Military Mom Goes Airborne, to First Jump and Graduation

The first of jumpers for Airborne leave the plane over the Drop Zone. Photo by Stanley Leary.

Hurry up and wait.  At this point in my son’s career with the U.S. Army, that is how we feel. He completed his Armor Basic Officer Leader Course (ABOLC) in early October.  He gave up his spot in Ranger school, but was to begin Resilience and Surveillance Leader Course. When he and a few ABOLC friends reported, it turned out the course was over booked. For about 48 hours, it was unclear what would be next. He sent a text a few days later to tell me he was going to Airborne School.

My son’s time at Airborne School was an interesting experience for me. I didn’t hear much from our son since he was kept very busy with his training.  I found the web site for Airborne School through the main Fort Benning website and a Facebook group titled, U.S. Army Airborne School, Fort Benning, that was very helpful.  Through the group, I met a number of other parents, spouses and girlfriends of members of Bravo Company.

A Soldier floats to the Drop Zone during the First Jump. Photo by Stanley Leary.

Airborne school begins with Ground Week. The second week is called Tower Week. The third and final week is called Jump Week.

A friend and veteran of the Army told me about that family could attend the jumps made during Jump Week.  The website also gave instructions on how to get to the Drop Zone (DZ) and Facebook group posted maps in their photos. I suggest calling the number listed on the Jump Week page prior to your trip to get information about your soldiers “drop week”.  They can tell you about the weather conditions and the scheduled jump times.

Since our son’s Jump Week was right before Thanksgiving the first two jumps were scheduled for Sunday, then two on Monday with the third and final jump on Tuesday. We made the two-hour trip to Fort Benning on Sunday to watch the first jump. I let my virtual friends on the Facebook group know we would be there Sunday and I’d try to post updates and photos.

The Drop Zone is on the Alabama side of Fort Benning, just south of the Fort Mitchell National Cemetery off of Alabama Highway 165. We stayed at a hotel in Phenix City, AL to be closer to the entrance to Fort Mitchell where the DZ is located. It was still about a 25 minute drive.  Once there, you will see bleachers and a concrete block rest room building. Be sure to pack drinks and snacks. If the winds pick up and are stronger than 12 knots the drops will be delayed.  You could wait quite a while.

2LT Nelson Lalli runs by the observation area with an Airborne School classmate to report in after his first jump. Photo by Stanley Leary.

The day we arrived the winds were low and the sky was pretty clear. A few other family members and friends were waiting as well. We enjoyed talking with them and learning about their soldiers.

The first jump was scheduled for 9:00 AM. They were delayed by the brief increase in wind speed.  Once they did begin, it was quite a sight. On the ground we could see several white trucks scattered on the Drop Zone. One young lieutenant who was waiting with us explained they are out there to monitor the landings and help if anyone needs it.  They also release smoke to help the jumpers know the wind direction.

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Graduation Day: No Longer the Mother of a Cadet

Dorie Grigg's view of her graduating cadet in McAlister Fieldhouse. Photo by Stanley Leary.

Graduation Day, Saturday morning was foggy but the forecast called for clear skies and warm temperatures. Perfect weather for a parade, but we would spend the morning inside the field house waiting for our cadets name to be called.

Each cadet is given 8 tickets. Some could request an additional 4. The place was packed. The school posts the statistics for the graduating class on their website just after the ceremony.  Close to 500 cadets graduated that morning.  I was told some classmates did not pass the physical training test and would not receive their diplomas until that requirement was met.  Some cadets had additional credits to make up and would receive their diplomas at a later date.

A sea of Citadel graduates makes it difficult for families to find their cadet, prompting Chelle and Dorie's game of Where's Waldo. Photo by Stanley Leary.

We were happy to see our friends the Spysinski’s, from our hometown of Roswell, sitting just 2 rows in front of us.  Our son’s first visited The Citadel together the summer before their senior year in high school.  It seemed a fitting way to close out our 4 years there by sitting near each other. We were in a corner high above the band, but facing the graduating class. Before the Commencement began I read through the program.  Imagine my surprise when I found my son’s name listed under “Distinguished Military Students.” I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised.  For the past 4 years I had to read the press releases posted by the school to learn of honors or accomplishments my son achieved. He told me very little.

At one point before the diplomas were given my daughter and I played a modified version of the game “Where’s Waldo.” The cadets were all in their full dress salt and pepper uniforms making it very difficult from a distance to tell who was who. We were helped by the fact that they were seated in alphabetical order, but it was still difficult to find particular cadets. My husband, photographer, Stanley Leary, had the unfair advantage of looking through the long lens of his camera. He found Nelson first.

Cadet Nelson Lalli receives his diploma from Citadel President Rosa. Photo by Stanley Leary.

The speakers were very good, but of course we waited for the name of our cadet to be called. Surprisingly, I did not shed one tear. I just beamed with pride and happiness for his accomplishment.  I did, however, have a lump in my throat at the end of the ceremony, after the president announced, “Class of 2011 Dismissed.” I watched as the cadets threw their hats in the air then began to hug, shake hands, and punch each other in the shoulder, in a good way. These young people are leaving their time as cadets but have joined the 30,000+ alumni members of the Long Gray Line of graduates. They will always be connected to each other.

At the end of the ceremony the scene that played over and over again began again.  Hugs, handshakes and photos.

Stanley, Chelle, Nelson and Dorie pose to commemorate the moment. Photo by Blake Lalli.

This time it lasted a bit longer.  My son had to endure even more photos as members of his father’s family and our family all wanted their time with the graduate. To pass the time my 12-year-old daughter decided to look for her brother’s hat.  She methodically checked each one on both sides of the field house. After Nelson declared “No more photos,” and was walking toward the door he looked down and found his hat.

Chelle and her brother Nelson. Photo by Stanley Leary.

In one quick motion he flung his hat to Chelle ala Frisbee style. She promptly put it on and we begged him for one more photo. He obliged, but I’m convinced it was ONLY because it was his baby sister.

All across the field house floor and outside the field house families and friends repeated the graduation ritual of hugs, handshakes and photos. Everyone was beaming. The afternoon of graduation gatherings were just beginning. I did note as we drove off campus 2 different sets of shoes were left on the side of the road.  One last show of quiet defiance by a rogue cadet or two.

Bravo Company mates: L-R Jordan Jackson, Brian Papke, Caleb Hund, Dan Viegas, Nelson Lalli, John Ogle. Photo by Marty Viegas.

We attended a late luncheon hosted by one of the Bravo Company families. They arranged to have a room at a local seafood restaurant.  It was a wonderful opportunity to spend some time with the families we have come to call friends these past 4 years. They had a cake made for the occasion.  Our sons decided it had to be cut with one of their swords, as they did each year on Parents Weekend to celebrate their classmate’s birthday.

As I write about our weekend I’m smiling. Our cadets took the road less traveled and succeeded. We supported them on their journey and gained some wonderful friends. Approximately one-third of the cadets at The Citadel enter the armed forces. Those of us with children entering the military are joining a long line of military parents that have gone before us.  We’ve set up a Facebook group titled “Military Parents of The Citadel.” to continue the bond that started when our children were cadets.

The transition is now complete.  I am no longer the mother of a cadet.  I am the mother of a second lieutenant in the United States Army. The learning continues.

Bravo Company cuts their graduation cake. Note each has a finger on the sword slicing the cake in half. Photo by Marty Viegas.

A Marine Mom: Paris Island Graduation Day

By April Agle, a new Marine Mom

We were allowed on base for family day on Thursday, November 4, 2010, starting at 5:30 a.m.  I was so going to be there and we were.  We were not the only families anxious for a peek at our Marines. 

Paris Island was April Agle's first time on a military base.

This was also my first time on a military base. 

Even though 5:30 – 6:00 a.m. seems early to us, the base was a bee hive of activity.  There were Marine recruits everywhere and in different weeks of boot camp.  They all looked the same.  How were we going to find Jared?  And would we even recognize him?

Jared’s graduating class had a morning run that we watched and we had no idea which Marine was Jared.  Then, we all had to go into this huge metal building where bleachers were set up.  We were told that the Marines would file in.  They would be dismissed, but they had to stay on base and they had to report back by 4:00 p.m.  We were to make sure they were not late. 

The anticipation was killing me.  The Marines filed in and we were all looking for Jared trying to figure out which one he was.  They really and truly all looked the same.  So handsome in their uniforms.  I teared up with pride for them all.  There were hundreds of them and they were all so young.

And then chaos.  The Marines were dismissed.  The families in the bleaches converged on the Marines and the Marines were converging on their families in the bleachers.  People everywhere and everyone looking for their families. 

Marine Mom April Agle with her newly graduated Marine, Jared, and daughter, Rylee.

Jared was able to find us.  I was so proud of him.  He looked absolutely amazing.  We hugged each other and cried.  Everyone’s emotions were high.  I had such a lump in my throat.  My son was a Marine.  How awesome. 

On Wednesday night before family day, a Marine was set up in the hotel lobby for families to ask questions.  He made the suggestion that we might want to bring a picnic lunch because the restaurants would be packed.  We would waste a lot of our visiting time waiting in line and for food. 

It was a great suggestion.  We bought sub sandwiches, chips, sodas, cookies and munchies.  I had asked a Marine on base where there was a playground picnic area on base and he gave us directions.  That worked out great.  It was somewhat away from everything going on and the kids had a playground to play on and run around. 

Marine Graduation Family Day Jared Agle poses with his sister and cousins from New York and Georgia who came to down for his graduation.

My emotions were all over the place.  Jared was so different, but the same.  He seemed very stiff.  He almost seemed uptight, like he was not relaxed.  I thought, how am I supposed to talk with him.  He was not at ease, but almost formal.  I was concerned, but tried not to think about it.  I was thrilled to see him eat. 

We took pictures until I’m sure Jared thought his face was going to fall off.  Jared told us the plan for graduation.  He was going to go directly back to his barracks and get his sea bag.  Roger was to meet him by the flag pole and they would head to the car.  That would allow us to get off base as quickly as possible.  It seems Jared wanted off Paris Island as soon as possible.

April's daughter Rylee stands on the "infamous" yellow foot prints to Marines training at Paris Island.

Friday, November 5th – Graduation Day.  I can’t explain it other than to say – WOW.  Hundreds of Marines marching in formation and all in dress uniform.  It was an impressive sight.  I was so proud of them all.  There were men and women Marines graduating.

We finally got Jared and made our way off Paris Island and to the hotel.  I still felt that Jared was very formal or reserved.  It took another day for Jared to finally start to ‘decompress’ or something. 

The only thing I can think of was that Jared had been under a microscope for 12 weeks.  He was judged each and every minute of every day.  I guess maybe he had to figure out that he was not being judged anymore.  He had to maybe tell himself it was okay to relax.  As the days went on, he became less reserved and formal.  He started to joke around and argue with his sister.

Rylee and my niece Madilyn had used car chalk on all of our vehicles for Jared’s graduation.  The cars now proclaimed USMC graduate Paris Island.  On our drive home, it was so great, cars would pull up next to us and beep the horn and give a thumbs up.  Jared thought that was cool.  I think he was still trying to absorb that he was a Marine. 

We were driving down the interstate into Florida and a police SUV started beeping its horn and continued beeping as it passed us.  My guess is that he was a Marine and was letting us know he too had experience with Paris Island.  Jared was now part of a brotherhood that only another Marine would understand.

April Agle works in WUSF’s business office and among her many duties, she helps me and other staff with Human Resource issues. Her other contributions:

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