During the aftermath of 9/11, our oldest turned to me one day and said,”You know, Mom, I might want to join the army instead of going to college.” He said this very matter of factly, and as he was only in 5th grade at the time, I hurriedly told him something innocuous, like, “Is that so dear?”, and went on with our homeschool day. In the back of my mind, his statement did trigger an immediate “NO!”, and I remembered cradling him in my arms when he was a newborn, thinking, “Lord, please don’t let me have given birth to this beautiful baby boy only to see him grow up and die in a war!” I think all mothers of sons think that sentiment at least once in their son’s growing up years. Flashing forward to 2009, my husband walked in the door at 1:30 p.m. on a weekday, and answered our questions as to why he was home so early. He’d been layed off that day. The next 16 months ensued, with my husband working 5 part-time jobs and searching for a new job in his engineering profession, myself dusting off my teaching certificate and subbing for area schools, cuts in activities such as eating out, going to movies, shopping at malls and well-known retailers; this led our son to decide that in order for him to pay for college, he would join the US military and after his 4 years of service were over, he’d then go to college using the GI Bill benefits. When his plan was first broached, I immediately requested he look at the Coast Guard. In my mind, he’d be stationed nearby, at St. Louis, on the Mississippi River! My husband correctly pointed out that today’s Coast Guard often has to deal with borders, drug dealers, illegals, and it’s not as safe as I was assuming. Our son did mention looking into ROTC with some of the St. Louis area colleges, but he didn’t pursue it very much, and July 2009 was nearing it’s end. Early August arrived, and he finally announced to us that he wanted to join the US Marines. Oh no! That was my immediate reaction, but I kept it to myself. I asked one more time about the Coast Guard and was met with a frustrated,”Mom! I don’t want to be a Coastie!!” As soon as his Senior year of highschool began, our son met with the recruiter, who came to our house to discuss all of what becoming a Marine would mean for our son. The recruiter was very polished, very polite, and answered all of our questions. I have heard some parents complain that the recruiter lied to them and their son, and I can’t say that happened in our case. The only surprise to happen to our son was his MOS being changed during the last few weeks of boot camp. (MOS stands for the specific training one will do after graduating from boot camp.) Our son turned 18 in early October, so once that happened, he signed his name to the dotted line and took the oath to become a member of The Few and The Proud.
Telling the grandparents, aunts, and uncles was the next challenge, as most of them assumed our son would immediately go to college after his 2010 gradutation. All of the relatives were very surprised at our son’s decision. All said they were proud of him, but one set of grandparents were not happy at all. They told us, the parents, that our son shouldn’t be doing this, that he was too smart for this, that he should be going to college. We replied that he is now 18, he had said he wanted to serve his country, and that when the 4 years were done, he’d go to college then. We also said that due to his age, if this is what he really wanted to do, we were not going to stand in his way. Telling friends also was a bit difficult, as they,too, were very surprised, also assuming our son would go on to college right away. Many of our friends would pull my husband aside, to ask how I was accepting all our son’s decision.
When one’s child decides to join the US mililtary, all of the branches do the same thing:the recruiter comes to your front door and takes your child away to boot camp. While most of our friends were getting ready to drive their kids to a college in mid-August, we knew the recruiter was going to appear at our front door on August 1, at 3:00p.m. It was a beautiful, sunny day. We went to church, as we always did on Sunday mornings. Our son got to shake many of his friends and our friends’ hands, received many hugs from the ladies, as they knew he’d be leaving for boot camp in the morning. He had requested a last family meal at a local Chinese restaurant that we all liked. Then it was time to go home and just wait. We went over our son’s gear, made sure he had the items he needed to take with him, which wasn’t very much, actually. We made sure he left his cell phone with us because at Marine boot camp, the only way for a recruit to communicate with his or her family members and friends is through mail, snail mail. 3:00 p.m. arrived and the recruiter was there, at the door, very prompt. Our family had gathered one last time minutes before and prayed for our son, and then as the recruiter watched, our son received 8 hugs, all of us trying hard to not cry outloud. Then he was gone, into the recruiter’s vehicle, heading for downtown St. Louis for medical tests, taking an oath, and flying off to San Diego, CA for 13 weeks of boot camp.
For Marine recruits, if one lives east of the Mississippi River, or if one is a female, boot camp is held at Parris Island, off the coast of South Carolina. If one lives west of the Mississippi River, or is in the metro east area in IL for St. Louis, than San Diego is the destination for boot camp. The 13 weeks went by slowly, and we wrote letters to our son several times a week, as did relatives. The recruiter had given us a book, Making The Corps, by Thomas E. Ricks, which was immensely helpful. The book followed a platoon of new recruits through boot camp at Parris Island, detailing the training they’d be going through, as well as informing the reader about the history of the USMC. Many comparisons were made between Marine boot camp and Army boot camp. When my son would later complain how easy Army boot camp was compared to what he went through, I needed to only recall what I’d read in Mr. Ricks’s book, to understand the complaints our son leveled at the Army. One of my cousins, who had a son serving in the USMC, also gave us a book, Keeping Faith: A Father-Son Story About Love and the United States Marine Corps, by Frank Schaeffer. Mr. Schaeffer shared from the heart, what it had meant to he and his wife when their youngest child announced, much as our son did, that he was going to serve his country first, and then go to college. Mr. Schaeffer, who lives in the Northeastern part of the United States, discussed how hard it was to tell their friends, who almost always send their children,private school graduates, to the Ivy League schools, and for one of their peers to have a child eschew all of that for the military! Well, that was unheard of! Mr. Schaeffer also shared visiting his son’s boot camp graduation, and later visiting him at his MOS training school. One of the main things he noticed, and we have also noticed it with our son, is that the Marines are a much more integrated bunch than the Ivy League campuses are.
As I mentioned earlier, our son’s MOS was changed during his last few weeks of boot camp. He originally was going to be a legal clerk, but was told he was being moved to Aviations Operations. This moved his MOS training to Naval Air Station, Meridian, MS. We didn’t get to see him in MS, but he did get to come home for that Christmas of 2010, which was wonderful! In February of 2011, our son found out his new duty post, which he’d be at for two years, Marine Air Station, Iwakuni, Japan. We were all so relieved that he was not being sent to Iraq or Afghanistan, we didn’t foresee, nor could we have, the day he landed in Japan; the terrible earthquake hit only an hour or so after he landed! Fortunately, his side of Japan wasn’t adversely affected by the quake, but his assigned air station did receive flights in from Okinawa, and then sent those flights on their way to the north, to help with the needed humanitarian aid.
Our son keeps in contact with us weekly, via skype, and he did get to come stateside for Christmas again in 2011. He has had many interesting stories to tell us about Japan, mostly about the stares he receives due to his height, 6’4″, as tall people of Japanese descent are very rare. He has one more year to serve in Japan, and then one more year, stateside, he’s been told, but he doesn’t know where that will be yet. He did tell us at Christmas he wants to take his college classes when he is discharged, at one of the St. Louis area colleges. I am glad for that, because prior to boot camp, he was acting all tough, and telling me he’d probably want to live far from us, in CA. After his graduation, he told us on the parade deck that CA was a nice place to visit, but too expensive. He’d rather live in the Midwest!
If your son or daughter comes to you one day and says that they want to serve their country, listen to them, be very proud of them and let them know that. A child choosing military service after highschool isn’t something to be ashamed of at all.