Dr. Dobson said that a good parent will eventually work themselves out of a job & we are quickly approaching that “jobless” state! We launched child #6 (out of 7) in the Kay Clan as Bob, Philip and I dropped of Jonathan at the United States Air Force Academy. It’s in lovely Colorado Springs and Philip, our newly minted 2 Lt in the Marine Corps was on hand for the honor of seeing his hairless little brother off.
The president of the AOG (Association of Graduates) gave us a briefing, saw Philip in the audience and asked, “What are the best 4 years of a Naval Academy graduate’s life?” We were thinking it was probably his four years at USNA, but the correct answer (according to the Air Force Academy graduate) was actually “Third grade.”
During BCT (Basic Cadet Traning), it’s similar to other military training scenarios in that there is NO communication other than the written letter. No phone calls, texts, email or facebook. This “cold turkey” withdrawal is tough on the military member as well as the family, but it is also similar to some deployments into the war zone or other “classified” areas. If you have a loved one who is in this kind of situation, no matter what kind of communication you are allowed, it’s important to remember the following things:
- Jonathan (and Bob when he was deployed) were intent on their training and in a very difficult environment. My letters to my son don’t include bad news or griping or complaints. I’ve written about funny things that our grandson says or good news about my work. There will be plenty of time to catch him up on the not-so-good stuff later, but right now, he needs to be focused and just get through. Keeping the letters lighthearted really helps him.
- No, I don’t mean that kind of homey. I mean that news about home, even though it may sound mundane is good. For example, our little puppy, Belle, was tethered in the living room (because of potty training) and I left the room for 10 minutes only to find that she had COMPLETELY chewed through the magazine rack—scattering loads of paper, cardboard and a huge MESS in the living room. When Bob was deployed, I told him about the kids nap schedules, play dates, trips to the store, etc. Bringing a bit of home to a military member also brings a sense of normalcy to his or her life. It communicates that the things we take for granted are sometimes the most precious parts of life.
- We let Jonathan know that we are here to help. He needed us to mail him his volleyball shoes because he was asked to help work out the intercollegiate girls Division I Volleyball team. (What a lucky guy). He knows we’re here to next day air those shoes. He can’t receive any other packages right now, but he knows that our church, friends and family are all praying for him. This is the biggest kind of help of all!
- Philip gave his baby brother a few words of advice on how to get through BCT. He said, “take it a meal at a time.” I know that advice is helping him in the middle of all the chaos. Bob (a class of 1978 graduate) told his son, “If you are good enough to get into the Academy, you are good enough to get through.” In our letters, we express our confidence that he’s going to do fine. We don’t communicate contingencies such as “Even if you don’t make it…” He knows that we are here for him. He needs to know we THINK he’ll make it through.
- The heroes (those who serve honorably and put service before self) need to keep a sense of humor. That’s why we send funny pictures of puppy Belle’s latest antics…like how she always grabs Anna’s leash (our 4 year old mini schnauzer) and pulls her around the yard. But those “heroes at home” also need to keep a sense of humor. At the Air Force Academy, the AOG has this wonderful service called “web guy” where a small group of photographers take thousands of pictures of our basic cadets. We sign up for this opt in service and see Jonathan communicating to us through pictures. He knows we’ll spend HOURS scouring the site, so he’ll smile at the camera whenever he won’t get in trouble for doing so. It’s his way of saying, “I’m OK, Mama and Papa.”
I just read Jonathan’s third letter home today. He was talking about waking up at 4:30 AM, getting “hallway PT” where he’s yelled at for 2 hours. Then miles of running, marching, formation, rucking (marching with a pack), or sandbag (30 lbs) PT. He tells us about “drowning” where you start to fall asleep while you are marching. Getting a letter from CO to CA may not be as fast form of communication such as texting, emailing, phone calls and facebook. But it is a heap better than what the generations from times past went through. Telegrams or letters were the primary source of communication about their loved ones. When a letter came from a servicemember, the whole family would come home from work or school and read it together.
As Bob and I devoured every word, I suddenly remembered a packet of keepsakes I received from my Great Grandma Laudeman’s legacy. Her only son died in World War II after surviving the Bataan Death March, only to have dysentary at a prisoner of war camp. There was a letter in the pile that was smuggled out and was not in an envelope or stamped. It was marked “his last letter home.” He said, “I suppose you have been looking for a letter from me for quite some time. Well, maybe you will get this. I am entirely all right and there isn’t a thing for you to worry about. I am eating so much rice that my waistline is getting like Dad’s. I can’t write on both sides of the paper, so I will have to close. Love you, Dick.” The letter arrived two months after his death.
We value and treasure letters home. We thank those military men and women, as well as their families for their full measure of devotion.
America’s Family Financial Expert (R)