By Yvette Boland, Guest Blogger for Triad Moms on Main
My son, TJ, just completed his plebe year (first year) at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. I know many other moms of 2021 high school graduates, and they were busy earlier this summer picking up their freshman from school. On the flip slide, my son’s summer will be spent with training and summer school. We may see him for a few weeks this month, but that leave is not approved yet.
When people initially asked why TJ chose a military academy over a traditional 4-year college experience, I wasn’t able to explain. TJ has always enjoyed structure and respected authority. He is an intelligent young man who cares deeply about the state of our country and its position in global matters. He is well versed in events across the globe (much more than I am) and can discuss them with willing participants.
Now, I say that TJ wanted a path to a career that would matter in the world. What better way to complete two important milestones (earning a college degree and serving one’s country) than to attend one of our country’s military academies?
Initially it hurt to know he was ready to commit to a path that could potentially lead to war or death. We’ve worked so hard for 18 years to keep him OUT of harm’s way, why did he want to potentially jump into it? But he worked so hard to get in (that’s a story for another time that included a medical waiver) so when he finally got all of the pieces of the puzzle in place, we were so excited for him! TJ NEVER posts pictures of himself, but he asked to take a photo displaying his letter of acceptance with a Navy flag behind him. We knew this acceptance meant a lot to him.
We prepared for I-Day (Initiation Day) on June 30, 2021, only 17 DAYS after his high school graduation! TJ continued to physically prepare for “Plebe Summer,” an intense boot-camp environment that began July 1, coincidentally his 18th birthday, and lasted 8 weeks with minimal contact. He was allowed to call home twice and write letters.
We received his first letter on July 11 after we (mom, dad, 2 younger brothers, one younger sister) enjoyed our first vacation without TJ. In other words, dad & I needed a distraction from leaving our first born at “college” by not returning home right after I-Day. TJ’s letter began “Dear Mom & Dad, I hope you are doing well. I am not.” The tears that flowed after reading that! Luckily, the first phone call was the NEXT day. He called and said he was ok. He wasn’t per se happy, but he was not in despair, and he wanted to stay.
I believe he wrote that first letter 2-3 days into his plebe summer. A week later it was still unbelievably challenging, but he had grown accustomed (as much as one can) to the early morning wakeups (5 am), constant orders (mostly yelled at them), and the variety of daily physical challenges that were now his world.
He successfully completed Plebe summer and his academic year began. The school year is a little more normal but leaving the yard (campus) is not.Leave is not automatic, but thankfully TJ was able to come home for Thanksgiving, Christmas, Spring Break and this past April, for his little brother’s First Holy Communion.
TJ is prepared to protect our country, and although he is in the initial phases of his military life, it still means a lot. It is hard to keep the pride out of my voice when speaking about him because I am very proud of him. I am proud of all young people who have decided to commit their lives to ensuring our nation thrives. There are amazing young men and women who have decided to enlist in the armed forces, participate in ROTC during college, or committed through attending a military academy. Our nation needs these kinds of young people.
This Independence Day, like previous ones, I will celebrate the birth of our nation, those who have given their lives to ensure our freedoms, but now I especially give thanks to those who are willing to protect our nation so that we can continue to live as proud Americans.