that we’ve been given that came at a very great cost to the generations who’ve come before us. Memorial Day – for many is just another holiday, you know, cut the grass, go away on a trip, or just kick back but how many of us really stop and remember and know what Memorial Day is all about, how many of us stop and take time to think about how God really has blessed America and express our gratitude?