By Guest Blogger Yvette Boland

The 2021 high school freshmen are making their way home from their first year in college. My son, TJ, who is also a 2021 high school grad, is still waiting to hear if he will have a summer break. TJ just completed his plebe year (first year) at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. He will spend his summer in military training and summer school. We may see him for a few weeks in July, or we may not. That leave is not yet approved.

The Choice for a Military Life

At first, I wasn’t really able to explain why TJ chose a military academy over a traditional 4-year college experience. He has always enjoyed structure and respected authority. TJ 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, however, I am able to explain 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 countries military academies?

Initially it hurt to know he was ready to commit to a path that could potentially lead to war or death. For 18 years we worked hard to keep him OUT of harm’s way. Why would he want to potentially jump into it? But TJ worked so hard to get in. 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. That’s when we knew this acceptance meant a lot to him.

Letting Him Go

Next came time for I-Day (Induction Day) on June 30, 2021, only 17 DAYS after his high school graduation! TJ physically prepared 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.

His first letter arrived 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.

The 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, we answered and he was ok.  Not happy per se, but he was not in despair and wanted to stay. TJ wrote that first letter 2-3 days into his plebe summer.

A week later it was still unbelievably challenging, but TJ grew accustomed (as much as one can) to the early morning wake-ups (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 was 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 just last month for his little brother’s First Holy Communion.

Looking Ahead

TJ is prepared to protect our country. 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, but I am very proud of him. I am proud of all of these young people who decided to commit their lives to ensuring our nation thrives. There are amazing young men and women enlisted in the military armed forces, participate in ROTC during college, or committed through attending a military academy. Our nation needs these kinds of young people.

This Memorial Day, like previous ones, I will remember those who gave their lives. But today I especially give thanks to those who are willing to give their lives so that we can continue to live as proud Americans.

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