Veteran’s Day Feature: Family Strong

In honor of Veteran’s Day, two seniors share what it is like to have a family member in the military.


Family can be annoying, supportive, loving, frustrating or important. For senior Sarah VanZwoll, she said her family time is precious and a rare occurrence. This is because her father, Lieutenant Colonel Bill VanZwoll, is a marine aviator and is only home once or twice a month.

Bill flies F18 fighter planes for the Marines off of large aircraft carriers out at sea. Because of this, Bill has been all around the world, but also spends a lot of time away from home. VanZwoll said she is definitely a daddy’s girl, and misses not being able to see him every day.

“I remember one time he came home from Spain with a moustache and I didn’t recognize him because I was really little,” VanZwoll said. “The [tours] I remember most were when he was in the Iraqi war because he did back-to-back tours, so he went two years, came back and then went for two years again.”

Senior Dane Jones has grown up in a similar situation; his dad, Michael Jones, was a Marine Corp pilot who is now retired. Jones said his dad retired in order to keep the family from having to move often; they had to move almost every three years while Michael was active in the Marine Corp. Jones has lived in Hawaii, Japan and Belgium, to name a few places.

“I was pretty little [when Michael was gone] so I got used to it,” Jones said. “I’m not going to say I don’t know my dad, but we didn’t get a lot of family time.”

Pullquote Photo

We always wanted to go hunting…but we never could. Now that he’s home, we’re actually able to do that.

— Senior Dane Jones

Pullquote Photo

Whatever my dad wants to do, I drop everything and do it. I’ll drop everything to spend time with him because you know you don’t get that a whole lot.

— Senior Sarah VanZwoll












Photo courtesy of Dane Jones

VanZwoll, whose father is still active in the Marines, said they constantly try to keep in touch and get in some family time. Bill is currently stationed in Florida doing Special Operations Training and teaching new pilots about night missions. While Bill was on tour the best way to communicate was through email and mail, but now the VanZwolls use different technology to stay in touch.

“Facetime has been really great,” VanZwoll said.  “[My dad] really likes that, he thinks it’s really cool. He’ll Facetime me while he’s having dinner and we text a lot. Throughout the day I’ll get little texts from him like ‘Hey, miss you, love you.’”

Jones said having his dad home has been a lot different and they have been able to reconnect. Having experienced life with his father gone on duty and now back home has made Jones put things into perspective.

“We have more time to do stuff, we always wanted to go hunting but we never could,” Jones said. “Now that he’s home we’re actually able to do that, and he actually was able to come to my sporting events.”

The VanZwoll family embraces after Sarah's father, Bill, arrives home from active duty.
The VanZwoll family embraces after Sarah’s father, Bill, arrives home from active duty.

VanZwoll lives in an opposite situation, she only sees her dad every so often. When Bill is able to get home, Vanzwoll said she loves to pop some popcorn and watch a ‘boy movie’ with her dad.

“Whatever my dad wants to do, I drop everything and do it,” VanZwoll said. “I’ll drop everything to spend time with him because you know you don’t get that a whole lot.”

VanZwoll said when people ask her what it is like to not have her dad around, she doesn’t know how to respond because it is the way she has grown up and she is used to it.

“We always lived on base, and living on military base means the families next door to you are going through the same exact thing you are,” VanZwoll said. “So it’s never really been a weird thing for me.”

With Bill not being home very often, VanZwoll said she has grown very close with her mother, who she said is a strong and independent woman. VanZwoll said that being with her mom all the time has made her and her sister the people they are today.

“[My mom is] awesome, it’s not like she’s even my mom most of the time,” Vanzwoll said.  “We’re actually so weird but we have so much fun, we’re more like best friends.”

Not having her dad home has changed Vanzwoll’s life, but in the end, VanZwoll said she is happy with her family and proud of her dad.

“Yeah, my dad’s never home, but he’s just fighting for our country,” VanZwoll said. “It’s never been a problem.”


For more on Veteran’s Day, read a teacher’s perspective on serving in the military.