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Month of the Military Child: Big thumbs up from Papi

(Top) Rob Wright poses for a photo at Basic Military Training at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, in 1979. (Bottom) Wes Wright poses for a photo in San Antonio, Texas following graduation from BMT in 2006. Rob’s example as a father and veteran laid the groundwork for his son to follow in his footsteps 27 years later. (U.S Air Force photo illustration/Staff Sgt. Wes Wright)

(Top) Rob Wright poses for a photo at Basic Military Training at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, in 1979. (Bottom) Wes Wright poses for a photo in San Antonio, Texas following graduation from BMT in 2006. Rob’s example as a father and veteran laid the groundwork for his son to follow in his footsteps 27 years later. (U.S Air Force photo illustration/Staff Sgt. Wes Wright)

(Right) Rob Wright holds his son, Wes, and poses for a photo with the rest of his family by an F-15 on the Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, flightline circa 1989. Experiences like this formed a positive military childhood experience for Wes, who eventually followed in his father’s footsteps and joined the Air Force in 2006. (Courtesy photo)

(Right) Rob Wright holds his son, Wes, and poses for a photo with the rest of his family by an F-15 on the Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, flightline circa 1989. Experiences like this formed a positive military childhood experience for Wes, who eventually followed in his father’s footsteps and joined the Air Force in 2006. (Courtesy photo)

Stacy, Amanda, Wes and Calvin Wright pose for a photo on a playground at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, in 1995. The Wrights lived in base housing at the time. Positive experiences like this as a military child, would later lead to Wes Wright joining the Air Force in 2006. (Courtesy photo)

Stacy, Amanda, Wes and Calvin Wright pose for a photo on a playground at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, in 1995. The Wrights lived in base housing at the time. Positive experiences like this as a military child, would later lead to Wes Wright joining the Air Force in 2006. (Courtesy photo)

SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- I feel it’s safe to say, in general, most men look up to their dads to some degree. Sure, there are some bad apples here and there but it’s fairly common to esteem one’s father and feel a desire to impress him.

For me, that has always been the case. Dad’s validation means a lot. If you’re familiar with Disney’s “Kronk’s New Groove,” you know Kronk (a big, dumb, but well intentioned and loyal guy), spends the whole movie trying to get a “big thumbs up from Papi.”

Now that I think about it, I’ve got more in common with Kronk than I care to admit.

My dad enlisted in the Air Force in 1979, serving the majority of his career as an F-15 crew chief, retiring in 2001. I’ve always been thankful for the sacrifices he made for his family, but as I start to hit certain waypoints in my own career, I’ve gained so much more appreciation for who he is and what he did.

I enlisted in the Air Force in 2006. Immediately, I set the bar high for myself. I told myself, “If I don’t get honor graduate in basic training, I’ve failed dad.” I mean, heck, one of the F-15s my dad crewed is a static display on the parade grounds at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. Nothing like performing an “eyes right” at graduation and seeing your commander, dad and dad’s jet looking back at you.

Obviously, dad would have been proud either way, but knowing excelling would make him prouder, drove me. I got honor graduate and followed that up with distinguished honor graduate in tech school. I can still remember standing at a pay phone (I know, I barely remember what those are too) with the biggest smile on my face, holding my diploma and calling my dad to give him the news. Witnesses insist I was crying. Psssh, nu-uh!

The same thing happened when I snagged some hardware in Airman Leadership School and when I made staff sergeant. My wife likes to say I’m like a cat. I act like I don’t need anyone’s validation or approval, but at the same time I’ll bring home a mouse/certificate, plop it down in front of someone and say: “See here what I have done. Be proud of me.” (I also enjoy being scratched behind the ears.)

With every step I’ve taken in my career, whether an achievement or setback, dad has always encouraged, loved and supported, even when he disagrees with decisions I may make. This is a true testament to his character, because my dad lost his dad at the age of 11. My dad was the lone survivor in a collision with a drunk driver that killed his father and two of his sisters. I can’t imagine anything more traumatic. If anyone ever had an excuse to not be an exemplary father, it was mine.

While my 11 year old dad’s memories of his father are traumatic, mine are nothing but happiness.

I remember dad had weekend duty at one point. He had a land mobile radio with him used for communicating on the flightline. I thought his “walkie talkie” was so cool. I asked him to call somebody. We lived about 10 miles from base, so he didn’t think it would reach anyone when he keyed the mic and said something to the effect of, “Come in MOC,” (Maintenance Operations Center) followed by some flightline speak. MOC answered and indicated they would comply with whatever his request was. He got an “oh snap, they heard that” look on his face and we both fell out laughing before he keyed in “Uhhh, disregard MOC.”

Another memory around the same timeframe was the green flight gloves he wore. If he came home with a new pair, they didn’t stay new long. Eventually they were stained and covered with engine grime. I used to put them on and “do stuff.” Any “stuff” you do with dad’s gloves on obviously gives you super powers and cool points—sword fights, riding a bike, climbing trees. I loved showing them off to my friends. “Yeah, no big deal guys, just over here being better than you with these super cool gloves.” If I were authorized to wear them now, you can bet I’d be typing this with those gloves on.

The best was when dad would wear out his battle dress uniform and give them to my brother and me. So many “wars” were fought in the woods behind our house. Those were the days. That little half acre or so of land was ‘Nam. Nobody could see me in dad’s camo. I was a combination of Rambo and John Cena. (Insert Cena’s intro music here)

I have countless “military child” memories I could tell. All of them happy. Sure, there were moves, losing friends and the typical military sacrifices, but I wouldn’t trade them for the world.

As a grown man, I see all these priceless memories as a beautiful gift from a wonderful father and veteran. My father does not have these same memories from his father. He never really had the opportunity; yet, he gave memories to me. He never had a template for how to be a good dad. His dad was taken before the template could be fully laid out; but, in my eyes he created a superstar template. He would strongly disagree and bemoan his perceived shortcomings, but this is my platform right now, so, tough.

Fast forward to later memories and I remember seeing my dad barricaded in our basement with piles of promotion testing material, highlighters, ear plugs and Earl Grey tea. And, just a few weeks ago, where was I? Barricaded in my basement with testing material, ear plugs and tea. To this day, he credits Earl Grey tea with making master sergeant. We’ll find out if I got the tea-to-highlighter ratio right later this year when the technical sergeant promotion list comes out. I have a good feeling this year. If I make it, it will be one more thing to call dad about; one more thing to look and see what dad did next.

Despite always wanting to impress dad, one thing brings me great comfort: even if I stumble, mess up, make a bonehead decision or don’t achieve a goal, dad will still love me and I’ll still get that big thumbs up from Papi.