Johnny Mac was a soldier, husband, father and friend. While serving his country, he made the ultimate sacrifice. Now, he serves as our inspiration.
On May 18, 2010, my father, Col. John M. McHugh, was killed in action in Kabul, Afghanistan. He had served for 24 years in the United States Army.
It was a complete shock to my family—he wasn't even deployed. My dad was supposed to spend two weeks in Afghanistan for a NATO peace conference meeting in the country's capitol building and then return to our military home in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, just like he always did. Like he was supposed to do.
However, on that terrible morning—May 18, 2010—a suicide bomber took the lives of 18 people after driving a Toyota minibus packed with explosives into my dad's military convoy. Five American soldiers, including my father, were killed along with a Canadian colonel that day.
My dad, my hero, wasn't coming home. My life was forever changed.
I was born in Germany while my father was serving during the First Gulf War, and I was in high school when he was deployed for the next. I have lived on the East Coast, the West Coast, in the South, in the Midwest and in Europe—twice.
My dad was a West Point grad, a Blackhawk pilot and a colonel in the United States Army. I thought I had made it through the "ultimate Army Brat life" when he would talk about retiring after 25 years of service.
What more can an Army child possibly go through, right?
I learned the hard way exactly what more an Army kid can go through. I took that step from a proud Army daughter to an even prouder Gold Star daughter—that's what they call the families of the fallen: Gold Star families.
It's like a club—a club you pray you'll never join, but once you're in, you're in for life.
The past four years have not been easy ones for my Gold Star family; however, through the help and support of organizations like the Johnny Mac Soldiers Fund, we have been able to continue moving forward.
My older brother, Michael, is a helicopter pilot in the United States Army and is continuing his education at Kansas State University to earn his commercial pilots license, while my younger sister, Kristen, is a senior at Liberty University, where she is studying Family and Child Development.
My two youngest siblings—Maggie and David—are not yet in college; however, through the help and support of the Johnny Mac Soldiers Fund and the hard work ethic instilled by both my dad and my incredibly strong mom, I know that the opportunities that lie ahead for them are endless.
As for me, I was able to graduate from Kansas State University on May 18, 2013—three years to the day since my father was killed—and begin my career as a writer.
Since my father was killed in action, I have learned that I will never completely heal; my life has taken on a new normal. I can allow my father's death to hold me back, or I can use it as motivation to move forward and help better the amazing country he died for.
Every day, I am moving forward to make my soldier proud.