Friday, September 28, 2012

The Time Of His Life

The rigor of West Point begins in a most unlikely dream in the heart of a little boy, long, long before the infamous R Day. But a dream only goes so far before it needs legs and muscles to take action. And then it is pure work.

There are grades to attain and maintain. Physical conditioning to achieve and keep up. Community service to carry out. Contacts and appointments to plan. Phone calls and letters to be made and answered. People to meet. Suits to buy. Trips and visits to set up. Summer seminars to attend. Transcripts to request. Eyes to check, and physical and medical examinations to schedule at DoDMERB's order. For the faint-hearted and the doubtful, there is Plan B to to arrange. And, always, reams and reams and reams of paper work and voluminous files to keep.

Finally, one day the appointment comes, the countdown begins, and then, suddenly, he finds himself a member of the Long Grey Line.

While plebes are sweating it out with uniforms and formations, the chain of command, SAMI's and WAMI's, and the extraordinarily demanding trio of academics, military instruction, and physical education, their civilian college friends are having one big party after another. College is famous for "allnighters" but an all-nighter at West Point looks a lot different than an all-nighter at a regular school.

An incurable optimist might call plebe year "challenging," but what it is is grinding hard work, and discouraging, especially when the plebes begin to compare their lot with that of their friends who are having "the time of their lives."

That's the way it looks. But the reality is that, once you figure things out and hit your stride (and things do improve considerably after plebe year), West Point is far, far better equipped to offer "the time of your life."

And in reality, West Point offers a much better shot at "the time of your life." Aside from everything available at West Point, opportunities abound for just about anything. All sorts of foreign travel, and it isn't just everyday travel like you or I would do if I got on the plane. For one thing, it's free (that's a BIGGIE for us!), but the cadets go as honored guests who are given a backstage pass, so to speak, to the host country. They go on David Letterman, they meet all sorts of higher ups in the world of politics. Science nerds get the opportunity to work with world class scientists on developing the ultimate robotic hand, or whatever; there is EMT training; they even go behind the scenes at the CIA or DEA. They can intern in the US Congress, and get paid while doing it. WP has every sport imaginable. Not too many civilian colleges have parachute teams that I know of. How many colleges offer ice skating for PE? Glee Club regularly sings before the most distinguished of audiences, all the way up to the pope. If you happen to be in Oxford over Halloween there will be an invitation to a party in a real English castle.  Chuck Norris even drops in for lunch now and then!

And of course there is the free medical care, the guarantee of a job when they get out, and a debt-free diploma that is the envy of the world.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Back In The USSR

West Point is adventure. This semester is adventure-plus, because M is on the home stretch of Cow year. In Ukraine. Farther away by far than any of us has ever been.

Worries abound for even the garden variety college parent. For WP parents, even with a cadet safely tucked away at the Fortress-on-the-Hudson, there are extra worries aplenty. But for the parent of a cadet abroad, the dreads are epic.

Take all of the run-of-the-mill, add WP+, and then throw in troubles with travel schedules, visas, passports, itineraries, plane tickets, missed flights, lost reservations, strange cultures in foreign languages, unreliable internet connections, spotty communication, illnesses treated with unknown meds, identity theft, blocked debit cards, dead phones...and the Fear Factor rises to biblical proportions.

It isn't that every one of these things goes wrong. It's that every one of them could, and you can be pretty sure some of them will. In my case, enough of them already have, and there is nothing to be done about it. Not by me, anyway. My part is to pray, and at least that's something I can do fairly well.

Such troubles and snags as have occurred have been admirably handled by my competent cadet, and there is no reason to expect anything different, so... So far, so good.

M is due back at West Point in another week or two, and then a small leave before he heads off, unbelievably, to his last West Point summer.

I am sooooo excited about having him safe at home, and I have plenty of company: a whole army of moms that can't wait till the cows come home.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Uncle Sam Wants You

Tonight's the night. The night M signed his next ten years over to Uncle Sam. It's a done deal.

I am a little surprised to find myself feeling almost bereft, like I did just before he took off on his Adventure of a Lifetime. It's not as though there was any doubt about what he would do. Even at the worst moments he never seriously considered quitting. It's not even that I wanted him to drop out. But the chance was always there. True, the chance was slim to none, but now something fundamental has changed: Until yesterday he was there of his own free will; tonight that is no longer true.

So just like that, we are on. For the next ten years. Hard to believe to say the least, but look how fast the first two years went. ZIP!!! There goes another year. There goes another milestone.

It occurs to me that this is somewhat like getting married, or buying a house. As long as you are engaged, or renting, you are free to walk away at any time, no strings attached. But once you get married, or buy the house, you are...dare I say...trapped.

The Dad told me that M called tonight, his last call as a free man, while I was out. Without my phone. WAAAAAAAH!!! I never go anywhere without my phone. Except for tonight, of course. I tried calling him back, but forget about that, he had left for formation. I did get to talk to him later though, after The Deed was well and truly done.

M does not feel any different. But I do. I feel like I'm on some sort of collision course with Destiny, and I can't even get out of the way. I want to cry.

And as always, I feel immensely proud to be the mom of this honorable young man, now truly a soldier, member of the USMA Class of 2012..."For more than ourselves." GO, TEAM!!!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Yes = No

Off to Boston!

The West Point MUN Team spent their Valentine's Day weekend navigating miles of wintry snow and icy roads to participate in the 56th session of the Harvard Model UN Conference, where they represented, of all places, Nigeria.

West Point? Nigeria? Some kind of disconnect going on there, but let me tell you, the National Champion WP team did Nigeria proud! I'm guessing Nigeria has never been that well represented.

And M, like always, did us proud, too, taking second place in his political committee.

So what's next? The World MUN Conference in Taipei, Taiwan next month! Only M won't be there.

Ukraine with a 10-day exchange program? Or Taiwan with MUN? M had to decide, and given his affinity for things Russian, and particularly things Ukrainian, contest.

Yes to Ukraine = No to Taiwan.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Letter

West Point, and M, never cease to amaze. This is what came in the mail during the Christmas break. It's the letter every parent wants to get.

Dear Mr. and Mrs. A

Your son M was a student in my Army Operations course this semester, and I wanted to inform you that M not only displayed mastery of the course material but has also proven to be a leader among his peers, displaying all of the best attributes we seek to instill in our future officers.

In my class, a required core course for all 2nd year students at WP, we teach an intro to tactical thinking and small unit military ops. Imperative to success is the ability to critically think through complex tactical scenarios while under the stresses of time, situational ambiguity, and peer review. We do so in an attempt to replicate the realities of today's complex combat environment, and prepare your son for the likelihood of leading our nation's sons and daughters into danger. Students create a plan and then get up in front of their peers to defend it and associated decision-making, as well as take charge of their peers and lead them through actual tactical exercises outside the classroom. None of this is easy or natural for most college sophomores.

With that said, M performed in the top 1% of 1,135 students. This is no small accomplishment, and speaks to the dedication, commitment, and competence which he brought to the classroom every day. In spite of the numerous other demands on his time, M was able to prioritize effectively, completing all assignments on time, and with a high level of tactical competence and ability.

Even more impressive however, were the intangible attributes which M displayed in addition to his academic curriculum. His natural leadership of peers was evident within the first week of class, and continued throughout the semester. More impressively, M was able to lead in a manner that made people want to follow him -- not out of fear or a given duty position, but out of respect. This is an added responsibility that M not only accepted, but truly embraced. And on top of that, he did so with an easy going attitude, a great sense of humor, and the politeness and professionalism that made him a pleasure to have in my classroom.

As a combat veteran with deployments to both Iraq and Afghanistan, I have no hesitation in saying that I would gladly select M to be a Platoon Leader in my unit today. He has the knowledge, attitude, and demonstrated leadership potential to confidently and competently lead soldiers -- and that is the greatest compliment I can think of to bestow upon a student of mine.

This is, of course, in large part due to the morals, ethics, and manners that M gained as a young man growing up in your household. You should be extremely proud of the young man you've raised, and know that he is performing exceptionally well her at WP. It was a pleasure having him in my classroom, and I look forward to watching his bright future unfold over the next few years.


Thank you, MAJ. We know WP places numerous demands on the instructors' time as well, and we are humbled that you took the time to pay us the best compliment a parent can get.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Roots and Wings

Rewind to last spring.

M called in the middle of the day, a somewhat unusual occurrence. As soon as I heard his voice I could tell something wasn't right, and here we go again. :-/ Well, thank God, no dislocated jaws or broken noses or motorcycle accidents this time. No, this time it was what hadn't happened yet.

"Mom. I don't know what to do."

I always have time to listen/talk to M, but that day I was at Firestone waiting for a new tire, so I really had time to talk and listen. M had just gotten the invitation of a lifetime: 19 days in Israel, all expenses paid, escorted by the IDF. Right up his alley in every way.

His dilemma? Since the age of 11, M has been a devoted uncle of seven assorted nephews and nieces, bonding with them and watching them grow up. At this point he had not seen any of them in several months, and he was afraid of what he might have missed by the next time he got to see them.

"Mom," he commented, "I know you are always going to be there, and you'll be the same." Flawed reasoning, that, but I got his drift. He went on, "But those little guys. . . Will they remember me if they don't see me?"

The Chance to Realize a Dream vs. the Memories of Home and Family. Yep. A dilemma. And how do you decide?

The Dream is what's coming. At least that's what you hope. It's what you live for. It's what you think you long for. It's what you want to achieve, though sometimes the anticipation is greater than the realization. Of course you never know that until you do it.

Home will always be there. Won't it? We would like to think so. But places change, and people change, and the only home that really stays the same is the one in our memory. The one to which there is no return.

"And the day came when the risk it took to remain tight inside the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom." Anais Nin

So there they are. The two most important things we can give our children: Roots, and Wings. And the hope (I think...?) that when all is said and done, Roots will out.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Merry Christmas!

Thanks to Global Warming, the Blizzard of the Century is making an appearance all over the country in a winter only days old, creating travel havoc for the cadets leaving West Point. Just like last year.

Last winter, M was on the last flight out of Newark before the airport was shut down, thus barely missing the adventures awaiting his classmates who were re-routed and stranded all over the country. This winter was a replay. He was a bit late getting home though, due to a 4-day layover in Kansas visiting D and her family who will not be home for Xmas.

Ordinarily he spends about half his time at home sleeping. Not this break. This time he has gotten up early every day but one. His mornings have been spent going Xmas shopping with me, going to work with his dad, opening Xmas presents with his nephews/niece, cooking breakfast over a campfire with his friends. Well, as he is fond of reminding me, there will be sleeping enough in the grave.

M being our youngest, and the last one "at home," we have to share him. Not only did we give up three nights to D in Kansas, we lost him to C and her family Xmas Eve night. He explained that it would not be right to wake up Xmas morning in a house without kids, so he spent the night with them. Well, he is the kid of this house, so...what about us???

Saturday he took off to camp out with his old re-enacting friends, stopping on his way home to spend Sunday night with S and his family. There just isn't enough of him to go around, but we take what we can get, and he will be back home tonight, safe in his own little bed.

Still to do: shopping for pants for him and office supplies for his desk, a visit or two with another friend or two, an interview for his top-secret clearance, Happy New Year's Eve party, and a family reunion on Saturday before his plane leaves at 6am on Sunday.

He always takes the early flight back to West Point. Security being what it is, and the trip to the airport being what it is, we are usually up at 3:30 to get him there in time. This year, his flight is scheduled for one hour earlier than usual, and thanks to the latest suicidal terrorist, security will take twice as long, so we're going to have to get up at.....hmmm...maybe we should go directly from the family reunion to the airport...

M is an eager learner, and he is excited about his classes next semester. Stuff like physics and Russian and politics. And ice-skating! He is also scheduled for a one-week exchange with a Ukrainian cadet, to take place, when else, during spring break. Which means we are taking a good, hard look at him for the rest of the week. It's gonna be a long, dry spell after this.

Next time he calls to tell us he won't get to come home, I'm going to try to remember to say, "Good! Now we can go on a cruise!"