Monrovia, California native William McFarland joined the U.S. Army because he knew he wanted to do something with his life that was truly meaningful. After enlisting, McFarland was sent to South Carolina’s Fort Jackson for basic training. Like many recruits, he had a hard time adjusting to life in the military, and to South Carolina’s humidity. Right off the bat, his instructors told him one of the most important things he needed to know as a soldier: There is no “you” in the Army. Instead of becoming more intimidated, McFarland found his instructor’s words comforting. He believed his drill sergeant’s promise to make him into a better man.

After completing basic, McFarland was trained in logistics at Fort Riley in Kansas and was later deployed to Egypt. This new foreign assignment proved to be quite the learning experience. McFarland learned a lot about the Egyptian people and their rich cultural history. In addition to broadening his perspective, McFarland also gained new appreciation for his own country. After seeing the hardships endured by those living in the Sinai Desert, he understood for the first time how exceptional the quality of life in America really is.

During his time in the service, McFarland became a single parent. Luckily, his mother and sister generously agreed to watch over his son while he traveled the world serving the country. McFarland was on assignment in South Korea, when the Gulf War began. It was there he realized he needed to play a bigger part in his now 6-year-old son’s life. After leaving the Army, McFarland found his transition back to civilian life difficult at first. Having spent all his adult life in the military, he was faced with the daunting prospect of finding his first job in his 30s.

Eventually, McFarland found work in the U.S. Postal Service and relocated his family to Atlanta. In spite of the move, his love of the San Francisco Giants was undiminished. At the turn of the millennium, McFarland’s son felt the need to serve his country. Although William was incredibly proud that his son wanted to follow in his footsteps, he was also understandably worried about the dangers he would face as a solider in a post-9/11 world. Parental anxiety aside, McFarland is happy his son will get a chance to learn the value of integrity and responsibility the same way he did.

When asked what civilians can do to honor veterans, McFarland spoke of the importance of offering those in the military community a helping hand when they need one. “It takes more than a bumper sticker to support the troops. A lot of veterans are coming back in dire situations. There’s a lot of volunteer work that can be done that can help them. If we really want to be a nation that supports its troops, we have to be about action. It can’t be about talking or waiting on politicians to do it. We have to do it for them because they have made a sacrifice most of us will never know about.”

Mario McKellop is a freelance writer who has covered the pop culture beat since 2010.