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Father and son serve together for Iraqi freedom

17 Sep 2003 | Sgt. Matthew Miller

Joshua Vrooman joined his mother and sister, like they had several times before during his father's 24-year Marine Corps career, in saying goodbye to Lt. Col. Donald Vrooman in March, not knowing the next time he would see him.

As it turned out, Joshua would see his father before the rest of his family. Ten days later Lance Cpl. Vrooman had to say goodbye to his family as he boarded a plane bound for Kuwait, the same country that his father was in. 

He had a sudden introduction to the horrors of combat upon arrival. After landing in Kuwait, just days after the war started, he was immediately taken to Camp Commando.

"My first experience in Kuwait was that as soon as I got off the bus from the airport, a missile landed about 150 yards from the bus," said Lance Cpl. Vrooman, a 21-year-old small computer specialist with Marine Wing Communications Squadron 48. "We immediately had to put on our MOPP gear (Nuclear, Biological, Chemical protection garments) and spend our first moments in Kuwait in that stuff."

His father, in Iraq at the time, didn't even know he was in the country until more than two weeks later. Even after he found out he had been deployed, there was still some time before he knew where in the combat zone his son was based.

"I was uncomfortable not knowing where my son was at," said Lt. Col. Vrooman, current operations officer for 1st Force Service Support Group, "I didn't know exactly where he was for about a month-and-a-half. We weren't able to communicate by e-mail at first because we didn't know each other's address.

"I was concerned he would be in danger, not too much danger though, because I knew as a Marine he had good training that could get him through. My wife and daughter were more concerned than I was."

As a father and senior Marine, he found it necessary to extend advice to his son on a first deployment, but made sure to stay within Marine Corps etiquette guidelines.

"I can give him a certain perspective because I've been out here before, but when I give advice to him, it isn't any different than advice I would give to any other Marine," Lt. Col. Vrooman said. "My wife is always telling me to look out for him, but I had to weigh that carefully. I had to remember that there is a gulf between us because he is enlisted. I can't interfere with the unit. I have to weigh and balance the fact that we are Marines and family members at the same time."

"He is always bringing on parental-sounding advice like 'drink water,' 'wear your flak jacket,' 'be careful' or 'don't drive to fast,'" said Lance Cpl. Vrooman. "When he is giving me advice I am taking it from my father, but also a Marine officer.

"Being out here with my father kind of gives me a beacon to look to as someone who has done this before. One of the Marines I work with out here said, 'Its nice for you to have someone out here that you can turn to who was put here (on the earth) to be there for you, to guide you through everything."

Lance Cpl. Vrooman, in his third year of service in the Marine Corps Reserves, had been encouraged so much by his father's guidance, that he followed in the steps of his father just a few days after graduating from high school by joining the Corps.

"I had been around the Marine Corps my whole life," said Lance Cpl. Vrooman. "All the moving and stuff like that. I got used to the moving and I was around Marine officers and enlisted all the time. My going into the military wasn't just something I was ready for, but I was prepared for it. I had gotten used the military way of life my whole life."

"I think he appreciates me a little bit more after he went through boot camp," said Lt. Col. Vrooman. "He knew a little bit of what I had been through for the past 20 years."

Now Lance Cpl. Vrooman knows even more of what his father has been through, having participated in a war with his father.

"We now have something between a father and son that most fathers and sons don't get to experience," said Lt. Col. Vrooman. "In the future we will be able to look back on this and appreciate the fact that we went through a war together."

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