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The People's Voice: Surrounded by heroes

Published: Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014 1:15 a.m. CST • Updated: Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014 12:10 p.m. CST
(Philip Marruffo/
Jim Bushman enjoys a laugh with his daughter, Kristen, wife, Alicia, and son, Connor. Bushman recently returned from his half-year deployment in Qatar, Afghanistan.

What’s with these military guys? All of them insist they’re not a hero, but the soldier to their left is.

Here’s the deal: When you circle the wagons the way only the Armed Forces can, everyone is to someone else’s left.

I had the honor of sitting down with Jim Bushman on Monday afternoon, 3 days after he and his wife, Alicia, were reunited after his half-year deployment in Qatar, Afghanistan.

Hear our entire chat by podcast stream by clicking here (Right-click and save if you'd like to download to desktop)

From the mix of pragmatism and patriotism that led Jim to re-enlist to his separation anxiety over an airline losing his M-4 rifle, I can tell you it’s a very good listen.

Bushman claimed that because he merely worked on the aircraft that carried soldiers into and back from action, that he isn’t a hero. But then I caught his double standard and made him fess up to being a hero.

“My wife is my hero,” he said at the family dinner table, tears welling up in Alicia’s eyes as she sat to his left, “because she took over everything, so that I could go and do my job, focus on the dangers that were there, and I didn’t have to worry about things being taken care of back here.”

You don’t need to be on the front line to be a hero. By trying to make the funny voices Dad would make, by shoveling snow and single-handedly shouldering the load of both parents, Alicia let Jim keep his brothers – and his country, in turn – safe. And he wasn’t just keeping aircraft healthy. He also donated platelets once a month and received an email informing him that his donation had saved someone’s life.

I felt humbled sitting at the table with the two of them.

I also felt charmed to hear about their reunion. It drummed up memories of love at first sight.

Butterflies flitted in Alicia’s stomach as she approached Bushman’s Air Force base in Grissom, Ind. She’d forgotten her hairspray.

“Who forgets their hairspray when they haven’t seen their husband for 6 months?” Alicia said. “I was nervous. Like first-date nervous.”

Nonetheless, tears flowed.

If that wasn’t tender enough, Jim arrived home a week ahead of schedule, and he and Alicia managed to surprise their two kids, Connor, 8, and Kristen, 11. Alicia picked up the little ones while Jim convinced his beloved pup that it was, in fact, daddy, and that he was home.

Then Kristen saw Dad, who had been hiding behind the staircase to really maximize the thrill.

“She started screaming,” Alicia said. “I heard her outside by the garage. Then Connor was crying and hugging him, crying and hugging him, looking up at him like, ‘Is it real? Are you really here?’”

I simply can’t imagine it – being apart from the ones you love most for more than 6 months. That sacrifice in and of itself is heroic. After the first 4 hours of my shift, my heart races as I see my little girls when I take my break and help get them down for the night.

I’m trying to multiply that thrill by a million to imagine what Friday night must have felt like for Jim and Alicia.

But I can’t. I’m not a hero. I’m cool with that. Because I can count on guys like Jim.

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