Life Experiences That Changed My Life

It was a warm July day 2010`, my life had just been turned upside-down, my dad had accepted a position with Toyota in Colorado, my life had always been on the west coast, I am a fourth-generation born and raised Southern Californian. I stood at the bottom of the steps of an apartment complex, a new chapter of life in a strange state, I knew no one beyond my family. This tall man in camouflage came bounding down the steps holding a small brown and white dog, he smiled and asked my sisters and my name, we timidly replied “Heather and Makenzie” He went about his business and we finished carrying our belongings to our new home.

We passed causally with him, his wife, and his sons. Over time we got to know his name, he was Air Force Maj. Phil Ambard and his wife were Linda Ambard, a PE Teacher at Stetson Elementary. With each interaction he would greet us with our names, the assurance of our place in this city slowly became stronger.

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I loved hearing someone outside my immediate family address me by name. It sounds minute but for a 9-year-old with no friends yet, it sparked a little light to each day. I looked forward to our brief encounters. I listened as his wife spoke so passionately of his journey from Venezuela to learning English from all My Children’ and ‘General Hospital’ to being the young airmen and father to a ready-made family of 3 children. When he spoke of his family the twinkle in his eye was as bright as the north star on a clear night.

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The months went on, summer turned to autumn and I saw cues of an impending deployment, the night before he deployed for a yearlong deployment in Afghanistan as an ***** he and Linda rang the doorbell, a sound I will never forget, my mom, opened the door with three sets of little eyes peeking from behind the kitchen wall to see Phil and Linda standing at the door with a green envelope in hand, he stated it was a gift from Santa delivered to their house by mistake. Mom made us wait until Christmas to open that envelope, inside were three gift cards for Cold Stone Creamery, and a musical card, the card was signed Santa and Linda.

While Phil was in Afghanistan we learned more and more about his incredible family. Linda was getting ready to see him and the smile on her face could light a room up as she said her husband was not a romantic man but this vacation together would be their first of many great new adventures together.

I woke up April 27th with a pit in my stomach, I had been throwing up all night and my dad said “no school for you”, so he tucked me into our soft suede couch with a can of warm ginger ale and Kim Possible cartoons. We spent the morning watching cartoons, 12;30pm we heard the distant sound of footsteps coming up the stairs and the ringing of the doorbell across the hall. My dad stepped out the door as I peeked out the peephole of the door to be greeted by two large men in uniform, I heard them ask my dad if a “Linda Ambard lived here? motioning to the door, my dad stated yes, but she was at school, they politely nodded and went on their way. My dad and I did not speak of their interaction.

The next thing I remember is my mom telling me that Phil had been killed, he was only four months into his yearlong voluntary tour overseas when an Afghan helicopter pilot cowardly shot him in a morning meeting. I watched from the innocent perspective of a 9-year-old as the strong pillars in my new life crumbled, I never I would never see his beat up blue van in the parking lot, the strong woman across the hall that mentored my mom shattered like a fine china vase into a million pieces. For what? our American citizens did not understand or appreciate our soldiers properly.

May 5th, I again woke with a pit in my stomach, not due to illness but this was the day Phil would be laid to rest in the Air Force Academy Cemetery. I had watched the televised precession of his body as he had arrived at Ft. Carson, the streets were lined with people wanting to show respect for this fallen hero. The only thing I could keep thinking was why? Why would this extraordinary father and soldier want to help those hostile insurgents? Why would he give up his life and his family for those people?

I carefully dressed in my best Sunday clothes and climbed into the backseat of my parent’s car, the pit would not escape and my heart was crippled as we traveled to the Air Force Academy. We entered the chapel and there was not a dry eye, two and three Star Generals held solemn faces. I do not remember the words spoken during the service only the song by Casting Crowns Life Song, I focused on the reason. Why? I watched as his son carried his casket to the waiting hearse, Linda leaning over the flag-draped coffin kissing her husband goodbye one last time. The raw emotion of losing their father exposed on his children’s longing faces. The question lingered, Why?

I do not believe in ghosts and I knew where Phil was, he was sitting at the right-hand side of GOD, as Christ padded his shoulder and said “Well done, good and faithful servant! “ your legacy continues in the hearts of those who weep and rejoice in your passing. What I do know is that as people gathered to show their respect for him, I could hear his voice telling his family “I love you, and I will wait patiently until we meet again” I hear his infectious laugh through the closed door of their apartment, I hear the genuine greeting he gave us upon meeting. I hear the clomping of his boots and the shaking of the stair rails as he came home each night

It has been over 7 years since the passing of Phil, when Linda buried him there was fewer than 30 Americans killed by Afghan partners since the beginning of the war. That number continues to grow, but I now understand the reason for the question, Why? It is for the freedom that many do not experience, it is for the young women and men who dream of greatness. I know Phil did not enlist into the military for glamorous life. The conference room named after him at the Air Force Academy is a solid representation of Phil’s life. He was and continues to be an inspiration to myself and my family. He encompassed love for his adopted country, family. The Ambard/Short family did not swear an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States like that of the military member, they have selflessly dedicated themselves toward the development and success of the U.S. Air Force.

The passing of Major Philip D. Ambard was a changing point in my young life. I had heard of soldiers being killed in History books, I was too young for September 11th,2001; the yearly reminder of his death remains a hidden scar on my heart but the inspiration to be a leader and a soldier will help guide me through my military careers as a United Sates Air Force Officer, and it all began with a simple “hello”.

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Life Experiences That Changed My Life. (2021, Dec 16). Retrieved from

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