As I sit in our comfortable, air-conditioned home looking out at a refreshing pool with the sparkling aquamarine water gently rippling as the filter runs, I think to myself, “I can go jump in and cool off at any moment.” I turn away from the view as the air-conditioning hums, but my heart is in another place.
Everywhere I go people are talking about the heat wave, as if it’s something new, and something they’ve never experienced. The news is filled with ways to stay cool—which should be common sense, or something we’ve learned throughout life considering summer arrives every year with it’s storms, heat waves and humidity. I scroll down the screen of my phone and read through all of the social media posts about heat-related stories, memes, pictures, complaints and comments, but my heart is in another place.
My heart is in Fort Benning, Georgia where our youngest son (who just turned 19) is completing the most difficult part of Basic Training and Advanced Individual Training. He and his company of close to 200 young men are doing what’s known as “Honor Hill.” It sounds pristine and beautiful like a peaceful spot on a tranquil hill that fills a calendar page or postcard; however, it is not even close to that. Honor Hill is the final exercise that a soldier training to be an infantryman must complete before he is sworn in as a US Army Infantryman. It is a 12-hour grueling ruck march up and down the winding hills of Fort Benning.
Honor Hill is not a workout routine that includes a fast-paced walk wearing shorts, a t-shirt and comfortable sneakers. No. These young men are loaded down in full camouflage, combat boots, Kevlar, and rucksacks weighing up to 60 pounds on their backs. They are carrying their guns that weigh approximately 7 to 8 pounds. They are carrying jugs weighing several pounds. They are loaded down with between 70 and 80 additional pounds on their bodies.
They are also carrying gurneys loaded down with sandbags weighing the weight of one of them. They do this with the knowledge that any one of them could be the person on that gurney in the heat of a battle.
They march regardless of the temperature.
My heart is there and not just for my own son, but for America’s sons and daughters who have taken the oath to honor, protect and defend the Constitution.
The day before our son, J, was officially sworn in, my ears listened as he memorized the Soldier’s creed. Tears streamed down my face as I looked at him as a young man, but saw the face of my little boy with the biggest, most curious eyes staring back at me. I see the little boy who dressed up as an “Army guy” for more Halloweens than I can count. I see the little boy who saved his money to buy the “bucket of soldiers” at Disney World. I see the little boy who dug trenches in the sand on our annual beach vacations and placed his soldiers strategically in position to ward off the enemy–which were just the waves. I see the little boy who played “Navy Seal Training” with his cousins by the pool.
Here’s the thing–these young adults (And, when you look at they’re faces, they are super young looking!) are America’s children. When you raise your children, you don’t know who they will become. You can guide them. You can talk with them about options for their future. In the end, if you have raised them to be independent, they will make their own choices.
When our son was in ninth grade, his class was working through a career preparation module over the course of one semester. I remember picking him up from school one day after that particular class. He got in the car and started telling me all about it and then he stopped and said:
“Mom, do I have to be like everyone else?”
I said, “What do you mean?”
He said, “Ya know looking to go to expensive colleges and make lots of money so they can drive fancy cars and live in big houses. I mean I don’t want that. I don’t want to live like everyone else. Is that weird? Am I weird?”
It was at that moment that I knew our God had wired J with a heart for service. I didn’t know what that service was going to look like in that moment, but as he started his senior year of high school, he informed us of his desire to join the Army. We had NO IDEA he was considering the military; let alone the Army. His older brother had also wanted to join the Army, but a medical condition disqualified him. My husband served in the Navy so, of course, we tried to convince J to join the Navy after college and go in as an officer.
No. That was not what he wanted. He wanted to join the Army.
He had the grades and the SAT scores to go to college. He was accepted at his number one college choice, and I took him to Student Acceptance Day. It was a fabulous day and he loved the campus and the sales pitch, but his heart was not in it. He was made for something different, and he knew it and so did I.
So, today is the day he marched to Honor Hill. J and the other members of his company accomplished something 99.9% of Americans will never completely understand.
These young guys are not only the few; they are the remarkable.
They are the “boots on the ground” that you hear the politicians and news media discuss.
They are the faces and lives of the “boots on the ground.”
They have families making challenging sacrifices every day.
These “boots on the ground” have life stories.
They have mothers and fathers and grandparents and brothers and sisters and girlfriends and wives and babies and little children who have shed more tears than you could possibly imagine during the long weeks of silence during their training or deployments.
When they lift their hand and are sworn in, you have one final hug and then they belong to the Army. There are no more text messages or phone calls. You may not hear from your solider in training for up to a month. And, in a day when we text, message, call, face time anyone and everyone on a regular basis, to “go dark” is beyond hard. It’s nothing like taking a child to college (which, we did that with our other two children and that was hard enough). No. This was far different.
This post all started because a good portion of our country is in the midst of a heat wave—which is nothing new for July. It’s also nothing new that we have an amazing military force sweating on the front lines so you and I can think what we want; do what we want; and live and sleep in peace, comfort and air conditioning.
So, before we complain about the heat, or about politicians, or about the news media, or about those who we may disagree with, think of those who serve.
Before you become offended, or angry because this country has done you wrong, please look at my son. He grew up in the same land you did–where the opportunities are endless.
He and his comrades have already given up birthdays, holidays, vacations, family events, good food, sleep, comfort, their freedom to text or call whenever they want, their way of life, so you have the freedom to live your way of life. Our son chose this, and we are proud of the courage our sensitive, quiet, homebody boy has displayed.
Please—before you complain about the heat or about anything else, look to our flag with gratitude at all that you have. And, if you must kneel, kneel before God in prayer and pray for the protection of those who will come face to face with evil. Please pray not only for my son, but also for every person who serves our great land.
They are the silent.
They are behind the scenes.
They aren’t whining, complaining, offended and loud—but they are the ones you have to thank for your right to act entitled, outraged or however else you deem necessary to have your voice heard.
Honor Hill is a huge accomplishment, and I’m so grateful for every single one of America’s children who have marched there and will do that grueling march. It is because of them that I can go jump in my pool to cool off today.
Thank you guys! You are our true heroes. You are the faces of courage. The majority of Americans truly honor and love you. You make us proud to be Americans.
To Delta 2/19 — If you can, go find some air conditioning or jump in a sparkling cool pool—you deserve it more than anyone. Most importantly, know that you are honored and loved more than you will ever know.
By the way J, you answered your own question. “No. You are not weird — you are extraordinary. Please don’t be like everyone else. Stand tall. Stand proud. Pray lots. And most importantly, Be You. Strong. Courageous. Witty. Wise. Resourceful. Curious. God-Honoring. Patriotic. Family-Loving YOU.”