Memorial Day special this year for Milca family
UH softball player Tanisha gets to spend time with her dad, unlike last year, when he was in Iraq
Tanisha Milca and her family will be reunited today on Oahu, after returning from the Super Regional over the weekend in Knoxville, Tenn.
After Hawaii was eliminated Saturday from the NCAA softball tournament by Tennessee -- one win shy of reaching the Women's College World Series -- the sophomore outfielder and her parents made their way home separately.
They'll see each other again today, but this won't be just any ordinary day. This Memorial Day will be completely different from a year ago, because last Memorial Day Tanisha was separated from her dad -- because he was stationed in Iraq.
"We (service men and women) really miss a lot," Angel Milca said. "On a holiday like Memorial Day, we really celebrate things most people take for granted."
Angel has served in the Navy for 21 years. On Memorial Day 2006, he was in the midst of a six-month tour in the Middle East. Angel can't talk in much detail about what his job in the Navy entails, just that he's in aviation administration (translation: "Our job is to protect the ground troops."), and his job has taken him to the desert of Iraq and other spots in the Middle East.
Being separated from her dad took a toll on Tanisha her freshman year.
"It was rough having him away," she said. "I worked so hard to get where I was (playing college softball), and to not have him be there ..."
Angel said he could tell just by how her voice sounded on the phone that it was hard on her.
"It affected her a lot," he said. "But it's a job that has to be done.
"She can relate to how much sacrifice it takes to protect our country."
Angel returned home to Hawaii last June, and having her dad back home made all the difference for Tanisha. She's had a strong sophomore season for the Wahine, starting 43 games. She was third on the team with 13 home runs -- up from four her freshman year. She also threw out nine baserunners from the outfield, including a beautiful strike to home plate in Game 2 against Tennessee to erase a potential run.
Angel's work schedule made it impossible for him to travel to California a week ago to see Hawaii knock off perennial powerhouse UCLA en route to winning the regional, although Tanisha's mom, Cheryl, attended the WAC tournament in Fresno as well as the UCLA regional.
The Milcas weren't sure if they'd be able to make all the arrangements to attend the Super Regional, but it all came together.
And since Angel did so much to help Tanisha improve as a softball player over the years, it was especially meaningful for Tanisha to have both her parents in Tennessee.
"It meant the world to me," she said. "They've been there for me since Day 1. When they called me and told me (they could make it to Knoxville), I was overwhelmed."
Angel's military service has taken the Milcas to Florida, California and Hawaii. Tanisha grew up in California, but attended and graduated from Kailua High.
Through all the years since Tanisha was 5, he's been there for her, juggling family and military with softball, said Cheryl, who works at the non-profit Navy & Marine Care Relief Society, which helps families at the Kaneohe Marine Corps Base pay for memorial services for fallen soldiers.
"This (Memorial Day) is a lot more special because he's home with us," Cheryl said. "It's a day to celebrate people who have served and sacrificed."
Angel said that while it's not cheap to make last-minute travel plans for going halfway across the country, he wouldn't have it any other way.
"Every minute and every penny it cost was worth it," Angel said. "To see the girls get this far, I'd do it all over again."
Tanisha and her two younger siblings, Meagan and Nathan, will all be able to enjoy having their father home for this Memorial Day, although Angel may have to head back overseas again at some point in service for his country.
But today won't be the only day Tanisha takes a moment to reflect on how happy she is to have her dad home.
"Every day that he's home is special."