I have been away from my blog while dealing with family issues and taking care of the boys. It’s hard to go from a household of 6 to just you and one son. I spent part of this week with one of my son’s in Missouri and wrote the following for the Soldier’s Chapel forum of parents that support each other. I thought you might enjoy hearing something of the behind the scenes. Information I forgot to include: I showed up to find my son has stitches over his eye and a chipped tooth from unarmed combat training (they ended up pulling the tooth). I witnessed platoons of soldiers that had those going on sick call at the very end of their PT runs. Many were on crutches or with slings. It just helped bring home how dangerous the training is that our soldiers go through. Hope you enjoy this info:
Support. Encouragement. Pride. Love. Guidance. Soda, candy, information, transportation, freedom. That’s what we have to give our family members and their new army friends. I just returned from Fort Leonard Wood and my 17 year old son Zachary’s graduation there. I couldn’t attend the Family Briefing on Wed. because I was still driving and didn’t arrive until 1:30 a.m. Thursday. I drove on post Friday at 8 a.m. to checkout my son and discovered that the CIF (Central Issue Facility) had decided one of his bags wasn’t clean enough so he was among the small group of soldiers that would be turning in the entire platoon’s re-dos at 11:30. So I faced 3 hours of standing in the hot sun, but he was happy to provide me with a cup of free coffee.
I had brought the Twizzlers, Starburst, and Sprite that he requested so I was able to stand with him in that heat and venture over the boundary tape numerous times to get things from my car. The first time I returned with candy and some photos. He showed me his photos and gave me things to take home so I returned to the car again. I brought back 4 cans of Sprite that time and discovered that he had two friends with him that were thirsty. They also needed someone to sign them out. One had no family attending. Another’s family was delayed traveling and wouldn’t arrive until 3:30 so there would be no way to sign them out then. The drill’s spoke to the family getting permission to exchange later and making sure we had cell phone numbers to connect.
So, I became mom to two more sons and earned some Drill Sergeant approval. I returned to my car for more soda while my son became the popular candy man distributing to everyone. Returning I found a female soldier beside him whose sister was lost in traveling and needed to be signed out. So back to the Drill’s we went again. Remember that these soldiers are terrified of approaching the Drill’s for anything trivial so each trip was major for them. DS Browne was so happy to see me because my taking responsibility for this additional soldier cleared her clipboard. The other Drill’s looked at me and I said that my van seats 8 so I still had room for 3 more. They told me that they would be looking for me at noon after their trip to CIF to take the left-over “rejects” because anyone left there was going to be put to work. I had to load up my new 3 soldier children and head to the PX while my son and his group did their CIF run.
I felt very needed at the PX. This was their first time to go shopping with money in their accounts and they needed some guidance. I was able to ask the tough questions at the cell phone kiosks and the electronic departments. I could ask them how they intended to transport some of the big items they were eyeing. One was saving every penny to help at home. Another soldier would have agreed to anything the salesman suggested. They definitely needed help the first trip because they were overwhelmed with the possibilities. These soldiers hadn’t been anywhere on post so we did a brief tour of everything they hadn’t seen.
We dashed offpost to Subway and I watched while the female ate her entire sub in the time it took me to dial the phone. I had brought two cell phones with me fully charged with LOTS of minutes so they were able to call family members and friends. We discovered the lost sister was somewhere on post and the CIF run was over so we went back on post to the barracks to pick up my son and hand him his sub to devour in 20 seconds.
While standing there the lost sister came wandering by asking for directions so we were able to reunite them. Because I’d signed her out, she was my responsibility. The sister had no transportation so she joined us in my van. We headed back to the PX for my son and the sister’s run through of the electronics department. Then we headed off post to the oh-so-exciting favorite stop of all soldiers – Wal-mart. Another of the soldiers in my care discovered his family was just arriving and since we had DS permission, I was able to hand him over to them in the Wal-mart parking lot. They had no hotel room, so I provided the phone number and directions to my hotel and they were able to get one of the last rooms there.
After everyone had gotten the shopping out of their system we headed to my hotel room. I had brought a couple extra pairs of swimming trunks for guys and offered them the opportunity to swim or sit in the hot-tub. Everywhere we went they met fellow soldiers and were able to physically greet them without restrictions so they could high-five and hug. They were always so excited and we took pictures every time a new soldier joined them.
Finally we entered my room where we had two beds to lounge on, several chairs, cell phones, and my laptop with the hotel free wi-fi. I had made sure the hotel had wi-fi because I don’t travel anymore without being connected. Those who’d bought PSP’s were able to connect, also. After half an hour they realized there was a TV in the room and they “asked permission” to watch. Then they realized they could put in CD’s and listen to music, update their my-space accounts, watch You-tube videos, and email their friends all in air conditioned comfort where they could relax, loosen clothing and take their shoes off. They told me it was heaven.
We left to eat at Aussie Jack’s since they were craving steak. When we entered the hostess immediately asked us what time we needed to be back so they could judge the crowds and serving. My son said this was the best meal he’d had in 9 weeks. They were beginning to get anxious 2 hours early so we headed back to post. They realized they had plenty of time so back to the PX we went for the batteries and books they wanted for their trips the next day.
At 8:15 we were back in front of the barracks even though they weren’t needed until 9 p.m. I am so glad we were early because there were already many families and few parking places. This time they did not let family members cross the tape so we stood together outside of the tape and met other families and took more photos. At 8:45 the soldiers started leaping across the tape and getting into formation. The drill’s reminded them to get rid of all contraband knives, guns, liquor, alcohol, etc. and we laughed as many soldiers remembered pocket knives and tossed them back to their families. The drill’s warned them not to touch any cell phones, iPods, game systems, electronics, etc. that night and searched their bags to see what they were bringing in. Then we began the wait for the slow-to-arrive soldiers. Finally at 8:59 we were down to needing one soldier whose family had called that they were lost on post. All the families stood silently outside the tape watching each car arrive as their soldiers were forced to stand in formation until 9:45 when the soldier arrived. I was irritated with the mother and family of the soldier because they didn’t seem concerned that all of us had waited so long for them. We listened to the Drill’s say that in the army if you weren’t early, you were late.
We watched the soldiers count off as they entered the building and laughed as one group was sent back because some of them forgot to count in the proper “two-three, drill sergeant” format. Then families wandered off to their hotels. I delivered the sister to her hotel 30 miles away and headed off to much needed sleep.
Friday morning I arrived at 6:30 for the 8:00 graduation. The bleachers were wet from being hosed down, but I didn’t mind. The drills’ had to keep telling family members to squish together to fit everyone in. The only mistake I made was not having cash to buy the DVD they were selling. I mistakenly thought I could write a check. Some soldiers had reserved theirs ahead of time. Those were sold on a first-come, first-serve basis so I missed out on the DVD. After the very short and moving graduation, we watched the pass and review, and then dashed back to the streets to watch the soldiers marching back to their barracks calling cadences.
The soldiers frantically ran up to gather their belongs, clean the barracks, pass inspection and be released by the DS’ to return outside and talk to their families one last time. I was able to sit on the ground in the sun with my son until noon when his bus arrived to take him to his next station for AIT (Advanced Individual Training). It was a truly special time for the two of us to chat, but I should have brought water. I had given him the last of the soda’s and drinks, but I hadn’t taken water for myself so was actually ill by the time I returned to my car.
Despite any rules about physical contact, my son was able to hug me a great deal and I was able to tell him how proud of him I was. He is so proud of himself and so excited about his new training. Basic training has shown him that he can accomplish anything and he says joining is the best decision he ever made.
Even though it was difficult to get the time off, tiring to drive 7.5 hours, and wearying to sit in the hot sun, I am so glad I went to Family Days/Graduation. My son was so excited. The other adopted soldiers were so happy and grateful to have “family” for them. Their family members were relieved that someone was there to support their soldier. I learned from my mistakes so I’ll be ready for my other son’s 36-hour pass this next weekend. I will definitely always have some cash on hand and I will bring extra water to refill my cooler. I’ll throw in my soccer mom chairs and a blanket in case I do need to sit in water or on the sidewalk. And, I will be willing to be the supportive mom to all the soldiers that need me.