So much of your life changes once your child enters a military academy (or, frankly, enlists).
Your life begins to sync with the academy’s calendar – when is Herndon? What time does [insert event here] begin? Are parents allowed/encouraged to attend [insert another event here]? Do the Mids have liberty this weekend or is everyone locked down?
Your vocabulary expands – did [insert company here] have an alpha inspection? Who else has a Mid doing ProTraMid Second Block? Can Mids leave the country when they are on leave? I heard the Dant ran with the Dirty Thirty during PRT. I wonder if he’ll join the Plebes during Sea Trials?
Your friends and family who aren’t as closely connected with the academy don’t understand. I mean, just try this out on someone with limited knowledge of USNA: “So we’re not sure what’s going on with our Mid. He had some Plebes fail their ProKnow so they might lose liberty this weekend. Meanwhile, the Dant cracked down on his company after they had some Youngsters come up short on the PRT. I heard the XO is supporting them, though.” Cue blank stares.
Recent events have shed light on something else other folks don’t understand. You know, before my son became a Mid, I’d see headlines about U.S. military activity and not give it a second thought. You know, 1,000 troops going to Afghanistan, Navy battle group moving to the China Sea, and it didn’t mean a whole lot. Just numbers and geography.
Once my son accepted his appointment, that began to change. I began paying closer attention to the news stories. How many troops going where? And for how long? My interest intensified as my time at USNA continued, in no small part because Mids I had met were now cycling into the Fleet and could be a part of those numbers mentioned in the stories.
The mind-numbing shooting at the Pensacola base brought it all into painful focus. Joshua Kaleb Watson had only recently received his commission from USNA and paid the ultimate price.
When the U.S. pulled out of Afghanistan, I’ll admit to a sigh of relief. I’ll leave the geopolitical discussion to others. For me, I knew a number of Army and Marine folks who had been deployed … not to mention a Navy officer who got sent to Afghanistan when he said, essentially, the military needed more officers there and I was available. With the mission ended, there was one less place our forces would be in harm’s way.
Enter the Ukraine.
By now, Most of the SWOs in my son’s class have been at sea on and off for nearly two years. Plenty of the Subs have found their way underwater and while many of the Navy and Marine flight selects are still working on getting their wings, the Marine ground 2nd Lts. are active.
In short, when a news story mentions the U.S. military, it’s talking about our kids.
People who don’t get it will tell us not to worry, that the U.S. military isn’t directly involved. We know that doesn’t matter. The situation has heightened tensions around the globe and while it may be the hottest spot right now, it certainly isn’t the only hot spot. And our kids … and the kids of many other parents … are right in the thick of every single one of them.
It’s changed. You see, every time I see one of those videos or pictures of a kid rushing to greet their mom or dad after a deployment, where I once smiled and scrolled on, I stop, watch, and get a lump in my throat. Every time the national anthem is played at a sporting event, where I once pondered game strategy, I find I’m getting misty-eyed while gazing at Old Glory.
As “the home of the brave” rang out at a recent event, a dear friend glanced back at me as I was drying my eyes.
“It’s a lot different now, isn’t it?” she said, smiling.
Yeah, I said. It sure is.
Our time at USNA is supposed to prepare us for dealing with our sons’ and daughters’ time in the Fleet. And it does to a degree, I suppose. On the other hand, it makes it easier but that doesn’t mean it makes it easy. There’s a huge difference. And like so many things, a lot of people will never understand.
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ICYMI – I had a chance to talk about The Dark Ages with Annie Shine on her most excellent podcast. I hope you can check it out!