NEWTOWN SQUARE–After nearly nine months serving in Kandahar, Afghanistan, Lt. Commander William J. Monahan, of the United States Navy Reserve, returned back home to his wife and three children in Newtown Square.
Monahan, a life-long member of the Newtown Square Fire Co. and a member of Marple Memorial Post 805, said it's good to be back home. The hardest thing of being away: "The separation from your family." This was the first time Monahan served in Afghanistan. A Marple Newtown High School alum, Monahan had previously served in Desert Storm in 1991.
Service and volunteering are a few of Monahan's life missions.
Teamwork and Service From the Start
Monahan knew about teamwork and service nearly all his life. Growing up as the second oldest of seven children, Monahan knew what it meant to be working together as a unit.
Although, of course, there are times when being in a large family brought along its times of chaos.
"I remember we went to Florida one time in a motor home and left my brother at an orange stand," laughed Monahan.
Nevertheless, as one of the oldest children, Monahan looked up to his parents, who also served and volunteered in the community. Monahan's grandfather and father were firefighters at the Manoa Fire Co., while his mother served in Manoa's Ambulance Corps.
"That's how they met," said Monahan fondly about his parents. "When they moved here to Newtown Square, my father continued serving as a firefighter at the Newtown Square Fire Co."
And as soon as Monahan turned 16, he joined his father at the fire company.
"I had previously gone there with my dad, and he would bring us up there as kids. He would get us to clean the trucks," remembered Monahan. "My dad was–as many fathers are to sons and daughters are–a hero to me."
Building a Career in Service
When Monahan turned 21, he signed up for the United States Navy Reserve without hesitation.
"I always knew I wanted to serve my country," said Monahan. "The opportunity just came and knew it was just time to go. My family was very supportive. They've been supportive all throughout my military career, including my wife. I couldn't do it without them."
Monahan, who is a registered nurse in the Intensive Care Unit at Temple University Hospital, has had his share of trauma cases. The only difference, according to Monahan, is that the patients in Philadelphia are usually drug-related shootings while the trauma patients in Afghanistan can be children and amputees from bombs.
"Over there they're fighting you with AK-47s and IED explosions made of wood and pressure cookers and planting them in the ground. Most of the times, the children plant them," said Monahan. "The young men and injuries that they sustained were anywhere from quadruple amputations, genitalia removed, to penetrating head injuries, but the children are also being hurt and questionably involved in some of the activity."
Physically, one of the toughest times he had in Afghanistan was the last shift he had in Kandahar when he worked 24 hours throughout the day and night without any relief. "On several occasions, there's no one to relieve you. You're it. That takes a lot of stamina," recalled Monahan.
In addition, Monahan stated the persecution of women was incredibly tough to see. With two daughters of his own, Monahan said, "I was annoyed at how they treated women. Women's rights are totally non-existent."
But Monahan's motivation to serve–whether in the community or overseas–is to simply give back and serve. "Somebody's gotta do it."
Though he's seen more trauma in his 28 years of service than anyone may see in a lifetime, Monahan tries to remain optimistic.
"You have to look to the bigger picture. Many times, you have to break it down. The individual picture is, of course, sad but you look to the bigger picture to see the ultimate goal and what it accomplishes," said Monahan.
Monahan reminds himself that it's all about keeping an open communication with one another and a mutual understanding to work towards the bigger picture.
"You have to have empathy on both side and achieve some kind of balance between your demands and what actually occurs," said Monahan.
But what also helped him through the days in Afghanistan was his family and the "little things."
"The support of my wife and family helps me for the long break away from home," said Monahan. "Also, it's the little things like Green Beans Coffee–where someone can buy a soldier a cup of coffee overseas and those people will send you messages in their donations."
Hope For the Future
In Afghanistan, Monahan hopes for a better education system for the children. In America, Monahan hopes that children will take advantage of the education system offered.
"It's important for our children to realize their own education is very important," said Monahan.
And though he has three children, one already in college at Temple University, another at Marple Newtown High School and another in Paxon Hollow Middle School, Monahan said he tries not to force his service attitude on his children.
But it seems as though it's rubbing off on his children.
Monahan's high school daughter, Gina, has her sights in serving in the Marine Corps as an officer. Though he was personally hoping for the Naval Academy, Monahan is proud nonetheless.
And whether it's overseas or in the community, Monahan said there's never enough of volunteers but tries to lead by example.
"Sometimes I feel like it's a higher calling–to serve," said Monahan. "But I always want to do more and I like the feeling of helping other people."