HOST INTRO: Radio Rookie Alexis Gordon is graduating from high school today but has something else on her mind. Her dad isn't going to be there. He's been in the Army Reserves for 27 years and could have retired but chose not to. Alexis is struggling to understand his decision to stay in the Army.
NARRATION: My dad's been a mechanic in the Army Reserves since before I was born. When I was little every month he'd say, "Alexis, I'll pay you a dollar to shine my boots for me." I used to love making his shoes really shiny and sparkly. That's all the army was to me then. Now, it's different. I'm 18 and my dad is getting sent to war.
ALEXIS: Hi daddy!
DAD: Yeah babe.
NARRATION: In the spring the Army sent him to Texas for basic training.
ALEXIS: So when are you leaving to go away?
DAD: Next month.
ALEXIS: Are you going to have a going away party or something?
DAD: Na na na na, I don't want nothing, no.
ALEXIS: Ha. Daddy why do you call us so much, like since you've been away you've called like 10 million times a day.
DAD: You don't want me to call?
ALEXIS: No, I'm just asking why do you call so much?
DAD: Oh, I feel like.
ALEXIS: Do you know how many times a day you call us?
DAD: I don't know, 'bout six times.
ALEXIS: No! You call more.
NARRATION: When I was in the 5th grade my dad went to Iraq. My teacher asked for his address so my classmates could write him letters. They asked him so many questions: "How is it in Iraq? What type of gun do you carry around? How many people have you killed?" All the things that I did not want to think about, so I didn't. I found out that my dad was going to Afghanistan last year. My mom just brought it up during dinner like, "Your dad is being deployed again." My dad said, "Yeah, I don't know the date though." My little sister, Adrienne and I were just eating and like, "Oh, okay?"
NARRATION: At school, my friend Jose is always talking about how stupid it is that his younger brother wants to join the army.
JOSE: All the wars over there are going nowhere, especially the Afghanistan war because it's been almost like what, 9 years since 9/11 happened and I feel like they should just end it, you know.
NARRATION: Yeah, I used to feel the same way as Jose, but then they picked my dad to go. I don't want to support the war but, I don't want my dad to feel like I'm not supporting him. I thought everyone in my family was 100 percent behind my dad until I finally asked my mom how she felt. We were cooking up an early dinner.
MOM: I think he shouldn't go.
MOM: He's gone on many trips before and he's older now. He doesn't need to go there. I don't feel one bit okay with it, but it's his choice. I wish him all the best. I just hope that he comes back safely. He's your father, how do you feel about him going away and you graduating and he's not around?
ALEXIS: Oh. I don't know, like I feel sad a bit. And I don't know.
MOM: It may not affect you now, but in months to come you may have a different outlook...your father made that choice.
NARRATION: My dad just came home from basic training.
ALEXIS: Hey daddy, daddy, look. Daddy look, daddy look, daddy look, daddy look! I got accepted to Lehman College.
DAD: Where's that?
ALEXIS: That's in the Bronx and I got accepted into Hunter College.
DAD: Which one is the best?
ALEXIS: I don't know! But I got accepted. Da da da da da da.
ALEXIS: Wait, when are you leaving?
ALEXIS: What time?
DAD: 6 o'clock in the morning.
NARRATION: I was sitting on a pile of pillows in my parents bed while my dad was playing solitaire.
ALEXIS: What's that?
NARRATION: The drawer on the nightstand was open and I saw a green photo album.
ALEXIS: This. Why's it have Arabic all over it?
NARRATION: These were pictures were from the Persian Gulf War. In every one it looks like it's about to rain.
ALEXIS: That's a dead person?
DAD: That's a head.
ALEXIS: That's a head? Really?
DAD: You didn't see that?
DAD: That's a head. There's bodies lying down here, a body lying down here, guts, foot.
ALEXIS: Did you take those pictures?
DAD: I feel like.
MOM: Just memories, but I don't want to see it.
NARRATION: My mom didn't stop him from showing me the pictures and I wouldn't have wanted her to. I'm old enough to understand what happens during war.
ALEXIS: Did you kill those people or were they already dead?
DAD: They were dead...they were dead.
ALEXIS: Um, how do you feel about being deployed again?
DAD: I feel alright.
ALEXIS: Alright? Like don't you not want to go?
DAD: You want me go?
NARRATION: I just wish he would say that he wants to stay home with us.
DAD: It's alright. I sign up. I gotta go, gotta go.
DAD: Arabic, Arabic.
NARRATION: On our last night together before he left my dad was learning some Arabic words from a CD that the Army gave him.
TAPE: Potate, potate.
MOM: Potata. What it means? They're not giving you any.
ALEXIS: It says potato.
MOM: Oh ok!
TAPE: El tihab, el tihab.
MOM: What's that?
ALEXIS: So my dad is packing now...
DAD: Go downstairs I got the little black bag. I got some shoes.
NARRATION: He sends me to the basement to get his bag and his boots.
ALEXIS: He always waits till the last minute to pack, and he always forgets stuff. Like this one time we went to Canada, he thought my mom packed for him, but she didn't and then my dad didn't have any clothes, last minute.
ALEXIS: So daddy, since you're leaving tomorrow, right, how do you feel now about leaving?
DAD: I feel okay.
ALEXIS: Okay? Are you sure?
DAD: Yeah. Yup.
ALEXIS: Don't you want to stay?
ALEXIS: Why don't you want to stay?
DAD: Can't stay.
NARRATION: My dad's been away for 3 months now. He still calls but not 10 times a day, only at breakfast, lunch and dinner. When it's my turn to talk he always asks the same questions. So, I just give the same answers. And when I ask what he's doing over there, he just says, "I'm eating" or "I'm in bed." I guess that's just the way it's going to be.
For WNYC this is Rookie Reporter Alexis Gordon.