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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

In the Army Now

Life has been different in the Lowery-Combs House since August when we reluctantly handed our oldest child over to the United States Army. It was a decision #1 made early on during his Senior year of high school so we knew his leaving was coming after graduation in May. That, however, didn’t make it any easier to watch him being driven away from our local recruitment station in a van full of other young recruits without knowing when we’d next hear from him.

I cried for ten days straight.Every time I folded a load of laundry, went to the grocery store, cooked a meal, or heard one of my other children walk through the door after school, I cried for the son who I’d not be tending to, feeding, or greeting at the end of a day for perhaps a very long time if ever again—my son would be a man when I saw him again, after all, and a soldier, highly trained to be capable, responsible and self-sufficient. I mourned for the boy who counted on me for matching socks and clean underwear, the boy who preferred his sandwiches prepared without any condiments, please, and kissed me goodnight every night before bed when his much younger siblings had stopped doing so years ago.

I worried constantly. Was #1 truly prepared for the harshness of a Drill Sergeant whose job it was to transform him from a boy civilian to a combat-ready warrior? Was he physically ready for training? How would he cope with too little sleep and barely enough food to function? Was he regretting his decision to join? What would his fellow trainees be like? Would they support one another? And what about all those guns? He’d shot one of our garage windows out with a pellet gun a few weeks before his high school graduation, and now someone was going to put a M4, a few grenades and a rocket launcher in his hands?

With his absence I came to appreciate anew many of my son’s attributes that I began to understand would make him a successful soldier. He’d been the first of my children to lend a hand when needed. He was my go-to for errands in town. I could trust him implicitly with my car, debit card, and important family business. He had a knack for keeping his younger siblings from killing one another in my absence, even when they drove him completely nuts. He accepted responsibility and rarely complained. He was quick and strong. He respected authority. He had great manners. I recited these qualities to myself day and night whenever doubt and fear about how he was holding up crept in.

For almost three agonizing weeks our family waited for word from our SIT (Soldier in Training), during which time I joined a Facebook group for families with trainees at his Army base. Having others to talk to with similar worries and questions helped tremendously, and I learned a good deal about the BCT (Basic Combat Training) and OSUT (One Station Unit Training) experiences. I was also introduced to a site that published training photos for purchase. Seeing with my own eyes #1 training and apparently succeeding did more to ease my apprehension than probably anything else. His father had teased me in the beginning about my cyber-stalking of his base and platoon, my pouring over hundreds of photos, hoping for even a glimpse of our son, but when I had pictures of #1 to show for it, his dad was thrilled that I’d been so determined.

The following weeks were tough, but through photos we watched our son and his Company complete rope courses and land navigation exercises, exit a gas chamber (gagging, weepy and snotty), throw grenades and fire an assortment of American Military weapons. Through his letters, we learned about the physical and mental challenges #1 was overcoming as well. With few and unpredictable phone calls we gauged the success of his platoon. In some ways, I hardly recognized the man my boy was becoming with every passing week. I wondered how the experience was changing him in other ways. How would he be when we saw him in late October for Family Day?

This past weekend I got my answer. #1 is doing GREAT! He’s healthy, disciplined and focused. He was a little tired and always, always hungry; but he loves the Army and is ready to complete his training. He had a few stories to tell…he’s been able to see both the humor and critical importance of his experiences so far. There was a new tenderness between him and his brothers and sisters that comforted me and warmed my heart. He could tell how much he’s been missed. It was a great visit but bitter sweet, too. It was hard to watch him have to turn and walk away from us again.

The Gang's All Here

"Reunited, and it feels so good!"

We think Danann may have found her calling.
Big Brother to the Rescue!

As he enters his second phase of training, I have less trepidation. My son is an American Soldier. He’s got this. Hearing him recite, with his Company, The Soldier’s Creed was the only assurance of that I needed. We still miss his everyday presence in our home—I still get teary eyed over the last pork chop in a pan that would have been his—but we hold him closer in our hearts than ever before. We’re in the Army now, and we couldn’t be prouder. Hooah!