From soldier to single dad, GJ man on vital mission
Through much of last year and this one, U.S. Army Spec. Daniel Hickman was a part of Operation Iraqi Freedom, where he was one of a large team in a dangerous place on a vital mission.
Hickman, 27, now is safely home in Grand Junction, but in some ways, nothing has changed. In others, everything has.
Hickman still is on a vital mission. He’s still in a ticklish place.
Only this time, Hickman is pretty much a lone ranger.
Or, more appropriately, he is a single dad to four children, the oldest of them, 6, and the youngest, 2, and all of them lithe, strong, energetic, enthusiastic and ebullient.
This time he has no uniform, though he is frequently festooned with young Hickmans hanging from his neck and arms.
“I play with these guys a lot,” Hickman said, sitting, or rather, lunging from the front stoop of his home, where his brown-eyed, dark-haired daughter, Ivory, the 6-year-old, and his three sons, all blue-eyed chunks of muscle like their 6-foot-3 1/2, 220-pound father, scampered and squirmed about, over and around him.
“And this is what I deal with every day,” he said, scooping up one and then another only to see the first one toddle off to examine a plant, check for a flat rock suitable for skipping, or put a broken scooter through its more limited paces.
The Hickman boys are Garion, 4, Taylen, 3, and Athan, 2.
Hickman has dealt with far more than the twists and turns of his family band.
The graduate of Grand County High School in Moab, Utah, fulfilled his dream of serving in the military when he joined the Army and eventually was assigned to Ramadi, capital of Al Anbar Province in Iraq.
Most of his tour there was uneventful, at least in the sense that he never had to fire a kill shot.
But he came within the tiniest fraction of a second of doing exactly that.
Hickman was the last line of defense one night in Ramadi, when a man driving a Kia bongo truck — the kind that looks like a miniature flatbed being pulled by a VW Beetle — sped through the defenses and barrelled toward Hickman’s position.
Perhaps intimidated or confused, the driver hit the brakes and when the truck stopped, he jumped out and advanced on foot, Hickman recalled.
It looked for all the world like a suicide attack, one that fell into slow motion when the man halted, his attention possibly drawn to the three red marks being drawn on his chest by laser-sighted rifles behind Hickman. Or perhaps it was Hickman yelling out in Arabic, “Stop, or I will shoot you.”
Either way, Hickman said, the man finally took the shouted advice to get back in the truck and drive off.
When that happened, Hickman could lower his own sidearm, which was trained on the same place as the laser-sighted firearms.
“I was actually pulling the trigger when he stopped,” Hickman said.
He received an Army citation for effective use of the Arabic language, he said.
Nowadays, he still uses a little Arabic, in particular, “Shukron, habibi,” meaning “thank you, friend” or “thank you, my loved one,” depending on the circumstances, he said.
Though he’s largely on his own as dad, Hickman has help from his younger brother, Travis, and Travis’ fiancee, as well as other family members, he said.
How he came to need the help goes back to April 1, when he returned home after his tour to join his wife and children.
“Three days later I was a single dad,” he said.
His wife, whom he concedes had been through much for the last year, told him, “I can’t do this anymore,” he said.
It wasn’t just being a mother that drove a wedge into the marriage. Twice, she and he were conversing over a webcam setup, he in Iraq, she in Grand Junction, when his post was attacked, frightening her perhaps as much as or more than him.
His wife’s departure doesn’t mean she abandoned the children. She calls them every night and reads them bedtime stories, Hickman said.
Hickman, meanwhile, has joined the National Guard and got work with DC Securities, which he appreciates for its adherence to military regimen.
He works nights and has worked more hours as the nights have gone by, he said.
“When I come home, I’ll pass out on the couch,” only to awaken some hours later to giggles and the sounds of “Phineas and Ferb” on the Disney Channel and the children comfortably, for them, arranged around him.
“And that’s when I start tickling,” he said.
As dad, Hickman is in charge of the menu and fortunately, “I’m a good cook.”
He prefers working his menu magic on the backyard barbecue. Burgers, hot dogs, pork chops, chicken, all find their way to his grill.
But the Crock-Pot, he said, “is one of the single dad’s best friends.”
At some point, Hickman said, he might seek out a redeployment to bring more money into the family. If that happens, the children will live with their mom.
But that’s not a decision he’s making immediately.
He found out that there’s a lot to being a dad, the best parts being the “hugs and kisses out of the blue,” and hearing “I love you, Daddy.”
“That makes me feel good,” Hickman said. “I love it, I love them, I wouldn’t give it up.”