Austin veteran deploys 4 times

Published 11:36 am Monday, November 11, 2013

He may be a young veteran, but he still proudly wears a VFW hat.

Nathan Lee, 31, of Austin, is a veteran and true patriot. The man has compassion for those deploying, those who retired from the military, those who died and those who need help. Through his own time as a specialist in the National Guard, which included four deployments, Lee has found a group of people to honor and people he can trust.

Nathan Lee during his tour in Iraq. --Submitted

Nathan Lee during his tour in Iraq. –Submitted

“A lot of my friends I went to high school with, a lot of us have just kind of grown apart,” Lee said. “This is the complete opposite. We can go a couple years without seeing each other and as soon as we meet, it’s like, ‘bam.’ It’s like you never skipped a beat.”

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Lee, an Austin High School graduate, enlisted in the National Guard when he was 18. His grandfathers, father and uncle all served in the military. It would seem like Lee was naturally next in line. He now has a cousin in the Marines. But Lee said there was no special reason for joining.

“Just something I always wanted to do,” he said.

Thinking about the best parts of the military, as others would say, Lee settles on the friendships as the best aspect.

“A lot of it, I would just say, is the camaraderie and stuff like that,” Lee said about his best experiences.

And Lee has a lot of experiences. In a decade of service, he twice went to Iraq from 2004 to 2006. From 2007 to 2008 he served in Kosovo, and from 2009 and 2010 he was in Afghanistan with many local soldiers who will soon go there again. He has spent a lot of time away from home, in hot, dusty, dry conditions with trustworthy men and women by his side. His company lost a soldier in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those experiences and memories don’t drift away like some old high school buddies often do.

And Lee has some quite unique experiences, too. He had the opportunity to briefly serve with his father.

“I actually got to spend a couple years with my dad,” Lee said. “I got to serve with him for the first couple years until he retired.”

While that’s something to talk about, Lee’s uncle also served in the Middle East during the Gulf War. The two share plenty of similar stories and can vividly picture what each went through.

“A lot of things I talked about, he knew exactly what I was saying,” Lee said.

Of all the lessons the military has taught, Lee, it’s obvious respect is one of them. In June, Lee went to Mike Janning’s rural Austin home with other veterans to install a new flag and flag pole. Janning, a Vietnam War veteran, died of cancer in August. Lee has an apparent sympathy for that era.

“To me, that’s the generation I feel horrible about,” he said. “It really hurts just to think about.”

Because of that, holidays like Veterans Day and Memorial Day mean a little more to people like Lee.

“For anyone who served, these types of days are really important,” he said.

Of course, old memories pop up more often than holidays come around, and fallen comrades are on soldiers’ minds a lot more often than that.

“For the guys that we’ve had that have fallen, we tend to make it a habit every year and go out on that day they got killed,” Lee said.

These days, Lee attends service organizations’ ceremonies, too.

“For Veterans Day, lately I’ve been going down to the VFW for stuff,” Lee said, who said he’ll attend this year’s flag retirement ceremony.

Lee appreciates the recognition people give on Veterans Day. He’s not just going to soak it in, though. He’s going to give plenty of it, too.