WHO’S YOUR HERO?
Celebrating Patriot Day at Seward County Community College
LIBERAL — For Tammy Garth, loan specialist at Seward County Community College’s financial aid department, every day is Patriot Day. This year, Sept. 11 will feel extra bittersweet. A long-anticipated trip to Okinawa, Japan, to visit her son, U.S. Air Force munitions specialist Brett Combs, was canceled this summer.
“We were planning to go see him in July, and just before I purchased the tickets, he called and said, ‘wait a few days, Mom,’” Garth said. “At first, it seemed like a COVID-related thing, but then he called to say he was being deployed again.”
Combs has logged four deployments in hot spots — Afghanistan, Kuwait, Iraq — during his 10 year USAF career. Garth said the experience never becomes easier to navigate stateside.
“It’s very hard,” she said. “I don’t know if my phone’s going to ring or if I will see a military man walk up to my house. You don’t want to think constantly about it, but it’s always in the back of my mind.”
Garth’s worries are counterbalanced by an intense pride in her son’s service.
“Brett was born in 1990, so he was 10 when 9/11 happened,” she said. “From that point on, he wanted to join the military when he got older.”
Her son’s impulse was a mixture of concern for others, a natural tendency to lead, and practicality. After a semester at SCCC, Combs decided “college wasn’t really for him,” Garth said. “He told me he was going to enlist in the military, and I wasn’t surprised.”
Garth recounted parent-teacher conferences filled with anecdotes about Brett’s volunteerism, his big heart for kids who struggled to keep up, his love for animals, “anyone or anything who needed help, you name it,” said his mother.
“I raised both my boys to work hard, to volunteer, to put in the work. This whole mentality of, ‘oh, my kid needs a participation medal’ — no. You earn what you get.”
For the young munitions specialist, that has meant a steady stream of promotions and honors, including the rare General Leo Marquez award. During a visit to Cannon AFB, Garth was thrilled to hear from a commanding officer “that if Brett ever left, they wouldn’t know what to do without him. It just makes you feel better to know your child is appreciated.”
That hasn’t always been Garth’s experience. When she pulls on one of her “Proud Military Mama” t-shirts, she braces herself.
“I’ve been spit on, yelled at, refused service,” she said. “You wouldn’t expect that, but it happens a lot. One gentleman at a craft show refused to sell me items because, he said, he didn’t support the U.S. military going into foreign countries.”
There are people, Garth noted, “from one extreme to the other. So I get hugs and high fives, too.” Garth is thankful for those who value military service members.
“People don’t understand the sacrifice our military men and women do for their rights. I have not had a Christmas with my son for nine years, haven’t celebrated birthdays for a decade, and we had one Thanksgiving in the last 10 years,” she said.
“They sacrifice their time with their family to protect us. Yes, they volunteer for the military, but to me that makes it even more amazing. No one made them do this, they signed up for a job that demands everything.”
With her son deployed to an undisclosed desert location, where he sleeps in a tent and craves sweet tea and trail mix, Garth does what she can. She prays. She eagerly awaits the occasional FaceTime conversation. She sends regular care packages with extra items for the other service members roughing it out in the 110-degree heat. And she tells anyone who will listen that she’s proud of her son.
“It takes a special person to do what our military men and women do,” she said. “If you ask me who my hero is, it’s my son.”