Part-time Soldier. Full-time Patriot.

When he was in college, John Bandy had authority issues. He was rebellious and considered himself “anti-military.” But, as he put it, time can change your perspective. And, so it was that seven years ago, Bandy became a soldier. A peacekeeper. A member of the U.S. Naval Reserve. When that commitment took him into a war zone, he became a patriot.

There was no one thing that made this Primerica Operations Support Manager join the Reserves, but his decision was tempered by familial influences and tragedy. His father worked for global security company Lockheed Martin. He had family in both the Army and the Air Force. His brother-in-law was on active duty in the Army. And then there was 9/11. The terror that befell New York on September 11, 2001, made Bandy – like so many other Americans – take a second look at what he could do to help his country.

Married and the father of three children, Bandy knew when he enlisted that there was a possibility that he’d be deployed. They all knew. But when political tensions escalated in Afghanistan, the possibility became a matter of when – not if. “When you’re in intelligence, like I am,” Bandy said, “you’re going to get deployed.” So, in 2006, when he received his orders, the first thing he did was call his wife.

Over There
Bandy began training in November 2006, and by March 2007 he was assigned to Kandahar, the second largest city in Afghanistan. He was only there for a week before he experienced his first rocket attack. Other than a short leave after seven months, he lived in Kandahar until he came home in March of 2008.

As oppressive as the weather, the language barriers and what Bandy calls “typical combat stuff” were, being away from his family during the holidays was just as bad. He spent Thanksgivings in Afghanistan and missed the birthdays of each of his children. “We went to another base for Christmas lunch,” he remembers, “but the rest of the day was like any other. You just worked through the holidays, because the war doesn’t stop.”

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Coming Home
Bandy’s bags were packed a full month ahead of time to go home. “I remember looking out that airplane window and thinking, I’ll never miss this place.” He muses, “Getting back home was the best thing! I landed in Baltimore and took a flight to Jacksonville, FL, and back to Atlanta. You can’t imagine what it feels like knowing your family is at the end of that escalator.”

What’s Changed?
His deployment gave him an intense appreciation of his co-workers back home, too. “One of my highlights was receiving a care package from my Primerica family. It included a calendar, a DVD greeting from my co-workers and snack food, including beef jerky – which was always a big hit over there! It meant a lot to me to see those familiar faces and know that they cared enough to create it for me and that they were rooting for me all along.”

His time there also gave him a very low tolerance for complaining. “When people complain about the weather, I think put on 60 pounds of gear, go out in 100 degree weather and stand for eight hours on a medical mission. If they complain of being hungry, I think, go out and survive on MREs (meals ready to eat). I know the complainers didn’t share my experience, but having lived it changed my tolerance for people who complain about the simple things.”

He says his war zone experience taught him a lesson he uses every day now: “When your life depends on someone else, and theirs on you, you learn a lot about yourself. People put artificial limits on themselves. When you push yourself to your limits, you realize you can go further than you ever thought.”

Bandy’s enlistment is up in March of 2011, and this intelligence specialist will become U.S. Naval Reserve Petty Officer, First Class (ret.) John Bandy. Until then, he will continue to drill one weekend a month and two weeks a year with his joint intelligence command. They continue to prepare for the next mission that may or may not come. Either way, they’ll be ready to keep the peace and protect the freedoms that make this country the United States of America.

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