Happy Military Appreciation Month! I am recognizing someone in my life associated with the military everyday in the month of May. Today, I am recognizing the fabulous,Cavalry Scout Spec. Ian Cavanaugh. Where do I start? Ian came into my life when he befriended my oldest son Terrance. He gave Terrance a gentle nudge and encouraged him to wrestle. They were in 7th grade. We had just moved from Virginia and my surfer son was lost in the cornfields of Illinois. Terrance is shy. That single act sent Terrance on a different trajectory that ultimately lead to him playing football in college. Ian was a staple in our lives when my kids were young, so much so that my dog, Spladle, is named after his favorite wrestling move. My son wrestled 177 and Ian wrestled 145- but every time they hit the mat in my basement, Ian would patiently spar with Terrance before mercilessly pinning him time and time again. Terrance was a great athlete- Ian was a phenom. Ian was that kid in highschool that defied gravity. He was the boy every girl wanted to date and ever boy wanted to be; athletic, attractive, charming with just the right mix of humble “gosh, ma’am” and badass. He is an amazing athlete whose has yet to find a sport he cann’t master. So good in fact, while in Afghanistan, his commander had him sprint through the streets of the village they were entering with a camera strapped to his head so they could get a better sense of what they were facing.
I remember the day Ian told me he was joining the service. We were in the stands at a football game. He had been graduated the prior Spring and was attending the local community college. It wasn’t for him. He decided to join the Army. Always good with parents, Ian moved slowly across the stands talking with the parents of kids he played ball with sharing his plans. I watched each group smile as they patted him on the back, thanking him for his service and wishing him the best. When Ian sat to share his plans, I gave him a long hug, told him to keep his head down and come home safely. We were the only military family in his life, I had a good idea of what lay before him. Ian, of course, exceled in boot camp. Ian’s body is a machine and there was really no physical task the Army could give him he hadn’t already tried himself. Ian deployed to Afghanistan and his family held their breath. I would see him mom and she carried the same “I can’t believe how proud I am but please God, bring him home” energy of every other military mom I know. When Ian came home in May of 2010 for his mid-tour leave, he was welcomed by a Patriot watch escort and a park filled with family of friends anxious to see him. He greeted them all with that signature smile that can light up a dark room and hugs all around. I was interviewing veterans about returning home and Ian agreed to participate. My youngest son interviewed him the day before he returned to his unit. When asked about Afghanistan, Ian replied with a uncharacteristic heaviness “ I’m just a kid from Johnsburg. I thought everyone in the world was the same. Man, was I wrong. It is really hard going back. I never thought about how hard it was gonna be going back.” And for a fleeting moment, I saw a very different Ian. Ian is helping me with a book I am writing about life after the military. When he talks about his homecoming, he gets goose bumps and his smile fills his whole body with joy. When we talk about what is next, he is less sure. In reality, he is still finding his way back. He trying to figure out who he is post service and what he wants to do now. I went to see him last week and Terrance was with me. As we got in the car to leave, Terrance said with relief- “it was good that what makes Ian , Ian, is still there.” Ian remains that charismatic athlete who is the most likable guy in the room. Ian is also an accomplished soldier who knows what he did was important. He told me he will talk to anyone who asks about his service on one condition- You better be prepared to listen. “And you know Mrs. Maule, normally they aren’t.” I know there are stories that will never be told, memories that will always be between only a few, select people. Ian, like most combat vets has bonds with friends he served with that can never be understood by his peers and knows in his bones there is nothing left to be afraid of. No amount of words can share how incredibly proud I am of that little blond boy who befriended my son. Or of the man who defied gravity in service to our country. Thank you Ian, from the bottom of my heart. Welcome home.