Another One Leaves The Nest…

January 4, 2012


Yesterday was momentous.  We drove to Harrisburg to say goodbye to our baby baby.  Our first grandson is old enough to have gone off and joined the Marine Corps and the day he has been planning for a year and a half finally arrived yesterday.  We piled our daughter and his brother into the car at 6:30 am and headed out into the frigid morning en route to see him off and say our goodbyes. 

We arrived about 9 expecting things would be zipping along and he’d be off on the bus and headed South in no time.  Like many things military it was hurry up and wait.  First, it was a very busy day at Harrisburg MEPS and as a result, pretty much standing room only.  It was hot inside…the end product of an over active heating system, lots of nervous bodies wearing or holding winter coats, collective nervous energy and a whole lot of hot air.    Then there were all the necessary processing steps.  The interviews, the fingerprinting, the contract signing, the travel briefing and you name it.  Don’t get me wrong, it is not that they weren’t efficient.  On the contrary, given the vast number of kids and paperwork and steps they were quite efficient.  It was just a pretty long, boring time.  Here’s a shot of the recruit applicant with his shipper tag (in case we forgot he was shipping there was a red S on his name tag for shipper? ) 

This was all pretty baffling for Mike.  He could not retain why we were there, why we were staying so long, and certainly why he had gotten up so early.  Fundamentally he understood what Cam was doing there, he just simply couldn’t retain the information.  When   they took the parents off to brief them about what would be happening with their kids over the next 96 hours, he just smiled wryly.  Almost a smirk, as if to say, yeah.  I know what that’s all about.  Been there done that.  When I asked, he clearly remembered going off to Great Lakes for his own boot camp and what went on in the first 96 hours. 

Mike had nicknames for everybody.  Justin was Roscoe, Cam was Jasper.  His first words to Justin that morning had been to greet him with “Morning Roscoe, how you doing?”  I was pretty surprised since he often can’t get the names straight, let alone the nicknames.  On this occasion he did.  When Cam would go to his briefings, Mike would ask where Jasper was or was going.  It was pretty amazing to him that Cam had chosen the Marines.  He thought Navy was the way to go but if Cam wanted Marines, go for it.   We joked that he would be Jasper Gyrene from then on.  I asked him if he was ready to go on into the office and try the Marines this time, I’d ask the Sergeant Major if we could quick get him signed up and shipped off to Paris Island too so he could keep an eye on the kid.  It made him smile, it filled some time and caught his attention for a bit, forestalling the demands to leave.  Overall, he did pretty well, though it became apparent when his point of exhaustion hit (and his blood sugar dropped).  Fortunately we didn’t have much longer to wait at that point.  

At about 11 enough kids had been processed to fill a room for swearing in.  Off we trooped, where we listened to the operations officer for the Harrisburg station try to put a bunch of scared kids minds at ease and offer them valuable military career advice, travel advice, boot camp survival advice.  Mike and Kristin were up a bit more on the side with a direct view of Cam.  I was a bit back , in the corner…not at my best in crowds I can tell you, I was rapidly becoming claustrophobic.  Finally the lieutenant ordered the kids to Attention.  I saw Mike straighten up and stiffen at attention.   As the kids were instructed in the swearing in process I noticed Mike paying attention.  When the guy told the kids to raise up their right hand and repeat after him, I saw Mike’s right hand go up as he swore the oath of enlistment with Cameron.  He struggled to try to use his voice, but definitely swore the enlistment oath.  Here’s Mike congratulating Cam afterwards…after which all of us but Cam trudged back out into the cold morning air (it had gone from a frigid 24 to a slightly less frigid 27 except in the shade where my on board external temp sensor told me it was 25.  UGH.)  and headed back home. 

So now our baby baby is off to be a man.  He was exhausted, and I know that he probably was not permitted to sleep last night.  Though it’s barbaric in my mind, I guess they want these kids tired and confused as possible initially so they can more easily facilitate a transition from civilian to military order.  I’d have been a lousy recruit.  Mike always told me in the military I’d have been in the brig.  Period.  Then kicked out.  I’d have been like, wait…you don’t speak to me that way and OH, by the way, I don’t take orders, I give them.  Fortunately, Cam was raised to be a bit more compliant and less resistant to direction.  He’s been preparing for this and he’s motivated, but scared.  He’s been pretty sheltered, really, though he is a tough kid.  He’s on his own for the first time.  Still, I am sure he will do fine.  Failure is not an option.  The Marine Corps won’t have to work too hard to instill that into him…I certainly have over 20 years as my dad ingrained it into me long before that. 

He made his obligatory call to Kristin last night about midnight.  “Hello, this is Recruit Wehr.  I’ve arrived safely at Parris Island.  Please do not send me anything.  I will write to you in the next 7-10 days.  Goodbye for now.”  Something to that effect.  She said he sounded exhausted, confused, was struggling to read the card and as if he had a gun to his head while making the call.  Before she had time to say I love you or to cry (again) he had disconnected.  This morning she tells me she barely slept last night and when she did, had terrible nightmares.  I’ve pointed out he has a whole lineup of tough “mamas” to raise him up now, hard.  He is being well cared for, the property of the government and they care for their property well.  I’ve told her that she gave him wings, helped him to fly and now, having helped him to the point of independence and leaving the nest, she needs to let him spread those wings and try them out in the big wide world.  But even as I say it, I want to clip those wings just one more time myself and pull him back into the nest myself…safe, warm, protected.   I’m so proud of him, but it’s truly bittersweet.  Having 3 kids who have grown, gone off to college, into the real world, I can tell you.  It’s quite different this time.  I can’t quite say why.  Maybe because where he’s growing/going is the penultimate passage into manhood.  Because it’s so hard.  Because he will be bewildered for a period and I would like to shelter him from that.  Because he’s my baby baby.  But the wings are fully extended, the flying has begun…and I am going to start writing my daily letters to him so when I have an address they can go out en masse  …  and I’m calling Parris Island as soon as they open to try to book base housing for Mike and me for graduation weekend.  I can’t wait to see him next, in uniform, proud and tall, marching on that Parade Ground!   For now though, I think I’ll shed a couple (proud, sad) tears and have a cuppa tea, looking at his baby pictures and wondering where the time has gone.  OOH-RAH Cam!


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