Tonight, my oldest child will commit himself, his future, his life to the United States of America.
In a private ceremony on the campus of the United States Military Academy at West Point, he will affirm his oath to serve his country to the best of his ability. He will stand with the rest of the Class of 2015 and take the next step in his career as a West Point cadet. Before this point, he could have said at any time he no longer wanted to continue at West Point and that the military life wasn’t for him. He could have parted ways with Uncle Sam without owing a dime for his first two years of education or without giving any time on active duty in return for the training he has received. With tonight’s affirmation, he is committed to finishing what he started and will be commissioned as a second lieutenant in the US Army in the spring of 2015. Following graduation, he will serve at least eight years in the Army and at least five of those on active duty.
Actually, this will be the third time he raises his hand and recites the Oath of Service.
“I, the Oldest Child of Stiletto Momma, do solemnly swear…”
The first time he said this, was a little more than two years ago when he was just minutes into Cadet Basic Training. He was probably still aching from the bone-crushing hug I gave him during that all too short 90-second good-bye. Along with a few dozen other new cadets, he uttered the phrases in an otherwise quiet room before embarking on six grueling weeks of training. I wonder if, amid the uncertainty of things to come, he even remembers saying them.
I was present the second time he said them later that day during the Oath Ceremony. As the culminating event of an extremely emotional day, over 1,000 new cadets marched onto the Plain to announce their intentions once more. It was a show for the parents meant to demonstrate how quickly they were able to learn how to march and how to take orders. I remember the hot air ringing with their united voices, but I was too busy trying to catch one last glimpse of my child amid a sea of shaved heads and unfashionable government issue glasses to pay attention to what they were saying.
I am paying attention tonight, however, because I need to understand what it means and how we came to this point of selflessness and honor.
“…that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic…”
Over the years, I have been witness to the formation of this one desire–born at the sight of tiny green plastic Army men lined up in mock battle…and at the feet of the invincible GI Joe…and at the hands of a real-life evil played out on a battlefield no one expected on a sunny September day in 2001. At only eight years old, he watched the world change with the shock and awe delivered from brave men and women, and he started to dream of one day joining their ranks.
“…that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same…”
I have never known this child of mine to raise his voice or his hand in anger or violence unless provoked by a threat to his friends, family or team. His allegiance is solid and true.
“…that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion…”
This is where most of the Class of 2015 Mommas have been stuck for the past few months. “Are they sure?” has been a constant Facebook thread since May as we remind each other that the biggest decision of our children’s lives is theirs alone to make.
At first, I worried mine was choosing this path not for himself, but to follow in the footsteps of his father. Then, I heard him refer to West Point as “home”. He has thrived within its granite walls and grown into a man more than capable of making intelligent decisions to please no one but himself. I have asked him the question anyway, just to hear him say the answer out loud.
“Momma, I’m sure. I made my commitment on R-Day, and I haven’t changed my mind,” he says, referring to the first oath he swore two years ago.
“…and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter.
So help me God.”
Soon he will take on the duties of an Army officer, so, God, please help me. These next years are the ones that will try me the most. I will call on You often to keep him safe, to help him through dark times, and to bring him home to me and those who love him. He has shared with me his aspirations for his Army career. He will do dangerous things in far away countries, and I will need to be Army strong.
I understand he does this not because he has to, but because he wants to. In his 20 short years, he has learned selflessness, integrity and honor, and he will use those qualities to make the world a better place. They are the qualities of a leader.
That is who he wants to be.
That is who I want him to be.
I am more than proud of the person my son has become and his decision to defend his country so that others may enjoy freedom and the pursuit of happiness. He is a piece of America’s future–my piece…and I am ready to share him, so help me God.