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In praise of our first responders both here and away

It seems to take a pandemic for us to get our priorities in order. With the death toll in the country having passed 60,000 and with over a thousand of those here in Georgia, suddenly we realize that those who entertain us — like actors and ballplayers — are nothing more than diversions. They are paid obscene amounts of money to make us forget the vicissitudes of our daily lives. In fact, they are as irrelevant as a bump on an elephant’s rump.

The real heroes are the first responders. They are the doctors, emergency room personnel, nurses (including one in my family for whom I pray every day), police officers, firefighters, EMTs and others on the front lines in the battle with the deadly coronavirus battle. They don’t get paid nearly what they are worth for the risks they are taking and the enormous pressures they are under.

Not only are they on the front lines, in many cases this is an added responsibility to an already dangerous job which often goes unappreciated until we need them.  When we have a life-or-death situation, who do we want to see — a first responder or Colick Kaperdoodle who, if we are lucky, has crawled into a rathole, never to be heard from again?

There is another set of first responders we sometimes overlook — the National Guard.  It was my privilege some years ago to be embedded with Georgia’s 48th Brigade Combat Team in a part of Iraq aptly known as the Triangle of Death.  These unsung warriors are not only soldiers of the first rank, back home they are schoolteachers, electricians, prison guards, truck drivers, plumbers and our neighbors.

Today, members of Georgia’s National Guard are fighting a different battle as fearlessly as they did in Iraq.  Only this time it isn’t bombs or bullets. As we speak, men and women of the Guard are disinfecting nursing homes, assisting hospital staff so they can focus on saving lives, packaging food and delivering it to needy Georgians across the state and a host of other responsibilities.

Many members of the National Guard still find themselves far away from home.  A friend recently shared a Facebook post with me from April McDaniel, an E4 Specialist with the North Carolina National Guard, who is posted somewhere in the Middle East(For security reasons, she can’t say where).

If you are feeling sorry for yourself these days because of having to shelter in place or fretting as to whether you have hoarded enough toilet paper to last you through this decade and beyond, consider yourself fortunate. You could find yourself in the sweltering heat of some godforsaken cesspool in the Middle East, worrying about the health of your family thousands of miles away and that the coronavirus might find you up-close-and-personal, not to mention some nutcase trying to kill you. That is the case of April McDaniel.

McDaniel has been deployed in the Middle East since October 2019. More importantly, she is a wife and mother of eight children, the oldest a 14-year-old daughter.

On Facebook she says, “This coronavirus is affecting everybody. You hear some people complaining about being with their kids. I have to be able to get a good signal just to be able to call home and parent my children and to be a wife.

“It’s a hard time for us. Pray for everybody, not just your situations and your family but for us overseas, too. PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome) is real. Suicide is real. Depression is real. These are things that people wake up thinking about and feeling every day.

“Appreciate this time you get to spend at home with your kids, reading a book or something. I read a book in the USO, made a recording of myself reading to my child and sent it in the mail home. I don’t even know if it made it yet.

“Embrace and enjoy the little things: Cooking dinner, tucking your kids in at night, making sure you are saying your prayers with them, watching TV on the couch on weekends, telling your parents you love them, going to see your mama.”

May this pandemic one day be history, but may we never forget who the real heroes are in our society, be they first responders on the front lines here at home or in some godforsaken cesspool in the Middle East. Thank you one and all and please stay safe. Can I get an amen?