Saturday, June 1, 2013

Personal Reflections

At this time last week, my husband Randy and I were in San Antonio, Texas for my youngest son's graduation from Air Force Basic Military Training.  It was such a proud moment for us, particularly because this is a path he chose to follow after several years of drifting at the university and at community colleges.  When he made the decision not to go back to school, it really bothered me.  As an educator, I wondered if we had done something wrong.  Our son graduated with honors from high school, but he did the minimum required and wasn't particularly motivated to study.  It was evident from the start that he didn't enjoy his college classes.

As a mother, it was hard to see my son unmotivated, and although he had a part-time job, that certainly wasn't a career path.  When my son decided to join the military, I was torn.  As the principal of a school with 99% military dependents, I saw the challenges these students and families face.  Is this what I wanted for my son?

Long story short, my son was accepted into the Air Force, and as the time drew near for him to leave for Basic Military Training, we were all supportive.  We realized that our son had been counseled by his recruiter and he had been reading about what to expect at BMT.  He got advice from others -- his family and friends, his brothers' friends, and from strangers -- and he listened.

The 8 1/2 weeks of Basic Training went by slowly.  Not being able to communicate with him except through snail mail was a challenge in this electronic age.  We looked forward to receiving letters on Thursdays -- several at a time since they were all mailed on Sunday.  We wrote diligently and shared little anecdotes about what was happening at  home.  Frankly, it had been years since I'd written an actual letter; most of our communication with faraway families and friends is through email, text, or Facebook.

My husband is retired, and he would spend his days reading blogs or checking out information on what our son was going through and what he could expect in future weeks, then he'd tell me all about it.  Would our son survive?  Early on, our son mentioned a website and a FB group called AFWingmoms.  That was one of the best resources for us.  There was a group for my son's TRS and FLT where we could share information as well as celebrations. That was such a wonderful support group!

We breathed a sigh of relief when our son said he had done well in all aspects of BMT.  Our plane tickets, hotel and car reservations had been set weeks before, and we would be there for his graduation.  We arrived in San Antonio on Wednesday, and we arrived at Lackland AF Base for the start of graduation ceremonies on Thursday at 6:00 a.m.   Yes, we were early!  The Air Force graduates approximately 600 Airmen each week, and everything ran like clockwork!  The Airman's Run was impressive.  In 8 short weeks, these individuals had bonded and were running together, in formation, chanting as they passed.  Randy and I held a banner for him, something we hoped would stand out amongst all the other banners.  It worked; Jordan saw it and so did others in his flight.

We finally got to tap out our Airman after the equally-impressive Coin Ceremony and at his graduation the following day.  We knew he would look different with his buzz cut, but that wasn't the only difference.  Jordan now stood taller and prouder.  He walked with a purpose.  It is evident that his experiences at BMT had helped to build his confidence in himself.  He now had a whole new set of buddies; they had his back, and he had theirs.  He talked about going back to school, courtesy of Uncle Sam.  He looks forward to completing his training (he is now at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri where they were under tornado watch the other day) and to receiving his duty station assignment.  

I write this because the traditional schooling did not work for Jordan and for others like him.  Yes, he was always in college prep classes and he earned good grades in school, but those classes and that kind of learning wasn't meaningful to him.  He needed to work with his hands, to do projects and to research things that were relevant to him.  I think back to his sophomore year in high school when he and his friends built their own computers from parts they purchased on-line or in stores to get the best price.  I saw him figure out what was wrong when there was a problem with his computer and fix it himself.  I should have realized that perhaps college wouldn't be his path, and it disappointed me when he dropped out.  Well, it appears that he is taking a different path, and the structure and expectations of military life are what he needed to get back on-track.  I have no doubt that this time, he will succeed in getting a college degree.  We are so proud of our Airman and look forward to seeing where the Air Force takes him!

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