A few weeks ago, my younger son graduated from boot camp at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. Like the loving parents we are, we packed up and flew out there to watch him graduate, and spend some time with him. The weather was supposed to be about five to ten degrees cooler than what we are used to, and sunny. At the last minute, I decided to forego my heavy coat, opting for a more suitcase-friendly sweatshirt and sweater. Big mistake.
I never realized just how cold Southern winters could be until I made this trip at the beginning of February. First of all, there’s the wind. In southern California, we don’t get wind that chills you right to your bones. And if we do get a cold blast, it only lasts for maybe a day or two. Oh, my goodness, I still shiver when I think of that wind in Columbia, South Carolina.
Granted, we were standing in line at 7:15 A.M. outside the Army stadium at Fort Jackson. It’s the “hurry up and wait” philosophy all the armed forces seem to have. The ceremony wasn’t until ten in the morning, but seating was first come, first serve. We froze, but we ended up with good seats!
The day before his graduation was designated as Family Day. After an awesome entrance into the arena through a cloud of smoke bombs, our soldier was allowed to spend the day with us. He could not go off base, so we toured Fort Jackson with him. Naturally, he hadn’t seen much of the base, so it was new to him, too.
We ate junk food at the giant PX (which is like a Costco on steroids), he went shopping for supplies he needed for his next base, as well as impulse buying. After all, he’d been in boot camp for three months! Shopping for TVs, phone chargers, and other cool gadgets hadn’t been on the agenda. It was just fun being with him.
The next day we were all up at the crack of dawn once more, waiting in thirty-nine degrees (with that wind again) for his graduation ceremony. The ceremony was a celebration, with each graduating company (there were five), marching around the field in their dress uniforms. They were accompanied by the Fort Jackson band, which was just awesome! I could sit and watch them perform for a long time.
But then, I’m also a mother. I worried when he was sick during boot camp, all the way across the country. How much worse will it be when he is deployed somewhere across the globe? I remember him as my little boy, jumping out of the playground swings. I can’t help seeing him at five, afraid of the shadows in his room because they looked like a witch. It’s very hard for me to grasp that he is now trained to shoot to kill, to rappel down a twenty-foot wall, and to survive in the outdoors with only what he can carry on his back. I can only pray that God’s plan for him is to accomplish much and live to a ripe old age. It’s definitely a test of my faith.
My son is much closer to us now, right next door in Arizona, receiving his AIT schooling. We text and talk on the phone, and will be able to visit him soon. He loves what he’s learning, and will come out of the service with marketable skills. But it’s the journey to that nebulous future that worries me, and has me cherishing every buzz of my phone.
After all, he’ll always be that little boy on the playground, jumping out of swings in an attempt to fly. I hope he soars.