Another anniversary happens this weekend. 29 years ago a 20 year old me finally got the chance to fulfill my dream of signing on the dotted line and joining the Irish Defence Forces. Little did I know then that it would be a career that would span 23 years and take me around the world in pursuance of my role as not only the Defence Forces Photographer but as a member of the Irish Air Corps Pipe Band.
I started as a fresh faced recruit in the 2nd Field Artillery Regiment but within a few weeks I had suffered a broken leg while playing football and that knocked my military training back 8 months. But in those 8 months I learnt a lot about the role I would be going into and also learnt about the possibility of going to the Air Corps and becoming a Photographer. It would take a couple more years but in 1989 or 1990 I started my career as a military photographer. It was a role I would stay in until my retirement in 2011. Some of my usual work involved just day to day military stuff, parades and training but as a photographer I was also part of the Maritime Protection unit so flying out over the Atlantic Ocean at least once a week to photograph fishing vessels.
In 2004 I took up the role as photographer in the Defence Forces Press office and it was in this role that I really developed as a military photographer and got to travel all over with the Defence Forces. Some of the places I went to in my role as photographer were Kosovo, Bosnia, Chad, Liberia and Sweden. I also visited Lourdes in France as part of the Military Pilgrimage when the Irish President at the time attended in her role as Head of State and commander in chief. I would continue to photograph the Irish President for the next 7 years as well as visiting Heads of state.
My other job in the Defence Forces was as a member of the Air Corps Pipe Band and it was during a trip with the band to Savannah in 2001 that I met a lovely girl from Michigan. Little did I know then that 14 years later that lovely girl would become my wife and I would be living happily with her in Atlanta. I absolutely loved nearly every minute of my time in the military, getting to experience all the things I did and doing an exciting job. I made friends that are still friends and will be for life, have an outlook on life that sometimes only military people understand. But my time came to an end in 2011 after 23 years wonderful service to my country and it was time to retire and move on.
I cannot let today go by without a post to mention it’s Veterans day here in the USA. It is not only Veterans Day but today is one of the most important days in history, Armistice Day.
On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month the guns fell silent across Europe and it was the end of World War 1. A war that cost the world a generation of young men and all in the name of the ‘war to end all wars’. I am not going to examine the rights or wrongs or the political reasons for the war but I have a military service background and have always had an interest in history so I have read a good few books about WW1, as well as WW2.
Being Irish there was always an issue with Remembrance around this time of the year, mainly politics getting in the way of people remembering fallen family or friends. But as Ireland has grown up recently and the peace process in the North has taken hold, the act of remembering the many Irishmen that served in both World Wars is now becoming common. I lived and walked my dog daily in the Irish War Memorial Gardens in Islandbridge and it was great to see the Poppy wreaths on the plinth and to see them there for a few weeks in July for the British Legion remembrance ceremony as well as the battle of the Somme ceremony.
A few wreaths will show up around this time of year too but not as many as the July remembrance ceremonies because the Poppy and Remembrance at this time of the year still has a cloud hanging over it but slowly that cloud is moving away and times are changing. The poppy will probably never become fully accepted in Ireland due to political reasons and I understand that but people should remember.
So leaving the Armistice and remembrance behind, today is a day in the USA for thanking all who have served in the military for their service. This morning my wife made a point of ringing her Dad to thank him for his service, and as my father in law I am proud to say he is a military veteran. My own military service back home gave me some great insights into various militaries around the world as I got to meet them in various countries that I served or visited.
Back home veterans organizations are only starting to come into being and even though there was a couple for UN veterans and one for Ex service men and women it’s the newer organizations that are following the US and British model of recognizing and organizing events for veterans to attend. I wish them all the best of luck and keep up the good work. I follow all the events of Facebook and it is great to see so many veterans taking part in the events, remembering fallen comrades and just getting together to chat and catch up on old times.
So to all veterans, both here in the USA and back home in Ireland, Thank you for serving your flag and country. To the countless millions who sacrificed so much in the ‘War to end all wars’, you are remembered and RIP.
This coming weekend is Memorial Day weekend and I will be joining my wife and her/our friends on a beach trip to Santa Rosa beach in Florida. This weekend marks the official start of the summer vacation period and it is bookended by Labor Day at the end of the summer.
But Memorial Day has a very serious reason for being in existence, it is to remember members of the armed forces who gave their lives in service to their country. Not to be mixed up with Veterans Day (Nov 11th) which is for all living veterans of the armed forces.
As usual for me when something new comes up I have to do a small bit of research. And it’s funny the things you find out, Memorial Day was founded after the American Civil War in 1868, when the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of Union veterans founded in Decatur, Illinois, established it as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers. Considering I now live in Decatur, GA, it’s a strange one that Memorial day has its origins in another Decatur!
Being a former member of the Irish Defence Forces I can appreciate Memorial Day and it is something that we back in Ireland are really only to start recognize as a nation. The Defence Forces always had commemorations for fallen comrades and I was lucky in my role as photographer to have a front row view of those ceremonies every year. A few years ago a new monument was erected in Dublin to remember all members of the Irish Defence Forces who had died, both at home and abroad.
As this weekend I will be away in Florida the blog will be taking a little break as well but I will be back with a post or two next week. Also keep an eye out for a podcast on http://www.trailblazers.irish featuring myself and the story behind stpatstospartans.irish and the story of me in America.
One of the most important steps I took on the journey to the USA was taken 5 years ago today. On Feb 6th 2011 I retired after 23 years military service with the Irish Defence Forces. At the time and even until quite recently I didn’t realize how important that step was.
Making the decision to leave a job I loved after 23 years was easy. I was a photographer within the Defence Forces Press Office, travelling the world with the troops, covering military events all over Ireland and supplying imagery to media outlets at home and abroad. So what made me leave? Well the fun had gone out of the role and it was time to move on.
So in Feb 2011 found myself at a loose end and made a decision to go to college, at 44 years of age. Three years later I had attained my higher Diploma in Media Studies and had got a job in Dublin Airport in Security and also producing a staff newsletter. All these things meant when myself and Leanne had a certain conversation in early 2014, I was in a much better place in my life and the decisions that were going to be made over the following 18 months were going to be easy and correct.
I will delve further into my military career as I move forward as it helped me meet Leanne and gave me some lifelong friends on both sides of the Atlantic. Two of those friends, one from Ireland and one from Savannah, GA, stood beside me on our wedding day and it was my honour to have them both there on our big day.