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Duty calls; he goes; they wait

It wasn't easy leaving behind his family and a brand new daughter, but Steven Meredith is a patriot - and proud of it.

By CARY DAVIS, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 8, 2002


It wasn't easy leaving behind his family and a brand new daughter, but Steven Meredith is a patriot -- and proud of it.

HUDSON -- Steven Meredith made some huge sacrifices when he answered the call to duty.

Meredith was in the delivery room, awaiting the birth of his third daughter, when he got the call to report. A long-haul trucker by trade, Meredith also was a private first class in the Army National Guard.

Three weeks had passed since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 and he was being called to active duty.

Under the circumstances, Meredith could have said no.

He said yes, but with tears running down his face. His country needed him, and Meredith, above all, is a patriot.

But patriotism came at a price for Meredith, 25, and his family. He reported for duty right after Tyra Ann's birth and barely saw his new daughter for six months. His wife, Kathleen, was left to raise little Tyra alone. It wasn't easy, not when she also had to care for the couple's other three children.

What's more, National Guard duty doesn't pay very well. Meredith figures his six months on active duty cost his family more than $7,000 -- the difference between military pay and what he would have made as a trucker.

But Steven Meredith has no regrets.

"If I had it to do over, I'd do the same thing," he said. "I signed a contract to serve my country, and I take that very seriously. If my country needs me, I'm going to answer the call."

Meredith's National Guard unit provided extra security at Tampa International Airport. Many of his fellow soldiers returned to their families between shifts. But the Meredith family only had only one car, and Kathleen needed it for the kids.

So for six months, Meredith lived in a hotel near the airport.

About once a week, he caught a ride home to Hudson. Leaving his family was always hard. Missing Tyra's first months was nearly unbearable.

"She was so attached to her mother," he said.

Not having Dad around was "devastating" for the family, Kathleen Meredith said.

"I would have loved for him to be here," she said. "But I support him, whatever he has to do. He's a great dad. I knew he was with me in spirit."

Meredith's six-month tour ended March 21. He got a new job, installing underground utility lines for an Odessa company, and bought a second car for the family.

Tyra is 11 months old now. She has blond hair and blue eyes.

"And she's starting to come around to me," Meredith said. "She wants to be with Daddy more."

Serving his country is in Meredith's blood. His father served in the Air Force in Vietnam. His grandfather, he said, was an Army soldier in the South Pacific during World War II.

Meredith now spends one weekend a month with his National Guard unit, which is based in Dade City. They've been training for combat, he said.

If the United States declares war on Iraq, he said, "There's a good possibility we could get called back to active duty."

You guessed it: Meredith wouldn't hesitate.

"I wouldn't blink an eye," he said. "My family's great. They understand.

"I love my family, but I love my country, too."

-- Cary Davis covers courts in west Pasco County. He can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6236, or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6236. His e-mail address is cbdavis@sptimes.com.

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