A Soldier's Story

As promised, here's the speech I gave to fulfill the requirements of the Advanced Communicator - Silver for Toastmasters. I joined the Voyagers Toastmasters club in July of 1999. They meet every Thursday at 7 a.m. - yes, the hour is ungodly, but my boss at the time made me go. I fell in love with the people in the club, and have found it to be an excellent way to keep my public speaking skills fresh.

For those of you who aren't aware of Toastmasters, at the most basic level it's a public speaking group. The official line, though, is it's an organization that helps people improve their communication and leadership skills. Whatever explanation you choose, it's one pretty great organization. This coming from a woman who, at 17 years old, gave a five-minute graduation speech in 37 seconds.

Now, I can speak in front of groups as large at 4,500 people with ease, and it's through the practice and preparation honed over all these years. Of course, having done theatre and working in corporate training helped, too.

But back to this particular speech. I gave it a couple of weeks ago, and brought quite a few people to tears. As you read the speech, here are a few notes: the italics indicate I sang that part of the speech (yes, I opened and closed the speech with a song!); brackets indicate actions I took or had audience members do.

Enjoy! Let me know what you think. :-)


A Soldier’s Story

[Pass out a copy of the following letter to four audience members. Remove my copy from a sealed envelope and “read” it.]

My love,

If you’re reading this, [begin singing] and my mamma’s sitting there Looks like I only got a one-way ticket over here.

I sure wish I could give you one more kiss – And war was just a game we played when we were kids.

Well I’m laying down my gun, I’m hanging up my boots I’m up here with God and we’re both watching over you. Just remember this: I’m in a better place Where soldiers live in peace and angels sing Amazing Grace.

So lay me down, in that open field out on the edge of town. And know my soul is where my momma always prayed that it would go.

And if you’re reading this, if you’re reading this...I’m already home.

The song is by Tim McGraw, but the sentiment is echoed by the many loved ones who received letters like these from soldiers who didn’t make it home. Or received the knock on the door telling them their son or daughter, husband or wife, mother or father made the ultimate sacrifice and died in combat.

In the Korean War, there were 33,686 casualties

In Vietnam: 58,209

Will those of you who have letters in front of you please stand. [Four people stand.] You each represent over 1,000 families, since as of today, in Iraq, over 4,109 brave men and women have died so that we may sit here and enjoy our freedom.

Even though these most recent numbers are considerably less than those of previous wars, it by no means diminishes the pain and suffering of every family it touches. Families, friends, loved ones.

While there are literally thousands of stories to share, today I’m going to tell you a soldier’s story – the story of Staff Sergeant Vichko.

This soldier, like so many of them, saw the Army as a way to clean up his act. He dropped out of high school, and got his GED. He really didn’t like having people tell him what to do, and certainly didn’t like taking orders, so what better place to go? The Army, of course! He enlisted in the Army, where, over the course of 10 years, he quickly rose through the ranks to Staff Sergeant.

In late August of 2001, he flew out of Boston’s Logan Airport heading toward the west coast on his way to a one-year tour in Korea. Two weeks later, another plane left that very same airport for the west coast, and we all know their final destination: New York City.

I don’t mention 9/11 for the shock factor. I do it because when Staff Sergeant Vichko left the States, he left behind his wife, Patti, who was six months pregnant with their first child.

I ask you: have any of you ever accepted a job where you would have to travel? Would you take that job knowing you’d be traveling for up to 15 months at a time? Or more? Away from your family. Our soldiers do…Staff Sergeant Vichko did. And continues to do.

He missed the birth of his daughter, because he was serving a yearlong tour in Korea. Two years later he missed the birth of his son because of his eight-month tour in Afghanistan. He knew when he signed up there was a possibility of separation from family – all military folks do.

His daughter is 6 years old and his son is now 4 – they’ve only known him a total of 2 years due to his tours. They’ve sacrificed spending precious time with their father, and he’s sacrificed seeing them grow up.

The Army doesn’t let you come home for little things like the birth of your children, or anniversaries, or Christmas.

[Pass around a picture of Vichko with daughter Zoey and one with his parents and sister.]

And as we sit here comfortably, getting ready to celebrate the birth of our nation, Independence Day with family and friends, my brother, Staff Sergeant Timothy Vichko, is sitting in Iraq defending our freedom, as one of 14 American soldiers on a base in Iraq training 600 Iraqi soldiers.

We're lucky because he’s still with us, alive and well.

Every day I think of him; I feel him in my heart. I can’t wait to put my arms around him, and more so when I hear this Lonestar song on the radio.

He called her from Iraq, from a lonely tent in Baghdad, just to hear her say I love you one more time. But when he heard the sound of the kids laughing in the background, he had to wipe away a tear from his eye.

A little voice came on the phone, said, “Daddy when you coming home?”

He said the first thing that came to his mind: I’m already there. Take a look around.

I’m the sunshine in your hair, I’m the shadow on the ground. I’m the whisper in the wind, I’m your imaginary friend. Can you feel the love that we share? Oh I’m already there.

We may be ten thousand miles apart, but I’ll be with you wherever you are.
I’m already there, take a look around. I’m the sunshine in your hair, I’m the shadow on the ground. I’m the whisper in the wind, and I’ll be there until the end. And I know I'm in your prayers. Oh I’m already there, oh I’m already…



Brenda in NJ said…
Hi Tara,

I just wanted to tell you this article is beautiful. You're a fantastic writer. It causes you to be thankful for what the solders are sacrificing for us to keep us free. They are paying a high price. Thanks for sharing the article.

Take care,

Mrs. Marks

P.S. Are you walking the 3 Day this year? If so, let me know so I can send you a donation. I had planned to last year, but my mom got very sick and I forgot.