As I wrote in a previous post, my son Mike is in Army basic training. His selected army path is infantry. Basic training for soldiers in the infantry branch of service starts with 8 weeks of “boot camp”, followed by another 4 weeks of infantry-specific training. In addition, there are a few weeks of processing and preparation thrown in, so young men who sign up for this particular army role are at basic training for somewhere around 15-16 weeks. After the first few months of boot camp are completed, soldiers who pass all required sections and tests might be provided with a two day family pass. This past weekend was my son’s family pass, and I headed off to Georgia to see him.
After his platoon did their drill maneuvers and contests (much to the delight of all the families in attendance), we were able to meet with and sign our sons out for a few days. I was able to spend a full 24 hours with Mike, and will write more on this in the next blog. But this morning my thoughts are on several older men who stopped my son while we were out in public to say, “Thank you for your service, son.”
All the boys who were able to get into the infantry unit had to work at getting in. No longer does the army accept everyone and then whip them into shape. Instead, those joining the army need to prove they are already in decent shape. They have to pass physical and academic entry exams, and respond to detailed questions about their past and their mental stability and other topics. They need a high school diploma. They need to take care of any major debts prior to entering. They have to make a specific decision that they want to give a period of their life to the army.
The boys who went into boot camp nearly three months ago are now men. Those that weren’t ready didn’t make it through the first portion of basic training. So the ones that are still there deserve to be. They proved they have what it takes to “serve” their country, some for the three or four years they initially signed up for, and some for a much longer period.
So far, these men haven’t been deployed to any war zones. They haven’t seen battle. They haven’t been hurt. But what they have done is volunteer to do so. They know they may be called into a war zone. They put their bodies and minds in the hands of their drill sergeants, and put up with all that entails, because they wanted to do something at the start of their adult life that had meaning.
The man who stopped to talk to us as we ate breakfast out, and who at the end of a nice conversation, shook my son’s hand and said, “Seriously, thank you so much for your service,” and the man who walked across the store and tapped Mike on the shoulder and said, “Thank you for your service, son” know what service means. It means these young men have volunteered a portion of their life (and in some cases, their lives) to provide service to their country, and that equates to service to us, to you and me and to people we don’t even know. They have volunteered to be the ones to defend our freedoms. To enable us to disagree and to vote and to choose our paths in life with no limitations. They are the ones that enable us to be free.
So to those people who stopped to recognize my son and other soldiers this weekend, Thank You! Your words just amplified the importance of the decision my son and others like him have made. I’ve made a pledge to myself that when I see a soldier in uniform, I will go up, shake his or her hand, and thank them for their service. Because regardless of what branch they are in or what role they accept or what kind of crazy situations they may be put in, they have all volunteered to be there for us. They all deserve our “thank you”.
So to my son, and the rest of his company, “Thank you for your service, soldiers.”