Military appreciation changes when family is involved

I did not grow up around men or women with military experience. As an adult I was thankful for and respectful of those who served our country in the military, but still had little exposure to those with military experience. That began to change when our son came home three months before high school graduation and told us he was meeting with an Army recruiter.

We saw his interest in the military as a child, but after completing one year in the ROTC program as a freshman in high school he seemed to move on. After making his announcement, seemingly out of nowhere, he asked me if I wanted to go with him to the recruiter. “Absolutely” was my immediate response.

After meeting with the recruiter, he didn’t talk much about his decision for three weeks. Then one Friday at supper he said, “I’m meeting with the recruiter on Monday evening to sign up for the Army National Guard. Do you want to come with me mom?” I spoke up, “Can your dad come, too?” He said sure; he was fine if we both went with. He was sworn in later that next week as our journey as Army parents picked up speed rapidly.

Our life with our son as a soldier kicked into full gear four months later when he was dropped off at the airport to travel to Fort Leonard Wood to complete 10 weeks of basic training. My wife and I lost sleep those 10 weeks, waking up during the night praying for him. We cherished the letters and the three 5-minute phone calls we received. He was blessed with correspondence from family and friends; later sharing with us what a lifeline they truly were.
In November of 2015 we traveled to southern Missouri to celebrate his graduation. Arriving on the base, seeing the military vehicles and personnel, and looking at every group of soldiers wondering if one of them was our son was the moment our perspective of a soldier and their family changed forever. We had an appreciation from a distance, but as parents we felt the sacrifice, dedication and discipline in a way we weren’t anticipating. We waited hours hoping we would see him and that his commanding officer would release him to go with us off-base for a few hours. After what seemed like an eternity, we saw him! He was close enough for us to touch him but we stood in silence, frozen as all of the soldiers received orders.

The graduation ceremony the next day was as impressive and emotional of an event I have ever attended. The one piece of advice given at graduation that I will always remember and loudly rings true was, “When your spouse, child or grandchild is in the military you pay attention to world news, conflicts and politics in a whole new way. You know if there is trouble brewing anywhere in the world; your family member may be going there!”

This week we celebrated our nation’s freedom. Freedom isn’t and wasn’t free. Men and women paid and continue to pay a huge price to defend the freedom, rights and privileges of being a citizen of the United States. I salute and celebrate every American soldier past and present.

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