Nov. 11, 2011
By Barbara Cossman
On April 1, 2011, an email came across my "desk." This one stood out amongst the others. It was from a soldier serving in Afghanistan; a native Ohioan, and yet "a huge Michigan fan." It was a simple request: he wanted to show HIS support -- "fan support from across the globe" -- for Michigan by taking a picture in Kabul with some of his fellow troops holding a Michigan flag. He wanted to know if it could run in one of the game programs the athletic department produces.
Such a simple request. After all, shouldn't we be showing our support for HIM? For those who have sacrificed so much for our country? Isn't this why the Michigan Athletic Department is once again hosting Military Appreciation Day: to recognize the veterans, the soldiers, the families who allow us the freedom to enjoy Big Ten football on a fall Saturday in the greatest stadium in the country?
But just running a photograph didn't seem sufficient. Wouldn't people want to know the story behind the faces in the picture? Or want some information on the context of the photo? It seemed only fitting that with the photo, a story should be told as Michigan Athletics celebrates Military Appreciation Day. And so the suggestion was made, and the soldier complied, making time to shed a little light on his life, his experience and his buddies.
Not only do you begin to realize just how different the military world is from our everyday world, you realize the magnitude of the sacrifices these men and women make. There are a myriad of challenges for those separated from loved ones by continents and oceans, and technology can only do so much. But it does help.
Sporadic emails, at all times of the day and night were sent back and forth from April until August, from Ann Arbor to Kabul. Sometimes several in one day, sometimes every couple weeks. Sometimes just checking in to see how things were going. But always expressing gratitude and appreciation for the communication and support.
TSgt Michael May is from Ohio. During football season, as a Michigan fan, he says his family would disown him. But as a loyal fan, he never let that deter him. He's even made Michigan fans out of his wife, Michelle, and children Noah, Gabe and Emma, who lived in Hawaii where the family was stationed during his deployment.
May's first tour in Afghanistan began in February, and in August he returned to Hawaii after reaching the end of his deployment. He has also been stationed "all over Iraq including Baghdad, Kirkuk, Balad, Tikrit."
The following is what Mike shared via email through the course of the summer.
In His Own Words
By TSgt Michael May
Typical day usually starts around 0530 for most of us. We travel OTW (outside the wire) everyday which means we leave the base and go out and work directly with the Afghan Army helping mentor and advise them so that they can take over and run on their own.
Food is okay, nothing like back home. One thing that everyone always looks forward to when they get home is eating a good meal. Also, since we are away from the base usually we will also have to eat MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) which are not the best thing, but have gotten better over the years.
Where we are located, the winter is cold and actually gets snow and the summer feels like the sun is sitting in your lap on some days. Depending on the area, you see a lot of sand storms or dust storms so everything out here is dust. Not much greenery, mostly just dirt.
You can talk to your family through email pretty regularly and even Skype if you have access -- it's not the best connectivity so the picture is usually blurry or skips, but at least you get to see your family somewhat! The time difference is also a huge challenge. Sometimes the only time I can talk to my wife is when it is 2 a.m. back home, but my wife never complains about getting woken. We cherish the time we get to speak to each other on the phone. The families that are left behind are the true heroes as they have to carry on a life and take care of a household by doing two jobs being a mom and dad while their significant other is away.
Everyday leaving the base brings new challenges as you never know what will happen out there and you always have to be ready and prepared for any situation that may arise. Bonds are made out here that you will never lose as you live and work with the same group everyday with usually no days off. When you are back home you get some holidays off or extended weekends but you give that up when you come here. You work every day, sometimes 16-18 hour days, just to get the job done that you were brought here to do. At night you try to catch up on news back home, check some sports scores and then crawl in to bed and get mentally ready to face new challenges the next day.
In the end, everyone's goal that they are working towards is getting on that plane and heading home to their family so they can hold and cherish them and catch up on all the things that they have missed out on while they were gone. I just saw a video (in May) of my two youngest kids riding their bikes without training wheels for the first time. They were very excited and I was very proud. My two boys also just played in their first football season which I missed. I am a huge football fan and love everything about football and was so excited for them to start until I had to miss the whole season.
So in the end, everyone sacrifices and misses out on what some people would say are small things that get taken for granted but are huge in the hearts of military members who do not get to see the small things in person but only through a picture or a video.
On Oct. 28, from Hawaii, Mike joyfully emailed that he received his next assignment. As he had expressed during the summer, his hope was to return to the Midwest -- to be close to home, and to hopefully one day take his own family to their first Michigan football game.
"Looks like I finally got my wish and (am) headed back to Ohio at Wright-Patterson AFB. The family is excited to be back there, and now we will be able to actually go to a Michigan game!!"
May 29 in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Kneeling (left to right): IS1 Adrian Roque (U.S. Navy), IS2 Christopher Millis U.S. Navy. Standing (left to right): LT Richard Aviles (Navy), Commander George Hartwell (Navy), Commander Ted Rochford (Navy), TSgt Michael May (U.S. Air Force), IS2 Andrew Akard (Navy), LT Ross Walker (Navy), IS2 Cshammah Reed (Navy), IS2 Jason Hannon (Navy).
MEN IN THE PHOTO
PO1 Adrian Roque
Petty Officer First Class
"I have been in the U.S. Navy for 18 years. I was born in San Antonio, Texas, grew up in Fresno, Calif. This is my first deployment to Afghanistan. My main duty here is to teach and mentor Afghan National Army officers and soldiers on being Intelligence Analysts. I have been deployed six times to many countries in Southwest Asia and the Arabian Gulf on various U.S. Navy ships. Looking forward to having a great tour in Afghanistan and getting home to my son, family and friends next year."
IS2 Christopher Millis
Intelligence Specialist Second Class Navy Rank, Active Duty
"Family: Mother and father, Michelle and Orlando, and younger brothers Steven (17) who loves and lives football (college and pro) and Gabriel (17). Assigned as Afghan Military Intelligence Company instructor and advisor for 365 days. Second time deployed, first time in Bahrain for two years. Musician in off-time, Bass, 6-string and keyboard, working on degree in music theory and production. Currently live in Kabul, but heart and home are back in Arizona."
LT Richard Aviles
Operations Executive Officer
"Family - Wife, Elizabeth, and dog, Cupid, currently living in Virginia. Navy reservist assigned to Kabul for 350 days and counting. First tour in Afghanistan. I'm a prior Navy nuclear officer. My wife and I love to watch football, movies, bowling and taking the dog for walks. I'm a George Washington University grad."
LCDR George Hartwell
"Family - Wife and two daughters, ages 7 and 9, live in Maryland. Here in Kabul for one year as Operations Team Chief (he is overall in charge of the U.S. team that works with the Afghan Army). Third tour in Afghanistan. Two previous tours in Iraq. My family LOVES football (college and pro). Both of my daughters knew every football officiating hand signal by age 2 and we are Navy season ticket holders (Naval Academy grad). My wife is a Florida grad and we took our daughters to their first game in "The Swamp" two years ago and they loved it!"
LCDR Ted Rochford
Mobile Training Team Chief
"Family - wife and two kids, living in Virginia. Navy Reservist assigned to Kabul for 350 days, ending in November 2011. First tour in Afghanistan. My wife and I are originally from the Midwest (her - Michigan, me - Illinois), so I appreciate the interest and support from my fellow Midwesterners."
PO2 Andrew Akard
Petty Officer Second Class
"Navy Reservist from Oklahoma City, Okla. Deployed as an instructor and advisor to the Afghan National Army, I'm halfway through a one-year tour in Afghanistan. Returning home in November to finish up my degree in political science."
IS2 Jason Hannon
Intelligence Specialist Second Class
"A US Navy reservist from Washington D.C. where I work as a security consultant. I am married to my wife Kim, an Air Force veteran who served in Iraq during 2003. Together we have an amazing five-year old daughter, Carmen. The work during my first deployment is to advise the Afghan military with integrating an intelligence IT network into day-to-day intelligence operations. GO BIG M!"
TSgt Michael May
Technical Sergeant. Operations NCOIC (Non-Commissioned Officer In-Charge) for the U.S. Team. Provides leadership for the enlisted personnel assigned to our team. The Current Intel Advisor works directly with the Afghan National Army and advises and mentors them on providing intelligence for their government.