Sailor home for July Fourth holiday, reflects on sacrifices
Avery Vermillion spent the past nine months scared for her dad.
He could have been blown up just by driving down the road in Afghanistan, the 12-year-old explained.
So now that Lt. Austin Vermillion of the U.S. Navy is back home, safe, she has a lot to be thankful for this Fourth of July.
"I always thought something was going to happen to him because you hear all this stuff on the news and I was always like, 'What if that is my dad?' But I knew it wasn't because I was praying," Avery said, smiling, as she watched her dad play with her 3-year-old brother, Jack.
An imaginary game of restaurant had Jack serving up purple horseradish and tomato tacos to his dad, as they ran around the playground, laughing.
"He is fighting for our country, and there are a bunch of people out there doing the same thing to protect all of us. ... me and Jack, we have sacrificed a father, and we could not do anything that was father and daughter. Jack couldn't go fishing, go play football. We sacrificed that," Avery explained.
When Vermillion was a kid, the Fourth of July was about fireworks, friends and having a good time, he said.
Now, home on three-week leave from Afghanistan, the 31-year-old said the Fourth is about something else for him and his family.
"It is a reminder of how good we have it and the sacrifices that so many have made for their country. It is a celebration to be thankful that we aren't living under oppression or a dictatorship," Vermillion said.
Having been deployed five times, Vermillion said his two children are used to going without a dad. But other dads and moms don't get to come home from war at all.
"We left four people behind in Afghanistan who deployed with us. ... For me, it is one of those things that is hard to talk about, and you develop an emotional block about it to a degree," Vermillion said, struggling to speak about his fallen friends. "But when you hear things like the taps that they play at the funerals or the 'Star Spangled Banner,' those things get to you, and that is when you think of all the lives lost."
Since he has been home, Vermillion said, he takes advantage of every moment with his kids, taking them fishing, swimming, to see grandparents or the park.
He has just under a week left with his family, leaving Tuesday to go back to base.
But first, the trio will go to San Marcos for a Fourth of July celebration and Wounded Warriors Project fundraiser.
"It is hard; you miss your family. There is an emotional struggle there that goes with being away, but it is a job. That is what the job requires, and everybody in the family does that job. If you are in a military family, it is not just the soldier, the sailor, the airman or the Marine - everyone has a part of that because of how it consumes your life so much."
For now, he and his family are enjoying the simple things in life that Vermillion says so many have died to protect.