Giving thanks to the men, women who serve

Alex Prado ’06, a political science alumnus from the College of Arts & Sciences, is a Ranger-qualified Airborne Infantry officer in the U.S. Army 82nd Airborne Division. He returned from Afghanistan recently and shared with FIU News why he is thankful for his brothers in arms, those who served before him, and this country.

By Alex Prado ’06| Contributing Writer

As I reflect back on my decision to serve in the military, and my actual experiences both leading to and during my time in Afghanistan, I can’t help to sometimes wonder if it all was just a dream.

I arrived in Cambridge, MA, in 2008 with a general understanding of what I wanted to study and what I might want to do upon graduation. Next thing I know, I’m sporting a skin-tight fade and attending military science courses in ROTC while pursuing my master’s in public policy. Shortly thereafter, I vaguely remember being sleep deprived and starving through the rigors of Ranger School, among other courses the Army put me through. Ultimately arriving at Fort Bragg, NC, as a “cherry” Lieutenant who was set to deploy within two months of in-processing to post. Nowhere in my right mind would I have ever thought that my peers in grad school would influence my life path in such a drastic way. And for that, I am forever grateful.

My decision to commission as an Infantry Officer was truly multifaceted. I knew that I needed to do something that under the toughest circumstances would physically, mentally, and spiritually challenge me as often as possible, while also giving me the sense that I was working for something that was bigger than me – service through a test of leadership with real consequences and job where I felt I could earn my citizenship in the country that has offered my family and me so much.  And a job where if you don’t regularly practice self-discipline and choose the hard-right over the easy-wrong, many things could devastatingly go awry. Through both my training, and time in Afghanistan, I truly feel that I have achieved just that.

Alex Prado (on the right) poses with fellow Ranger while serving in Afghanistan.

Alex Prado (on the right) poses with fellow Ranger while serving in Afghanistan.

However, with such challenging and rewarding experiences came other emotions and instances that I never really anticipated facing. Afghanistan itself was a frustrating place, one that deserves an entirely separate forum to comment on. Arriving in that country with a broad academic background of the policy implications of what we were doing there, and an idealistic hope that I could affect change through service to my country, was all pushed to the side when I lost a close friend and colleague to an insurgent IED attack one month into our deployment.

While my desire and passion to serve was why I initially joined, camaraderie, brotherhood and love for one another was what got us all through the rest of the deployment.  The person to your left and to your right were who you needed to stay focused and disciplined for, because they were doing the same for you, and in the end, each other is all you had out there.

When I first told others of my decision to join the military, and why I wanted to deploy, many thought it was weird or crazy for me to want to do this.  Few, like my father, understood the intentions behind my decision.  But many others felt my master’s degree and other experience could make me a lot more money doing whatever I wanted to do.

I surely cannot speak for all service members, but through my experience, the greater majority of soldiers that I’ve encountered sincerely love what they do, are true professionals at how they do it, and wouldn’t change that for the world. Are there inherent dangers or risks involved with the job? Yes.  But those were understood and accepted upon when signing on that dotted line.

Going into this Thanksgiving Day, I would like people to understand that service members truly appreciate your support, and we sincerely could not do what we do without it. Your thoughts, prayers, emails, letters, and care packages are the little breathes of fresh air that help motivate us to continue pushing through the tough times.

However, I humbly ask that we as citizens try to better understand and instill into our youth the importance of giving back for all of the freedoms this country affords us. It doesn’t have to be through military service. By all means, volunteer at your church, in your community, wherever.  Even a plastic surgeon who makes millions of dollars conducting cosmetic surgery on South Beach can spend a couple of weeks a year fixing cleft pallets in Vietnam. In the end, when you look to your left and to your right, WE are all we’ve got.  And helping in any way possible will continue to make this country and our world a better place. And for that I am truly thankful.

 Join the FIU News teams as we give thanks this holiday season for the men and women who serve our country.