As an Army wife of over 30 years, I wanted to write a tribute to a soldier, my husband, my hero, who retired after 33+ years of service in the U.S. Army.
We tend to toss the words “he’s a hero” or “she’s a hero” into a discussion way too often in my opinion. I remember becoming incensed when Dale Earnhardt was regarded as a “hero” by the media and sadly his fans upon the news of his tragic death. He raced cars and had a blast doing it. He wasn’t a “hero”. I believe there is a definition of heroism and I don’t include race-car drivers in the mix. No offense to race fans.
Heroism is the firemen who ran into the Twin Towers, even after knowing the skyscraper could actually tumble down around them. Most of them never made it out. Those men are heroes.
Heroism is the patrol officer (I watched the video) – at what should have been a routine stop on the highway, helping a stranded woman, when a car came barreling into them. He pushed the woman out of the way and took the full force of the car hitting him, probably saving her life. He was battered, but survived thank God. That police officer is a hero.
Heroism is being willing to serve in horrible inhuman conditions, tending to the poor and starving in ravaged forgotten countries as Mother Theresa did. Mother Theresa was a hero and a saint.
Heroes are those willing to serve their country in the military. Freely giving their lives or limbs to protect the rights we often take for granted in this country. These brave and courageous men and women serve not only to protect the ideals of our nation or their friends and family. They suffer untold things to protect the rights of complete strangers. It takes a very special, self-sacrificing person. It takes a hero to become a member of our Armed Forces.
Race car drivers or professional sports celebrities are not heroic because of what they do on a playing field or track. As a country, I believe we should keep a clearer perspective on this.
My husband, Col (Ret) Mark Van Drie is a hero in almost every sense of that word. He went to the United States Military Academy, graduated in 1977 and served his country well for over 33 years as an Airborne, Infantry, Ranger qualified soldier.
He loved being in the Army. Loved it. I often said as he'd pack for a field exercise, "It's like he's packing to go away for a tryst with his mistress." For a time, I was actually jealous when he acted like this. But as time slipped away and the years passed, I better understood his passion for soldiering. He loved being a soldier and he loved being around soldiers.
He served in Somalia, Afghanistan and Iraq. To name a few of the countries that took him away from us -his family - over the years. He missed many firsts, many birthdays of his children, holidays, milestones. He not only missed our only son’s high school graduation, but he missed his wedding as well because Mark was serving in Afghanistan and Iraq respectively.
When he served as an officer at West Point in the 1990’s, he changed the way they trained the new cadets called “Beast Barracks.” They have implemented the program I believe to this day. No one noticed him or gave him accolades for that. He didn't care. He just "soldiered on."
A similar thing happened at Fort Drum with an aspect of field training. Mark designed a better way to train. It was implemented as well. He never received the credit and didn’t want any.
He wrote a compelling monograph that was widely circulated throughout military circles. One day, in a national publication, he read an article and was surprised to find that piece he wrote was plagiarized by the so-called author of the article almost word-for-word. I urged him to contact the magazine publisher but he refused. He had to deploy somewhere and he was too busy. Besides, he said it didn't matte, he didn't need any credit for his writings.
He literally dodged bullets aimed at him specifically while serving in Somalia and barely escaped other life-threatening events while serving in the War on Terrorism.
He slept with his soldiers in the rain drenched trenches while in exercises as a Battalion Commander for the 1st of the 502nd Fort Campbell, KY. He shunned the advantages of his rank. When he could have slept in a warmed tent, he refused and slept with his soldiers.
He always deeply cared for his soldiers, putting their safety and training first and foremost regardless of his rank.
He is one of the most honest, self-sacrificing people I have ever known. Not just because he’s my husband, but because I’ve witnessed the fact he has lived, “Duty, Honor, Country” all of his life – whether in uniform or out. He applied the principles of this credo to life. Along the way he placed God at the top. Coming to a full understanding that without God first, duty, honor and country don’t really have a true purpose.
He refused to “kiss up” to his superiors. He believed that his honest hard work would speak for itself. Apparently, it did. He did his duty, often with a total disregard to what being 100% honest could have meant to his career. One example I remember –
When he first took over command of his Battalion at Ft. Campbell, all Battalion Commanders had to report to the giant bear of a man who was the Division Commander at the time, General Jack Keane. All Battalions had to report that their Battalion would be ready within so many days – as I recall it was three, if ordered to, they had to be "wheels up" and ready. Mark knew what he “inherited” would not enable him to honestly tell General Keane that his Battalion could be battle ready on the short notice the General demanded of them.
The morning he was going to this meeting where he would have to reveal this to General Keane, he told me, “Be prepared. The General isn’t going to like this news. I might end up ‘losing my job’ but I have to tell him the truth. It could cost lives if we were called for duty as unprepared as we are. I won’t have that on my conscience.”
General Keane didn’t like the news, but he asked Mark when they could be ready, Mark told him and he demanded that Mark do it. Mark did, and his soldiers were soon prepared if they were asked to do anything. They were well-prepared, their equipment squared away and ready to go anywhere they were ordered to.
I will reveal publicly my husband’s charitable heart – as he is modest about these things. It was how he was with my father.
Mark doesn’t “do” discussions about bodily functions. When I had to place my father in a nursing home – as an only child I struggled with a fractured relationship due to my father’s narcissism and emotional abuse as I was growing up. All since forgiven before my father died – but at the time, I had little patience with my father and when we visited I would take to visiting other nursing home residents while Mark stayed with my father.
I had warned my dad about Mark’s aversion to bodily function discussions. Yet one day, as I approached my father after one of my frequent “rounds” of the facility, I could hear him talking to Mark about something gross and personal. Since I was behind my father, he didn’t see me silently mouthing, “I’m so sorry” to Mark. Mark gave me a look like, “No problem” and listened attentively to my father’s too-much-information rant as if it was the most fascinating thing he ever heard.
I’m proud of the soldier my husband has been. I’m so proud of the man he became from a wide-eyed cadet to a seasoned military officer with military bearing and dignity. Please trust me when I say, through the years, when my husband was in charge of the mission, you had a very, very smart, capable soldier “taking care of business.” The nation was in very, very good hands!
I’m so proud of the father and now grandpa he is. My two daughters adore him and my son emulated him. He went from high school graduation straight into the Army. He wants his “Pops” to be proud of him. Pops is extremely proud of his son and of his daughters.
Mark is a great guy with a sense of humor, and while I’m obviously biased – it shows in those who know him and who have worked for or with him. Soldiers who were under his command to this day will contact him from time to time. His peers stay in touch as do those who far outranked him. His articles and writings are common throughout military circles. His Somalia monograph is the number one result when you type "Colonel Mark Van Drie" in a Bing search. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0PBZ/is_2_85/ai_n15621944/
It's a widely circulated, informative story and a good read even for civilians.
Mark is also a Godly man, admired by many and they have good reason to admire such a great soldier, patriot, husband, father and grandfather.
I’m writing to thank him for his service, to tell him publicly how much I love him and how immeasurably proud I am of him. He’s a civilian now, in a new (wonderful) job with an excellent company and he is tackling this job with the same drive, integrity and hard work as he always has throughout his military career.
This is my tribute to Colonel (Ret) Mark Van Drie. Thank you Honey! You are the true love of my life, a great man of God and a great American!