By Lois Hicks-Wozniack
My age-group wave went out into the water to begin the West Point Triathlon. I tried to keep up with all of the fast women; after all, I had been training all summer, and I felt ready. Nervous, but ready. I found myself in the back of the pack, arms, feet, waves – I was not ready for this, and as we curved around out of the cove I could see the buoy off in the distance. “I’m never going to make it. It’s too far. I can’t catch my breath.” A full-blown panic attack set in. Vertical and swallowing water, I looked at the people on the shore. I started screaming, “I can’t do this. I can’t do this. I CAN’T do this!!”…
My Dad was a career Army Officer (retired LTC) and he fought in WWII in the Pacific. I was his youngest child, a late-in-life “surprise”. I knew he had seen terrible things in the war. My Dad was a proud man. He loved his country. He loved the U.S. Army. (Heaven forbid we hear Elvis sing, “Love Me Tender” for Dad would remind us that the melody was really “Army Blue”). He suffered from Bipolar disorder, or what they called manic depression back then. Looking back on it now, I think he, like so many of the “Greatest Generation,” suffered deep wounds from their service, and it was treated too late or not at all.
I don’t think I ever planned on joining the military when I was a child. I’m a professional musician, a saxophonist by trade. It’s what I always wanted to be. I was living in New York City and had won a competition, and part of the prize was a partially funded debut recital in Weill Recital Hall in Carnegie Hall. I had also just auditioned for, and won, a position in the United States Military Academy Band at West Point. So, four days after my New York recital, I shipped off to basic training. Imagine my surprise when the Drill Sergeant didn’t really care that I had performed in Carnegie Hall, or my chagrin when the 1SGT informed me that there was “no place in today’s Army for an ‘entertainer’.”
I reported for duty at West Point following basic training. I proudly served as a saxophonist in the West Point Band – performing concerts, marching reviews with cadets, playing football games, funerals for Veterans, saying “Job well done, Be Thou at Peace,” performing at state dinners and countless other events. All the while, giving a little wink skyward to my Dad, as I stood at attention and played “The Army Song”. Dad is buried at Arlington and he never got to see me in my uniform or watch me perform with the West Point Band. I knew he was so proud. I loved being in the Army. I loved the physical fitness aspect – feeling strong and looking strong in uniform. I loved being a soldier and serving my country with my unique talents and skills. However, sometimes there was a nagging feeling that maybe I wasn’t a “real soldier” because I only played music. I didn’t fight in battle.
I served for 8 years, from 1996-2004. Upon the birth of my second set of twins (yes, you read that correctly), my husband and I, both in the West Point Band and a Dual-Military couple, were faced with a challenging decision. Raising four children with both of us in the Army and with the exact same schedule, seemed an impossible task. One of us would need to ETS and resign our position. I decided it needed to be me. (more…)