Bahrain was hot.

It smelled different. The food was strange. I was 11 and my brother and I were facing a pile of food we had to finish. Dangling our legs, we clinked our orange Fantas, giggling at each other while we ate. 

Dad was a Navy guy, and we had just been assigned to Naval Support Activity Bahrain in the Middle East for four years. Mom had the privilege of herding four kids through that unfamiliar territory. 

Trisha's father's promotion ceremony
Trisha (front left) attends her dad’s promotion ceremony in Washington D.C.  Also pictured is her brother, Marshall (front right) and back row from left to right Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy John Hagan, Vice Admiral Ronald Zlatoper, mom Karen (holding brother Clint), dad Neil and uncle, John Guillebeau.  Shortly after the promotion, the Guillebeau family departed for Bahrain.

I was born in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the oldest of four. Dad served 26 years in the Navy, and Mom served right beside him, making sacrifices and raising us along the way. We moved every few years, traveling all over the U.S. and spending eight years in Bahrain and Spain. Despite the unfamiliarity of each new place we lived, there were always little things that reminded us of home.

At every new place we shared Cokes. In Alaska, we celebrated with Coca-Cola at birthday parties. We picnicked with Sprite in Tennessee. At going-away or holiday parties in Washington D.C., there was always a variety of Coca-Cola products. We sipped Fantas on the beaches in Spain. During visits to the Sheikh’s beach house in Bahrain, every visitor received free Cokes in glass bottles. After hikes in Switzerland or Italy, we’d pop open a Sprite. Dad drank, and still drinks, a Fresca every night. Ever since I can remember, Mom had a Diet Coke in her hand.

Coca-Cola was the one staple at each new house, and I will always cherish the fond memories it evokes.

Coke even carried us through the difficult times, providing comfort when things weren’t always going well. On hot evenings in Bahrain, Mom read on the front porch after dinner, drinking Diet Coke for dessert. One night, our home shook explosively, nearly shattering the windows. I immediately ran out front to find Mom. This wasn’t the normal Molotov cocktail bomb sound to which we were accustomed. I found her visibly shaking at the explosion. As we helped each other inside, we looked at Dad, who had already grabbed his bag and was talking to someone from work. He had to go. Terrorists had just attacked the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia. Nineteen service members were killed that night. 

Dad’s immediate response and compassion he showed for his job sparked my desire to serve then. 

Trisha Guillebeau
Trisha’s graduation from the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs in 2008.  She poses with the three other women from her squadron.  The Air Force Academy is a rigorous, four-year military academy from which graduates receive a commission as a U.S. officer.

Later that summer during a family vacation to the U.S., we visited the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, and I knew this was the path I wanted to take. Despite the challenges of acceptance, I set my sights on the Academy and military service at that young age. I graduated from the Academy in 2008 and am a Captain in the U.S. Air Force. I work in public affairs and am primarily responsible for internal communications, media relations and community outreach. I’ve served tours in Iraq and Korea and now I have the privilege of working for Coca-Cola as part of a 10-month Education with Industry program. In July, I’ll transition to the Pentagon and take with me all of my Coca-Cola experiences (I’m definitely ready to trade these high heels for combat boots again!). 

Throughout the challenges living overseas and deploying, I learned some important lessons I’ve carried with me: cherish your family; help those in need; leave a place better than you found it; be thankful for what you have; find the positive in every situation; and always, always have fun.

I absolutely love serving and I am passionate about my job. I’m appreciative of the opportunity of growing up overseas. I am proud of my service, just as I am sure Dad is proud of his service. Sure, it’s difficult at times, but our family and friends serve as a reminder of why we do what we do.

On this Veterans Day, I hope you take a moment to thank a veteran in your life and pause to remember the sacrifices that so many of our veterans have made throughout history. I want to thank Dad and Mom for their service to our country. I want to thank all the veterans and their families who serve worldwide and protect our freedom. Thank you for every sacrifice that you undoubtedly make.

And Coke? Thanks for reminding us of home on every single move, in every foreign country and on every deployment. Happy Veterans Day.

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Captain Trisha R. Guillebeau is a U.S. Air Force Education with Industry Student at The Coca-Cola Company, where she works as a media relations manager.