What Makes My Hero?

September 12, 2008
By Brooke Milan, Westfield, IN

It took me a while to think of who my hero was. I have never really given it any thought a who my hero was. Everyone thinks about who their hero is but committing to that one person by putting it on paper is something totally dissimilar. It would help a great deal if people knew what a hero, a personal hero, really was. For me, I tried to think of somebody I knew really well, somebody who I looked up to, since in today’s society it is so hard to categorize someone as a hero in everyday life. We always think of firefighters, or policemen, or soldiers, not great adventurers and rogues like Odysseus in the Odyssey who fight monsters and associate with immortals while on long journeys, never talking to their loved ones. So it took me a day or so just to figure out what the word “hero” meant to me. Finally, I came up with my hero: my neighbor, Mike. He is not a fireman or anything close to being what society thinks of as a modern day hero, but he is a friend and someone I look up to. As to what makes him heroic? I found he is just an over all modest, lucky guy, who joined the Air Force Reserves, one who I grew up knowing as a personal idol, and a fitting enough comparison to Odysseus, the epic hero from the Odyssey.
I think the talk I had with Mike during the interview gave me the most insight I have ever had about him, his life and who he is in general. Despite our families, Mike and Tenna and my parents and two siblings, being great friends and loving neighbors, I am glad I got to talk to Mike in such a different way. It was a singular conversation in the way we would talk about his dog, who I trained or about him and my brother going duck or goose hunting.
I have known Mike since I was four. Mike was born in Ft. Hood, Texas and grew up an average kid working on a farm. He embarrassedly acknowledges having been President of both his 4-H club and a group called Junior Leader. After enrolling in Ball State University, he dropped out to join the Air Force Reserves, claiming he wanted to travel the world and get a different kind of education. Mike joined the 434th Air Refueling Wing, one of the key refueling units in the Air Force Reserves which provides mid-air refueling for fighters, bombers, and other air craft. He married Tenna, who lived in the house behind us, in 1997. She also joined the Air Force Reserves and along with her husband they have both been with that military branch a long time, Tenna eventually becoming a Captain and outranking him.
As a soldier in the Reserves, Mike has been called up four times already, soon to be five. His first time called on active duty was in 1998 when he was 31, during the Kosovo War where the 434th was stationed in Grissom where it has been for most of its existence. Another was in 2001, just after 9/11 for Operation Freedom. He was sent off to Hawaii and Japan during which he was separated from his wife for almost six months. His last call to duty was in 2003 for Iraqi Freedom and this time he was send to Spain for 2-3 months to support his fellow soldiers. Mike job during all these operations was to maintain weapons and survival equipment with around 30 people working for him. His other main job was to give area threat briefings, alerting pilots to the level of danger they and their planes would be in during their runs and what they should know about the things happening on the ground. He said that for the men and women he worked with, they had a job to do that they were proud of. Everyone was in a very positive mood because of it, no matter what the world thought as a whole.

Mike is my hero for one main reason especially. He is in the Air Force Reserves. That, to me, takes at least some measure of bravery and loyalty, courage and commitment, to join the U.S. military in any way. Mike can be called up any time to the defense of his country. The Air Force Reserves is where most of Mike’s “heroic’ attributes really come to light. He had a sort of learned leadership, a skill necessary to his job in maintaining equipment with 30 men and women working for him. While the reserves may not do the same thing as our troops on active duty, they still serve a necessary purpose. The men and women in the reserves still have the courage to go back up the people on the frontlines and in the air, saving their lives indirectly all the time. Mike, having run the area threat briefings during Iraqi Freedom and other operations, daily stepped up and gave those men and women the encouragement they needed to do their jobs.
He would also have to be heroic for the fact that he is willing to help anyone. When we were building onto our house, he helped, whether we asked or not. And in joining the Air Force, he was willing to help his country. He said, “Used to be I didn’t mind (being called up) cause I could leave my job and it didn’t matter.” And he is a hero in his faith in God. I look up to him for that love and commitment, him and his wife Tenna both. They are always helping out at their church and gladly inviting me and my siblings to come along and I want to have that kind of faith and connection like them.
Against, the epic hero Odysseus, however, there is no comparison. Both men are strong, physically and mentally, and have proved themselves in times of war and crisis. They both are also leaders, Odysseus a naturally born one and respected by many men, Mike on the other hand having to learn leadership through the Air Force, despite being good at it. Mike also said he has been lucky a lot. “I’d have to say lucky; I always seem to be in the right place at the right time,” he said, when asked what he thought his strengths were. This similarity to Odysseus can be disputed however. The epic hero is not lucky all the time; sometimes he is even unlucky, an example being those first storms that dragged his crew off course. But here is where even the remote similarities end.
Contrary to Odysseus’ love of the battle and combat, my hero Mike, joined the Air Force Reserves branch of the military specifically to avoid combat. He did not admit to being scared and I believe he was not but I think it is more in Mike’s nature to stand on the sidelines and in the shadows protecting his country instead of putting himself in such a risk filled situation. Another small difference is, unlike the epic hero, Mike also admits to not being the smartest human being, at least not as smart and clever as Odysseus.
But one of the biggest distinctions between two heroes is their levels of humility. Odysseus is seen time and time again showing off, especially in the case of telling the Cyclopes his name. Mike, on the other hand, was very modest when I spoke to him, down grading his strengths and laughing when I asked him to explain his “much harder to think up” weaknesses. But I think the biggest and best example of his modesty has to be my favorite; I called him to ask if I could interview him and told him it was for an essay on my hero. The first thing he says to that is, “I’m the first person you thought of as your hero?”
While my hero may not fill the Odysseus archetype, Mike is still a hero to me. He teaches me to be a good leader, to be modest, and many other things. He is still out there protecting people when necessary, helping others when needed, and being a good friend to my family and me. Mike may not consider himself to be anybody’s hero, or even a hero at all, in our modern day understanding of the term, that is, if you look it up in a dictionary, he is not. But that is not what makes someone a personal hero or a hero at all. But when you think about a hero in your own life, is that person even liked or known as a hero by others? By themselves? So this is how I answer the question, “Who is my hero?” I say that it is not what others think of a person, or what they think about themselves, but what does matter is how I think about that person. I look up to and respect Mike for who his is and all his qualities and that is what makes him a hero.

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This article has 1 comment.

Erin S. said...
on Sep. 17 2008 at 8:15 pm
That was an awesome essay, Brooke!! Great Job!


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