Deja Vu

By Circe Woessner

Sometimes, it’s better to be taken by surprise than to have a long time to mull things over.  A perfect example of this is Joining the Army.  It is better for both the enlistee and said enlistee’s parents to have an element of surprise when dealing with something this monumental.

So when my son called me at work in the middle of the day, I was unprepared—and unable to respond appropriately. “Call your father, and tell him,” I said.  “I’m teaching a class.” I had forty new hires to deal with and I had to focus on them—and get through the rest of my day.

By the time I got home, I had plenty to say—and no time to say it.  The recruiter was sitting in my kitchen—“in case I had any questions”.  Even after a couple of calming drinks, I had nothing really to ask.  As a military wife, I have already been (vicariously) through Basic Training, Officers Candidate School, and two armed conflicts; I have experienced (in reality) years of loneliness, household moves, and nights of worry.

Looking at the very young, gung-ho E-5 recruiter sitting at my kitchen table, earnestly telling me how eager he is to deploy to Iraq in the fall, I for the first time in recent memory, could think of nothing to say.

This whole enlistment thing took my husband and me by surprise.  For years, our son had occasionally visited the recruiter’s office, but for the most part, he’d sat around the house, playing Internet games, and working at a major discount store. He was not in great shape, nor was he disciplined.  The only military skill he seemed to possess was that he was an excellent “Halo” player. Besides two years in the Boy Scouts when he was an adolescent, he’d never done anything remotely physical.

The minute he decided to join, the Army took over—he was moved to a hotel the night before taking his ASVAB test, presumably to get him in the right mindset (and I consoled myself, to prevent me from killing him—we’d made all sorts of fabulous plans for the week, and now, due to the enlistment, we had to cancel them all.)

He called from the MEPS (Military Entrance Processing Station) to say he’d done very well on the test, and that he’d been offered a $32,000 signing bonus, and $78,000 for his GI Bill.  He had made up his mind—and by the way, he was leaving for Basic Training in ten days..

My husband, Bill, was the first to react. “We have to get him to pass the PT test,” he announced. So for the next two weekends, we accompanied our son to the gym, where Bill put him through a mock PT test.  It was very straight forward: 17 sit ups and 13 pushups in a minute; a mile in 81/2 minutes. He passed, but barely.  We were slightly encouraged.

I spent the next ten days in shock.  At work, my coworkers rallied around me, bought me cards and flowers, patted my hand.  My collegiate son called to offer his input and to assure me that it was good having one son fighting for his country; the other son (him) reporting on the war as a correspondent and also a dissident. “Both sides of the fence,” he laughed, “Like the Civil War.”

The day before Erik left for Basic, the Army once again put him in a hotel.  My friends at work laughed and said that it was to prevent him from changing his mind; Bill said it was to start the separation mindset.  “Basic is to break down a person and to build him/her up again”, he said. “Uniformity.  Esprit de Corps. Hooah!”

We were allowed to go down to the MEPS to see him get sworn in.  As we sat in the waiting room, we watched all the new inductees wander through.  Finally we saw Erik.  He was wearing a bar coded label on his Tee shirt over his chest. “Hey, how much do you cost per pound?” I joked at him as he walked by. He glared at me and kept moving.

Soon his group was called into the small ceremony room.  Besides Bill and me, there were another set of parents, and a grandfatherly type.  We all had our digital cameras at the ready while the soldier in charge swore them in.  I had a lump in my throat as I watched my son enlist into the US Army…it was deja vu all over again.  I have been here before.

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