Sitting in the stands at Soldier Field in Ft. Jackson South Carolina among two thousand other family members on Wednesday, we patiently listened to the Colonel brief us on what our sons and daughters had endured for ten weeks. Today, in just moments, we were about to see our son for the first time in 10 weeks. Heads turning, necks craning, his words seemed never to end as we sought out to see where our young soldiers were and from where they might be coming when the time was right. Yet, they were nowhere in sight.
Another ten minutes, which seemed like an hour, passed when finally his voice boomed, “Are you ready to see your soldiers?” We cry out united, the stands shaking underneath us from the weight of our excitement.
“One more thing,” His voice was deep and where once we were not paying attention, as he began to speak of the turmoil and the training in specifics related to the measure of team work each soldier had invested in and the relationships built among Drill Sgt and Soldier, our eyes began to moisten. For ten weeks our sons and daughters sacrificed. They were screamed at, beaten down, lifted up, and re-trained as young individuals worthy of serving our country. And as if each of us mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers there in the crowd sensed it all in one gasp of understanding, we began to weep together. Men allowed single tears to fall down proud faces of stoic strength and women and siblings wiped waves of emotion, passing glances of understanding to one another. Our sons and daughters had accomplished an amazing feat.
“Are you ready to see your soldiers?” He again asked to the rise of our screams and chants.
“One more thing,” He continued. He needed us to know that our sons and daughters would not be returned to us the same. They would carry themselves differently, they would have a greater sense of purpose. And lastly, he reminded us of our responsibility to continue to honor the Army Corps Mission and all that it meant. Honor. Duty. Sacrifice. Our children had, in ten weeks time, become destined for greatness as American Soldiers.
It grew quiet, that reality of what our children committed themselves to. Not only a term of service but a way of life. I look towards James, and see his eyes have grown red and wet – the lines on his face are tells of a father who needs no words to speak his heart in that moment.
“Are you ready to see your soldiers?” And in the rage of our screams, we gather to our feet, an earthquake built up not only by anticipation but the acceptance of what being a soldier now means and we cheer as if our lives depend on it.
The blasts come so quickly and so loudly, we are thrown into a frenzy of shock and surprise. There, out in the vast distance ahead, across the great Soldier Field, from within the depths of the forest and coming, running, and chanting from heavy smoke and grenade blasts … our soldiers. Running towards us.
When at last they arrive, they stand in formation at attention and there are so many that we cannot make our son out – yet, we know they stand united and each and every one before us is, in many ways, our own. The Colonel is kind, and within ten minutes gives us his command, “Go out now among the soldiers and find yours. They are ordered to stay at attention until you meet them for the first time.”
The stands heave and crack and there is no room for the waiting as a great flood of us run forth out into the field, in search of our own. James is lost in the crowd, and I am running – running so fast that Samantha finally grabs my hand and holds me back … “Wait Mom, wait!” I can’t breathe. I can’t think. I’ve never felt this way …. this pull of need and pride and longing, suddenly the wait and worry of ten weeks lifting from me like a pressure on a vein and it hurts all at the same time it frees me.
My eyes scan, my legs run, and as we come towards the 2nd Platoon for F Company Sam releases my hand to run … but I stop short. There he is. My son. My Soldier. I run up to him, crying so hard I can hardly see through the tears and he stands; stoic. Unflinching. At attention, he does not move.
I grab onto him and the moment my arms embrace him, he lets loose and holds me close, both of us in tears and with great relief to finally be back together again. I hear him, through his tears, “Mom.” The word never sounded sweeter on my ear. Samantha finds us and runs at her brother and they weep together in a way I have never witnessed and I nearly drop to my knees and praise my God for these children, for both of them, for the love we have in our family and the sacrifice that my precious son has made to be the man that he has always set out to be, even as a young boy. For his sisters. For his father – for me, and for himself.
James stands a few feet away now, and when Brandin meets his father’s eyes there is a silent meeting of son and dad. No words. I watch one of the most powerful emotions plays out between the look shared, and as Brandin walks to his father, his shoulders are back, his posture is straight, his chin is up, and when James says, “Hello Son,” I know the weight this moment carries. I see the pride on James’ face, not only because of what Brandin has accomplished but because they now share something between them that will forever, without words, bind them in a way no one else will ever understand. They hold one another tight, and it is so powerful I have to look away; almost as if no one else is worthy enough for their shared moment together.
I will never be the same mother again after today. My son is now a young man, and has begun his life. In honor. In duty. In sacrifice. I am now the proud mother of a United States Army Soldier. May God protect him as he becomes a leader among men.
On Thursday the actual graduation ceremony took place once more at Soldier Field. After the ceremony the soldiers march by Platoon in front of the crowd. As our son came towards us, the proud carrier of the flag in front of his fellow soldiers, I looked over at his father who graduated from Marine Corps boot camp as a young man, went on to serve four tours, and will now work in the same military hanger with his son; and asked, “What’s it like for you, to watch this and see your son follow in your footsteps?” Two single tears ran down his face and he gave me a slight silent nod. The soldiers marched back into formation onto the field and we were once more released to meet them on the field.
Where the day before we ran screaming and crying to find the arms of our son, today, we walk just a little differently. Pride such as this is heavy, and as if all of us feel it, the wave of people moves with their chins a little higher, our backs a little straighter, and out in front, the vision of our young soldiers futures splayed out onto the field of blue and white.
Congratulations to the 193rd 2nd Platoon Foxtrot Company and to all young men and women who hear the call and take the oath. We are proud of you.
Our son, holding the flag.