ITAM-Air supports fellow advisor's father
SATHER AIR BASE, Iraq – Lt. Col. Mark O'Reilly, Iraq Training and Advisory Mission-Air director of maintenance, and other Air Force members shaved their heads May 6 to show support for Colonel O'Reilly's father who is undergoing cancer treatment. Mr. O'Reilly, a former Marine and Bronze Star with Valor recipient, is his son’s role model and the reason he joined the Air Force. Colonel O'Reilly is deployed from Kadena Air Base, Japan, and is a native of Rockland, Mass. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Levi Riendeau)
by Staff Sgt. Levi Riendeau
321st Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
5/18/2011 - SATHER AIR BASE, Iraq -- Leaving for a deployment can be a difficult experience for servicemembers. They have to say goodbye to their families and won't see them for anywhere from four months to sometimes more than a year.
For Lt. Col. Mark O'Reilly, Iraq Training and Advisory Mission-Air director of maintenance, it was especially difficult because he found out the day he left on a year-long deployment that his father, Mark O'Reilly, had been diagnosed with lung and bone cancer.
"My father was the reason I joined the Air Force," said Colonel O'Reilly, who is deployed from Kadena Air Base, Japan.
A former M-60 machine gunner in the U.S. Marine Corps, Mr. O'Reilly served in Vietnam and received a Bronze Star medal with Valor.
Even though he left the Marine Corps after about four years, before Colonel O'Reilly was born, it is still a part of him.
During his time in Vietnam, Mr. O'Reilly was wounded and still carries a piece of shrapnel in his body to this day.
After leaving the Marine Corps, he went to college and found work - eventually becoming a teacher and a swim coach.
"I spent a lot of time watching him," said Colonel O'Reilly. "He was definitely the role model I aspired to be."
After joining the Air Force and moving away from home, Colonel O'Reilly remained close to his father, who has visited him at every duty station he's been assigned to, with the exception of his current one.
This has allowed Colonel O'Reilly's children, son Mark, 10, and daughter Catherine, 7, to have a pretty close relationship with their grandfather.
Thanks to the magic of the Internet, Colonel O'Reilly tries to speak with his father at least every other day.
Because of the close relationship with his father, the cancer diagnosis has been really difficult for Colonel O'Reilly. Radiation treatments started the first week of May, and it's been hard for him to be unable to be there for his father.
"To have my career pull me away from my Dad when he needs me the most is difficult," said Colonel O'Reilly.
His mother and brother, also a former Marine and currently a firefighter, are there to help around the house and with doctor's appointments, but Colonel O'Reilly feels he should help as much as he can from half a world away.
That's when the idea to shave his head came to him - to support his father during the radiation treatments.
It started out as something he was going to do himself, but he happened to mention it to a colleague and, before he knew it, more people became interested in shaving their heads to show support for his father as well.
"I never intended to ask for any assistance," said the Rockland, Mass., native.
And so on May 6, more than 10 Air Force members, including the colonel, shaved their heads together to show their support from Iraq. Some of the individuals who shaved their heads were co-workers, but he also received support from others within ITAM-Air.
"Everyone from General Rock on down has come to me with support," said Colonel O'Reilly.
While he is unable to be at his family's side during his father's cancer treatments, he has a team of advisors in Iraq that cares for him and is there for him during this difficult time.
"It's really reminded me how much of a team the air advisors are," Colonel O'Reilly said.