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07/03/2014 The Other Guy

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Hat’s off to an old friend

For the past 20 years, my lifelong friend has been fortunate to see quite a few wonderful places not only across the nation, but throughout the world. He’s also seen some of the not-so-greatest places, too. And for the most part, his family has been with him every step of the way with the exception of a few years of his travel. He’s missed a few milestone moments from his children’s youth, but not many, and the occasional wedding anniversary. In a week, he will embark on one of the biggest life-changing moments, aside from marrying the love of his life and becoming a father to two great children, in the past 20 years. Joe’s only daughter, Bailey, and Jackson, my oldest son, both share the same birthday. My mother’s long running joke was thank God both of them weren’t boys and we weren’t still living in the same neighborhood, she couldn’t handle a second generation of us. Come July 11, my friend, Joe, will retire from the U.S. Marine Corps after 20 years of serving our country, protecting our freedoms and allowing us so many rights that I truly believe we often take for granted. It seems like yesterday when he made the decision to become a Marine, instead of opting to join me in classes at the nearby community college another mutual friend of ours and I were attending. He’d given the post-secondary education route the old college try. It didn’t suit him well and he wanted a challenge, to see the world. Since our other friend, Cavan, had recently completed boot camp, Joe opted for the challenge of becoming a U.S. Marine. Like the many men and women before him, Joe had his share of struggles in boot camp, but like always, he found a way to perserve. Joe, to this day, is one person I know who never backs down from a challenge. (There are a few from our youth I wished I would have not let him talk me into. Namely the Century Club, an adult game, which we might or might not have thrown back several adult beverages). I almost followed suit and joined the both of them by serving in the U.S. armed forces, but unlike both Joe and Cavan, I opted not to. First, they were better athletes. Second, they knew how to keep their mouths shut at the appropriate time. (Well, Cavan did.) Now, understand I’ve known Joe — I still call him Joey — for 35 years. He’s more than great friend, he’s a brother. And like any family, we’ve had our share of disagreements throughout the past 35 years. That’s to be expected, but like any family member, we’ve gotten over it and moved on. During Joe’s time in the Marines, I’ve busted his chops more than average citizen is allowed, and during his career in the Marines, he’s busted my chops about being a journalist more times than I care to remember. Joe has been busily preparing for civilian life, from finding a job and a new place to live, most likely, the last time his family will have to pull up stakes and move because someone else told him to. I cannot offer you any advice about civilian life, the world is a different place than you left it behind 20 years ago. Suffice to say, most of teh music from our youth is now being aired on “Classic Rock” stations and the music of today sucks. For the better part of the past month, I’ve tried my best to come up with a way to show my sincere appreciation for his service to our country. It’s been tough, because I owe my friend more than just a thank you. I could, in a vain effort, salute him. I have no military background; therefore, I’d likely insult him and the millions of other men and women who have sworn to protect our country. Honestly, I struggled with not how to thank him, but how to convey my appreciation. What do you tell your best friend of the past 35 years who made one of the biggest sacrifices of his life? What about the sacrifices his family made too? Joe, Rachael and Family: There is no single word which comes to mind to thank each of you for service to our country, for what you’ve each personally sacrificed throughout the past 20 years, the opportunities you’ve passed up for personal gain and the family moments you’ve missed. In your own way, you’ve defended my right to rattle the cages of local politicians and continue to pursue my passion for journalism. I cannot thank you enough. Joe, I know you won’t receive a hero’s welcome when you next step foot into our hometown. You might not believe you’re a hero, but I’ll argue with you that you’re wrong. You’ve done what your country has asked you to do for the past 20 years. You’re a hero to your wife, your children, your family, your friends and former classmates. It might not be considered manly to tell you I love you, but frankly, I don’t care. Joe, I love you like a brother, welcome back to civilian life. I wish you all the best in this next, unfamiliar chapter. The next time we see each other, the first round is on you though. Hey, don’t argue, you’re the first one of us to collect a pension old man.