I don’t know where I fit in with the military community anymore. I was always known as the daughter of Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Anthony Gatta and later, 40–year veteran Tony Gatta. But, on July 30, 2021, all of that changed when my dad passed away.
I grew up with terms like temporary duty, deployment, Red Flag, Mess Hall, BX, C130 Hercules and Dragonfly. Often, my vacations involved summer encampment. I visited Hawaii with my dad, mom and brother after Desert Storm, staying at Fort Bellows.
As a child, I learned that daddy goes on TDY and mommy stays home in Ohio to handle everything from appliance breakdowns to homework to attending family events while he is away. Seeing their equal relationship made me independent.
Growing up, my school friends’ dads were plant workers or owned their own businesses. My classmates did not understand military life or that my dad traveled for work to keep us all safe and I could not comprehend that their dads were home for dinner every night.
At 2 years old I spent my first TDY at Sheppard Air Force Base. My parents told me stories of what happened at the Texas State Fair so often that I can visualize it. I rode a go-kart that wouldn’t stop running in circles. My dad had to jump in front of it to get me off the ride. In church, I recited nursery rhymes thinking I was saying prayers.
My brother and I had the opportunity to travel to more than half of the United States. We met people of different religions and ethnic backgrounds. We sampled diverse types of food. We visited museums, landmarks and amusement parks.
I did not realize what a gift travel was until I met people in college who had never journeyed beyond their hometown. My parents believed that travel gave us unique experiences and made us well-rounded people.
As a college student studying music, I sang the national anthem at the beginning of the Youngstown Air Reserve Station open house.
For the last few years before he passed, my dad and I would take a holiday shopping trip to the base exchange. It was part of what he called daddy/daughter day. During those times we would run errands and then get something to eat. While we ate he would tell me stories about his travels with the military and camaraderie with his fellow airmen.
ANOTHER PERSONAL PERSPECTIVE: Tackling the Army Ten-Miler is similar to military life
In August, as I watched the troops return from Afghanistan as well as a USAA commercial on TV, it set in that I am no longer part of the military community.
Veterans Day will be different this year. Instead of planning where my brother, sister-in-law and I will take our dad to dinner, I will probably tear up. He is no longer here to take part and I have no reason to participate. I am grateful for the active-duty and veteran service members but I am not included.
I can no longer enter a military base or exchange, nor am I invited to a base family picnic. I can’t stay at Space-A lodging on my next trip.
But, I may have found my new place within the military. I was contacted recently about becoming a community council member who connects the base with the community and promotes understanding between the groups. Maybe it is true when one door closes another opens.