‘For the greater good’ : Lessons from an Army brat

Julianne Alvares, Opinion Editor

From the Alvares Family
Julianne Alvares and her sister Molly embrace their dad, Mark, after his return from Afghanistan.

A picture hangs in the entry hall of my house with my dad, my younger sister and me. She is nearly 3 years old, and I’m around 8. He’s on his knees smiling, and my sister and I are embracing him.He’s in military fatigues, freshly ironed with his medals hung in a row. I remember the moments leading up to that photo. My face pressed to the glass looking out at the tarmac, my hands fidgeting, holding onto the sign I had made. Minutes pass by like hours as I glance at the window every time I saw a plane, hoping it would be him.

Then I see it. The plane pulls into the gate. My heart jumps all over my chest. I run over to my mom, and we watch the gate, hoping to sneak a peek of the green uniform. Finally, I see him. I fly out of my seat, my 8-year-old legs carrying me as fast as I can, towards him, and embrace him.

After 12 months of waiting, my dad is finally home.  After 12 months of being scared every time there’s a knock at the door — afraid of someone telling me that my dad isn’t coming home — he’s finally back. Those 12 months had been incredibly difficult.

My dad was deployed to an airfield in Afghanistan – Bagram to be exact, and was finally home.  He had missed two birthdays, one Christmas, a Thanksgiving, my first hockey game, my school play — the list could go on and on.

However, I’m thankful for having a dad in the Army.  He’s taught my so many amazing lessons, some learned the hard way, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.


Lesson #1: Make the most of a bad situation

Afghanistan wasn’t my dad’s first deployment. He was deployed to Guantanamo Bay in Cuba when I was two. I don’t remember much about my experiences with the deployment, but I know a lot about my dad’s. He was stuck in the command center most of the day: He described it as a “monotonous” experience.

My dad decided to make the most of his “monotonous” circumstances. He founded the Guantanamo Bay Dementors (a reference to “Harry Potter”), a rugby team. The team played the only USA Rugby sanctioned match in Cuba. My dad still talks about his rugby days, and how they made Cuba a much more enjoyable experience than sitting around in an office all day.


Lesson #2 : Leadership

When I was younger, I was constantly dragged to military functions. It was so odd to see people saluting my dad and shaking his hand. To me he wasn’t “Sgt. First Class Alvares.” To me, he was “Dad.”

I was shocked when people came up to me to say things like, “You should be proud of your dad,” or “Your dad’s a great boss.” He’s since been promoted to First Sergeant, and now I hear stories about men leaving platoons and units so they could continue to work for my dad.

Whenever I’m faced with a tough leadership decision, I run to my dad. I want to be respected and looked up to like he is. He helped me get through my captaincy on my hockey team. He has shown me to lead by leading by example. I want to be the kind of leader he is.

From the Alvares family
Julianne Alvares says goodbye to her, Mark, as he leaves for deployment.

Lesson #3: Sometimes you have to make sacrifices for the greater good

Before my dad was deployed, we spent a day in Monterey, going to the aquarium and playing on the beach, until we eventually ended up at the Defense Language Institute. There I was told my dad was going away for a year. I was crushed. I remember our last family hug before he boarded the bus and I didn’t want to let go.

I was angry and hurt because it wasn’t fair that my dad had to go away for a year. It wasn’t fair my dad had to miss my birthday. I felt betrayed by my own father. Why did he leave me and go off to fight a war that didn’t even affect us?

My perspective changed when he sent back pictures. Schools bombed to near-obliteration. Schools with nothing but a chalkboard and a teacher. Pictures of him walking around a bazaar completely different from markets we have here. Sneaking to the living room to watch the news at night, I saw coverage of violence and discrimination against girls my age.

When I expressed my frustrations to my dad, he told me “sometimes people have to make sacrifices for the greater good.” He told me that even though he was disappointed he couldn’t come see my play or my hockey game, he was helping other little girls like me. The thought resonated with me in the deepest way something can resonate with an 8-year-old.

I realized that though I had to sacrifice my “daddy Juju days,” the one time a week my dad and I got to spend together, it was because he was helping people. My mom sacrificed spending time with her husband so that he could help little girls go to school. Sometimes I still get angry when my dad has to miss events because he’s on duty, but I remember that he’s doing it to help others.


Lesson #4: Be thankful

Back at the airport (I’m 8), after pulling away from my dad, I notice a different badge on his uniform. It was a knife surrounded by a wreath and a grenade  I asked him what it was.

“It’s a Combat Action Badge,” he said calmly.

I stop in my tracks. I knew he was near danger but not in danger. Later, I learn that he injured his shoulder from falling off a ladder because he was escaping enemy fire, and a vehicle in his convoy was blown up by an explosive.

It makes me more grateful that my dad is home. He told stories about villages with no schools, or building schools only to have the Taliban destroy it later. I read his radio transcripts about women being stoned for not having a man when they went shopping.

I thankful that he went to help those people. I am even more thankful that I live in the United States where I don’t have to worry about those things.


I have been surrounded by veterans my entire life.  My mom is a former Marine, and was president of the USO in San Jose, a group that serves military family. There, I met Gary and Al, two World War II veterans who love me like their own granddaughter. I am thankful to have known them.

I met Vietnam War veterans who travel to greet veterans coming home by lining the airports with flags, so no one would have to experience what they went through when they came home.

Today I am proud to be an Army brat and thankful for those who sacrificed their lives so I could live in peace. This Veterans Day, I challenge you to remember this isn’t just a day off; this is a day of remembrance and thankfulness.