COLUMBIA CITY — As a nation takes time this weekend to remember those veterans who have shaped our country’s legacy, there is a new generation of soldiers rising through the ranks to walk a path that is all too familiar for so many soldiers before them.
“Scared but proud.” That would be the feeling for most parents with children in the military.
For Bill Killen, having not one, but two children serving in the military doubles those emotions. Bill’s twin son and daughter, Michael and Meaghan, are currently enlisted in the U.S. Marines and U.S. Navy. Michael and Meaghan are 2009 graduates of Columbia City High School.
“I am very, very proud that my kids chose to serve, but very scared of them being in dangerous situations,” said Bill. “I’m not there to protect them, which is my job as their dad.”
Meaghan said she considered the National Guard, but decided to challenge herself by joining the Navy.
“I was watching television one day and saw a commercial for the Navy and I thought it sounded good so I applied,” Meaghan said. “I never thought about going into the military. I thought it was too dangerous, but I needed a challenge.” She is a Culinary Specialist currently at sea on an aircraft carrier. Where Meaghan is going, she is not at liberty to disclose. How long she will gone, she doesn’t know.
Bill said, “It saddens me because they are away from me for long periods of time and sometimes I am unable to communicate with them.”
This was a frustration Bill had to endure for a year while Michael was deployed to Afghanistan. Michael is now stateside, stationed in Jacksonville, N.C. where he is a night crew supervisor at base operations.
“I keep track of all flights that come in or out of the airfield, inputting flight plans and accommodations for V.I.P.s,” said Michael. “I enlisted in the Marines to challenge myself. The Marines Corps basic training is the longest and from what I’ve seen the most strenuous. The Marines are known for their discipline and structure, which I think is something I needed right after high school.”
While Michael was overseas, he worked at a detention facility and went on more than 30 combat flights. He was then sent to Qatar to work as a liaison between the Air Force and the Marine Corps. “While working there, I got a chance to get a small understanding of the culture over in Afghanistan,” said Michael. “Working in joint operations gave me a great look at how other branches are really fighting the same fight. My time overseas was a good learning experience for me, although I’ve probably spent enough time around sand to last me for a while.”
Inspired by 9/11 attack
Michael was inspired to serve after watching the 9/11 attacks on the United States homeland.
“I was in fifth grade when the attacks of Sept. 11 happened. I knew I wanted to do something for my country. At the time I didn’t know what,” recalled Michael. “Actually, I never considered the Marines. I had intended on the Navy, but the day I went to talk to the Navy recruiter, he wasn’t there. I walked into the Marines Corps office to use the phone and I suppose the rest is history. I went home and seriously thought things over and decided that the Marines Corps was the branch for me.”
Yes, the twins are in different branches of service, but the two agree that being in the service, no matter the branch, has brought them closer together, even though miles and oceans may separate them.
“It gives us more to argue about such as who is better and who can outrank the other,” quipped Meaghan. “I love Mikey with all my heart and it stinks having to celebrate our birthdays a part, but I still wish him happy birthday when I can.”
Michael said, “It does bring us a little closer. We both know how it feels to be far from home. We can relate on a lot of things, such as missing holidays and things that happen in the military. We talk as often as possible, but with the time difference and different work schedules it can be hard to stay in contact. We text quite often.”
Being away from family is a struggle for both Michael and Meaghan, but knowing family supports their service makes the separation bittersweet.
“It was tough at first, but I know that they support me, love me and are proud of me,” Meaghan said. “I have a family on board here and I go to church which makes me feel more at home.”
Michael said dealing with the separation was hard for him too, at first, but he learned to cope with it. “It helps that I have a great support system back home. My family and friends have been extremely supportive throughout my career thus far. I would say the thing that helps the most are my fellow Marines. We are all in the same situation.”
All of the emotions are not sad ones, Bill said he is “joyful” because the military has enhanced personal traits such as bravery, commitment and strong independence.
“These emotions have been with me since the kids told me this was what they were going to do. It’s been a mixed bag of happy, proud and sad,” said Bill
With only one percent of the nation’s population enlisted, Meaghan said she feels somewhat “special” for her choice to serve.
“My dad was proud of me, but who wouldn’t be proud to have two kids in the military,” Meaghan said. The benefits of her service extend from the heart to real-world experiences.
“I’ve been to more places around the world than anyone can imagine,” she said. “It is crazy, considering I am only 21.”
For the twins’ mother, Nicole Alles, Michael said she shed some tears as the two of them drove home from the recruiter’s office.
As Veterans Day approaches, Michael said, “I would like to thank all the veterans of every branch, because they have put us in the position to do the job we do today. God bless them and God bless America.”