Last Thursday was an emotional day as more than 50 family and friends gathered at the Galva Senior Center to say goodbye.
My 29-year-old cousin is in the U.S. Air Force, and she is being deployed to Bagram, Afghanistan Dec. 31.
Capt. Amanda Shafer, of Galva, is an intensive care unit nurse, and she will be charged with mended the wounded soldiers who are fighting so valiantly for our country.
For the first six months of 2009, Capt. Shafer will be off the frontlines caring for any and all injured persons who enter her hospital.
Capt. Shafer, the daughter of Galva’s Beth Ann and Geoff Shafer, chose to enlist into the Air Force.
Due to her bachelor’s degree in nursing from Salina’s Kansas Wesleyan University and a Master of Business Administration from Kansas City’s Baker University, she went straight to officer training, which consisted of four-and-a-half weeks of initial training plus extra training since.
She is trained to effectively utilize a 9 mm handgun and can fight an attacker with hand-to-hand combat methods.
She said she is prepared to kill if necessary.
For those of you keeping score, she could literally tear you apart and then put you back together again.
Capt. Shafer said she is going to become a career military woman and is looking forward to going to Afghanistan.
“It will be a great experience,” she said. “It will be a great learning opportunity, and I’ll get to help people.”
Don’t let the bravado fool you. She’s apprehensive as well.
“I’m always worried,” she said. “You have to be worried. There’s always the threat.”
Capt. Shafer said she chose to enlist with the Air Force because that military branch offered her the most as a nurse.
Currently she is stationed in Las Vegas, which is obviously incredibly rough on her.
However, the glitz and glamour of Vegas will soon be replaced with the likes of sand and camels.
Although Vegas is a long way from Galva, Afghanistan will definitely be a far stray from Kansas, which is what she said would be the hardest part – being away from home, family and friends.
“Six months is a long time,” she said.
After her initial six months, Capt. Shafer said she should get to come home for 18 months before going back to Afghanistan for another 6-month tour of duty.
To people like me who would never want to travel to a war zone unless I was armed with a camera and a note pad, it was hard for me to accept the decision she had made.
I make no qualms about the fact that I believe the United States should no longer be involved in the perpetual conflict taking place in Afghanistan and Iraq because I fail to see why the United States has to continually be “big brother” to other countries even when the issue doesn’t concern America directly.
However, upon seeing the outpouring of family and friends and listening to Capt. Shafer talk about why she wanted to go, I’ve softened my stance a bit.
“I wanted to serve my country,” Capt. Shafer said.
With a reason like that, how could I continue to be so skeptical?
I couldn’t, especially after talking with my aunt and uncle about the situation.
“I admire the daylights out of her,” Uncle Geoff said. “I stand behind her.”
Aunt Beth vowed not to watch CNN or Fox News throughout the entire duration of Capt. Shafer’s tour, but she said she was “very proud” of what her daughter was doing.
Both Uncle Geoff and Aunt Beth have said over and over they are worried because “anytime a loved one leaves the nest you worry.”
Capt. Shafer is doing more than just leaving the nest.
She is potentially helping others build and maintain their own nests by ensuring they arrive back in the United States alive to care for their families.
That begs the question of who is more important: The soldiers pulling the trigger, or the medical personnel patching up the wounded so they can go back out to the frontlines and pump more rounds into the enemy?
I’m not about to say one is more important than the other. They both play an important role, but it should serve as a reminder that there are more ways to serve your country in a time of conflict than just pulling the trigger and eliminating the enemy.
Capt. Shafer is doing her part to make the world a better place, and it got me thinking about what I am doing to do the same.
Sadly, I didn’t come up with an overabundance of good I am doing that will better the world.
I’m not a big environmentalist, so saving the planet by being “green” isn’t how I can do it.
So how can I?
Needless to say I am currently cultivating some ideas of how I can give back and leave a positive legacy, and I owe this newfound urge to do good to the inspiration my cousin has provided me.
All family members have been involved in the military and done other incredible acts of good, but until I’ve never been in a position where I can fully comprehend and analyze what a member of my family is doing.
I’m not a soldier or a nurse, but I am a journalist.
I know any good I accomplish will be done via my work as a journalist, and I am glad it will happen that way because journalism is my life.
The key now is to find the best way to do good via journalism.
I’ve studied the concepts of civic journalism, and I’m now going to make a more concentrated effort to help my community prosper via civic journalism.
My first initiative will be to help tell the story of the good Capt. Shafer and her fellow soldiers are doing in Afghanistan.
I don’t know how well this initial attempt will go, but I’m going to give it a try.
Capt. Shafer said she would keep me updated with whatever information she could.
I sincerely hope she does.
Thursday was the last time I will get to see Capt. Shafer until at least June 2009.
It is a strange concept to think about.
I wish her luck and pray for her safe return.
Above all though, I thank her for her service protecting our country.
Without people like her, the First Amendment and my ability to do the journalism I love would be in jeopardy.
U.S. Air Force Capt. Amanda Shafer, of Galva, talks to a table full of well-wishers last Thursday during a farewell reception in her honor at the Galva Senior Center. On Dec. 31, Shafer will be deployed to Afghanistan where she will work as an ICU nurse.