A Fight for One Last

We have less than two days left.

Actually, it’s more like 42 hours.

Christmas morning quality time.

Christmas morning quality time.

But if you subtract out the girlfriend time, sleeping time and time for personal hygiene , it’s really only about 12 hours.

Twelve short hours left to spend with the Older One before he boards an airplane bound for the snowy north and the granite walls of the US Military Academy at West Point.

His clothes are clean and ready to be packed neatly in his plain black duffel bag. He’s visited with friends, exchanged gifts with family and enjoyed New Year’s Eve with his girl.

Now all that’s left for this momma is 12 hours…give or take.

And so, I start the fight. It won’t be a screaming, yelling, fist-throwing kind of fight, but more of a fight for more, more, more and a handful of one lasts.

The fight for one more game of hide and seek with his sister and one last meal cooked with love. Just one more conversation and another memory to hold on to for the next three months. One more workout with his dad. Another joke and a laugh. Even one last request for motherly advise.

I’ll fight for another stolen hug and an unaware smile.  I’ll fight for that last perfect ending to an all too short 15-day visit…even though it is the longest we’ve had for a while.

Last night, the Young One, whose big brother hero let her claim victory in a Nerf blaster war earlier that day, lost her fight against the tears. She cried herself to sleep wishing he didn’t have to go away again, and as I held her close for comfort, I lost my fight too.

Save travels, Sweet Boy. Come home again soon!

Five Minute Friday***This post is brought to you today by Five Minute Friday and the word “Fight”.

The Re-Resolution of Stiletto Momma

2014…Day Two. The Christmas decorations are wrapped and boxed again. The bushes lining the house are dark as their formerly twinkly lights are extinguished for another season.

People are returning to their pre-Christmas carol, pre-gift giving lives of work, school and business as usual. “Merry Christmas!” has been replaced with “Happy New Year!” followed shortly thereafter with, “What’s your New Year’s resolution?”

Resolution? Hmmmm…

I am rarely able to come up with a resolution much sooner than 11:59 p.m. on December 31st. I’m too exhausted from all the party planning, menu making and present wrapping to think beyond the current holiday much less think about how I want to change my life starting at the stroke of midnight.

Then I’m faced with the inevitable failure of actually keeping the resolution. The minute I resolve to get back in the gym, I want a nap. If I resolve to eat a healthy diet, I will immediately start craving Reese cups.

I have never experienced the thrill of successfully achieving a resolution…until January 1, 2012 when I wrote and published the inaugural post of a little blog named after my alter ego, Stiletto Momma. In that post I resolved to simply “Do Something New.”

Yes, it is very open ended and non-commital, but at the time I also threw out a few possibilities like learning photography and Photoshop. I did buy a good camera that year…in September. I haven’t learned to use it beyond what I read in the first half of the instruction manual, and about the only thing I can do in Photoshop is look at my pictures. I suppose that counts, but just barely.

I mentioned one other possibility in that New Year’s post two years ago.  “I’ll start a blog,” I wrote, and because I typed those words and clicked the “Publish” button, I was a successful resolutioner in the very first hours of the new year! Counting this post, I have gone on to write and publish 64 posts as Stiletto Momma–warrior of all things maternal, corporate and pointy-toed!

When 2013 rolled around, I knew exactly what my resolution would be.

Do Something New!

However, as I mentioned in yesterday’s post, 2013 was a witch of a year and a wicked one at that.  I couldn’t get around to deciding what “new” was going to be, so I stayed with what was working, and I blogged some more. Pretty soon I was blogging about what was really on my mind–my ongoing battle against Crohn’s Disease.

thegreatbowelmovement.org

My prize pack from TheGreatBowelMovement.org gave me everything I needed to raise IBD awareness in 2013.

In my quest for answers and information, I ran across what has turned into one of my favorite websites, www.thegreatbowelmovement.org, which has been making Crohn’s and Colits (the two forms of Inflammatory Bowel Disease) cool since 2010. The founders of this non-profit encourage patients and caregivers to talk about their diseases in an effort to raise awareness. They even sent me a cool prize pack complete with intestine socks and an “Ask Me About My Crohn’s Disease” hoodie.

My 2013 “new” turned out to be writing about something that has been a part of me for almost 25 years. I may have lost some readers who weren’t interested in learning about the woes of a sick person, but embracing a new mission of raising awareness for something I know quite a lot about encouraged and empowered me in a time when I needed to feel strong.

With two successful resolutions under my belt, I’m ready to declare the 2014 version. Any guesses on what it might be?

DO SOMETHING NEW!

That’s right. I’ve decided on a new “new”, and if you’ve been following along for the past few months you could very well have an idea of what it might be.

I am a writer. There, I said it. I am a writer and this year, I intend to write with more dedication and purpose than I have in a long time.

I have a master’s degree in journalism, but outside of internships during college, I have never worked in the field. Maybe I was just waiting around for the blogosphere and digital publishing to be born. Whatever the reason, I graduated from Penn State with a journalism degree and immediately took a job in marketing.

The next one was in fundraising (another form of marketing). When I tried technical writing next, I found my skills were wasted writing about boring things like databases, and moved back to marketing. I had found myself a niche, and that’s where I’ve stayed for over 20 years. I was a marketer with writing skills.

keyboard

The Hubs gave me this cute little keyboard for my iPad–perfect for a blogging resolution.

Now, I want to be a writer who knows how to market herself. You can expect to see more of Stiletto Momma in 2014. I will soon be launching a Facebook page, and I might even start Tweeting. If you’re lucky, you could get a glimpse into this impressive shoe collection I’ve been hinting at. We could even do a contest or two!

I’m starting this blog re-energizing effort with the WordPress Zero to Hero program where my favorite blogging platform will give me a daily task for blog improvement during the month of January. Today’s task is to introduce myself to my readers. If I’ve done my job, you should have been able to pick up a few nuggets of me from the above ramblings, but in addition to being a chronically ill writer who markets (or a marketer who writes) and makes unoriginal New Year’s resolutions, I am:

  • a momma to two amazing children–a six-year-old tomboy and a 20-year-old all-American boy.
  • an adoptive momma to that six-year-old who was born in Russia and became a US citizen five years ago.
  • an Army momma since the 20-year-old is a cadet at the US Military Academy at West Point. (Go Army!)
  • a football momma because that cadet also plays on the offensive line for the Army Black Knights and has been working toward that goal since he was five years old. (GoArmy!)
  • a football wife because the Hubs played football at Penn State once upon a time, coached our son for most of his football career and will accomplish seemingly impossible tasks to avoid ever missing a Penn State Nittany Lion game or a Pittsburgh Steeler game.
  • a doggy momma to the Furry One and the Fluffy One who, like the rest of the family, have clever pseudonyms in this blog because it is my choice to blog about them, not theirs, and they deserve a little bit of anonymity.
  • a fairly decent home cook whose specialty is anything her son requests and anything her picky daughter will eat.
  • a lover of shoes and all things fashion.

I am Stiletto Momma, and I resolve to make 2014 blogtastic for everyone!

What’s your resolution…or un-resolution…or re-resolution?

My Duty is to Write

The goal of any momma is to see her children happy. My heart aches when my offspring are sad, and my temper flares when injustices make their lives more difficult.

Right now, I am a mad momma…a momma on the war path…a momma on a mission.

The government for which my oldest child has decided to serve is letting him down with its failure to agree. As a cadet at the United States Military Academy at West Point, he is directly affected by the shutdown of the government he has pledged to defend.

FArmy Football

The Older One will be able to take to the gridiron this weekend thanks to the Secretary of Defense.

One of the biggest news stories coming out of the service academies so far has been the uncertainty of Saturday football games. The Older One plays on the offensive line for the Army Black Knights, and in a football household like ours, the cancellation of a game is considered a disaster. The potential of such a rare event sent the Hubs and I on a frantic search of both traditional and social media for answers which finally came Wednesday night when the Secretary of Defense declared all service academy games are on as scheduled.

Yippee! We can watch football this weekend…. But that’s just a game. What about the rest of it?

What about the classes that are cancelled indefinitely because 30% of the teaching staff at West Point is made up of civilians now on unpaid furlough?

Cadet

My Cadet on the first day of class. I’m worried he could have his last day sooner than expected.

What about the assignments that just got more complicated because, while the library remains open, cadets can’t check out books with the facility now severely understaffed?

What about the added stress of keeping appearances up to military standards with the on-post barber shop and dry cleaners closed?

What if this shutdown doesn’t end soon? Will the USMA be forced to close completely like the Merchant Marine Academy already has?

It’s not fair! This is making my child unhappy! It is making me angry!

I want to drive the 13 hour trip to West Point to do his laundry, cut his hair, and teach his class.  No matter how much I want to be there to make this crisis better for him, I am realistic. I know I can’t do those things. It would embarrass him too much, and I’d be too tired by the time I got there any way.

There is one thing I can do, however.

I can write.

I can write to my congressman. I can write to my senators. I can write with a plea for compromise, a request for change, and a demand for common sense.  Keep our government open. Bring back the so-called “non-essential” employees. Stop cutting funding for programs and institutions that directly affect the lives of innocent people. Thank you for the football game, now let’s start talking about the bigger issues and end this dysfunction.

I can write. The Constitution of this great nation says I can express my opinions. I helped put these people in office so they could represent me. It is my duty to tell them how they can best do that, and right now, they can best do that by ending this shutdown.

That would make this momma extremely happy.

How are you affected by the government shutdown? Have you written your government officials?

Five Minute Friday***This post was brought to you today by Five Minute Friday and the word “Write”. After you write your letter to the government, head on over to Lisa-Jo Baker’s site and write about the experience.

My Piece of America’s Future

Tonight, my oldest child will commit himself, his future, his life to the United States of America.

Plebe picture

The Older One’s official West Point portrait. I love that smile.

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.

DSCN1161

He’s in there somewhere. I never found him, but he told me later that he found me and was watching me as he promised to bare allegiance.

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.

A Snowy Opportunity

We haven’t seen snow in my part of the country in well over a year.

Okay, well…I take that back. We haven’t seen bundle-up-the-kids-and-go-outside-to-play snow in well over a year. Last Saturday that all changed when the Young One burst into my bedroom at 7:56 am and announced, “IT SNOWED! IT SNOWED!”

snow

My snow-covered backyard.

How I managed to keep her in the house for the next two hours is still a mystery to me, but I did find a way to enjoy several cups of coffee by my nice, warm fireplace before donning boots, polar fleece and long-johns (silk ones, by the way, in case you have any doubt that Stiletto Momma would be anything less than stylish).

We were fortunate enough to be joined outside by the Older One, who had learned earlier in the day that “visiting” home for the holidays does not exclude him from the pool of eligible people to be delegated driveway shoveling duty. He strolled across the driveway, shovel in hand, while the Young One made snow angels. Within minutes, the driveway was clear, and he lobbed the first snowball. The Young One squealed  as she scrambled to make a ball of her own, only to cry in disappointment seconds later when her snowy missile looked more like a lump than a sphere.

Sighing, the Older One took the opportunity to impart some brotherly advice on how to form the perfect snowball.

“Let me show you,” he said, squatting down and digging his gloved hands in the cold for the makings of wintry ammunition. She watched with great attention as he demonstrated packing the snow then rolling it in his hands to form a perfect ball.

snowball

Snowball Architecture 101

I smiled through the lens of my camera, thinking how lucky this little girl is to have such a loving brother and how lucky I am to have both of my children with me against the backdrop of snowy treetops.

Family moments like these are few and far between these days.

With the Older One spending most of his days at the United States Military Academy at West Point, the only times we are all in the same space at the same time are when we see the Older One on the computer monitor courtesy of the webcam.

I’m not one to normally be all happy and bouncy about sledding and snowman-building, but the opportunity to spend an hour playing with my kids is truly a joy…even when they join forces to pelt their loving momma with an arsenal of freshly made snowballs!

snowball fight

INCOMING!!!!

What’s your favorite snow day memory?

five-minute-fridayFive Minute Friday is back! Today’s prompt is “Opportunity”. Check out Lisa-Jo Baker’s site to read more stories about great opportunities, or better yet, write and share one of your own!

West Point Style

West Point cadets continue to impress me. They are athletic, scholarly and honorable. This week, I have come to learn they are also extremely gifted in the arts, particularly those of dance, videography and lip syncing.

Since the Older One left the nest for the next phase of his life at the United States Military Academy at West Point, I am much less in touch with pop culture than I was when he lived at home. Prior to this week, I had no clue Gangnam Style was a song from South Korean rapper Psy. If you had asked me on Monday what it was, I probably would have said it was some type of fashion statement. These days, with only a five-year-old at home, I know more about Sponge Bob Square Pants than the latest dance craze.

I am, however, a social media guru (self-proclaimed, since my day-job requires that I Facebook, tweet and blog in a professional capacity), and I know a viral video when I see one. Gangnam Style, with almost 360 million views, is just about as viral as it gets. As testament to its viral nature, spoofs of the video are invading YouTube like soldiers on a battlefield, and the creative geniuses admitted to the US service academies are not to be excluded from this social media war.

Two weeks ago, the Naval Academy created a buzz with its Gangnam Style-inspired video, prompting CBSNews.com to challenge Navy’s biggest rival to a musical performance showdown. Yesterday, Army responded with resounding force when the Cadets posted their amazingly choreographed and edited rendition of Psy’s pop-culture hit.

Strobe lights!

On-location production numbers!

Child actors!

Horses!

The gauntlet has been thrown. The battle is on.

Navy’s version has received over five million views so far. Army fully intends to exceed that and is calling for a full-scale social media attack. This post is my contribution to the effort. Please watch Gangnam Style-West Point on YouTube, share it with all your friends, then tell me what you think.

Social media and traditional media alike are picking sides. I know which one I prefer. How about you?

GO ARMY! BEAT NAVY!

Stiletto Momma

*This post is part of WordPress’s Weekly Writing Challenge: Easy as Pie. Check it out and play along.

Five Minute Friday – Grasp

I hugged my little boy last Saturday!

Well, he’s not a little boy any more–he towers almost a foot higher than me, and when I do hug him my hands barely touch on the other side.

Post-Game

Minutes before this picture was taken the big one in the middle was crushed in a hug by the little one on the left!

But I hugged him, nonetheless, and I basked in his presence for an entire 20 minutes.

I couldn’t stop smiling.

I miss my boy, and it was fairly obvious to everyone else around us at the Wake Forest football stadium in Winston-Salem, NC, last weekend.

The hubs and I made a two-part journey from our Louisville home to West Virginia and then on to Winston-Salem to watch the Army Black Knights take on the Wake Forest Demon Deacons.

That’s not entirely true. The Hubs was there to watch the football game. I, apparently, was there to watch number 55, even if he didn’t step foot on the field.

Another momma and her boy traveled with us to the game. Army is recruiting her quarterback son, and they wanted to check out the team on the road. Even though the Black Knights fell to the Demon Deacons, he left the stadium with a new conviction to complete the application process for the United States Military Academy.

His momma left with a new understanding of what being a West Point Mom would mean for her.

As we stood outside the stadium talking with my football player after the game, she pulled him aside and enlightened him to my pride. “Your mom really loves you, you know. It made me cry watching her watch you. She never watched the game. She only watched you.”

It’s true.

Army Football

See that grin? That’s my boy!

I try to grasp every single second of my son. I didn’t watch most of the action on the field. I used the zoom lens on my camera to find the only player I cared about, and when he saw me seeing him, he flashed me the goofy grin he knows I love. I caught it on film, and I remember how my heart warmed and my smile grew.

When I grasped him firmly in my arms after the game, I knew the long drive and the exhausting weekend was worth it.

I hugged my boy last Saturday, and I am grasping on to the memory until I see him again.

Stiletto Momma

PS. Through a fellow writer of the blog My Awesome Olive Shoots, I’ve discovered Five Minute Friday. If you’re a blogger, join us every week for a few minutes of blogging inspiration!

Days to Go

The countdown to my son’s latest return from The United States Military Academy at West Point began about the same time he gave me a quick wave from the opposite end of airport security as he departed for his Cadet Field Training at the end of June.

For the remainder of that day, his little sister cried all the tears she could possibly shed, and I wandered the house looking for a chore that would not remind me of something we did together when he was home for this most recent visit.

Countdown

Days to Go…Days Done…

I found myself standing in front of a set of glass jars that sit on the counter between the kitchen and the great room–the Army Black Knights logo on the top of one and the Army mule logo on the other.

The one on the right sat loaded to the top with black and gold marbles (the USMA school colors). The sign on its front read, “Days Done…” The jar on the left read, “Days to Go…”, and it had sat empty for the last 16 days.

As I stood looking at the jars, I heard a sad, little voice beside me ask, “When’s he coming home, Momma?”

“Well,” I sighed, “Let’s find out.”

Taking the full jar from the counter, I felt its weight in my hand, pulled the cap from the top, and dumped the marbles in a shiny black and gold pile on the coffee table. Together, the Young One and I counted out 28 marbles, being sure to have an even number of each color.

Twenty-eight days is the smallest number we have added to the jar since we started our countdown ritual, and it will probably be the last time we will mark such a short separation. Unlike students at civilian colleges, USMA cadets do not get a three-month summer break from their school. Instead, they spend the summer undergoing military and leadership training that prepares them for their future in the US Army.

While my daughter dropped the marbles into “Days to Go”, I returned the now empty “Days Done” to its spot on the counter, feeling sad that it was almost weightless compared to just a few minutes ago.

The Young One brought “Days to Go” back to sit next to its partner, and then she stood back to examine the two together.

“That’s all we have to do?”

I joined her, gave my own examination, and declared, “Yes, that’s all we have to do.”

“And each day at bedtime, I’m gonna put a marble in the other jar?”

“That’s right,” I nodded.

“Then he’ll be home?” she asked with the start of a smile lighting her teary eyes.

“Yes.”

“YAY!” She raised her arms in victory and jumped up and down in the way I have come to learn means she is beyond excited. “Then I’m gonna give him the BIGGEST hug EVER and say, ‘I MISSED you!'”

“Me too!”, I exclaimed and pulled her into a hug, so we could bounce and dance around the room together.

I had made the two jars and started the bedtime tradition last March after my son had returned to West Point following his Spring Break.  I thought this would be a good way for my daughter to mark the time between her big brother’s visits. At five years old, she does not fully understand that a month, or two months or (gulp) six months is not the same as “tomorrow” or “today”.

What I have come to realize, however, is that the marbles in the jar are not just another game meant to pacify a pre-schooler. They are a visual representation of challenge and accomplishment for a momma missing her son. If I was able to do 50 days last time, I can do 28 days this time, and next time I will be able to do 60, or 90, or 120. As long as I can keep moving marbles from one jar to the other, I can do as many days as it takes because it means I am one day closer to embracing my boy!

Tonight, the Young One took the last of the 28 marbles from “Days to Go” and dropped it with a happy tinkle into “Days Done”. Then she mounted the stairs to her room with a skip in her step and a smile on her face.

In 10 days, we will start all over again.  I’m not looking forward to counting out enough marbles to take us from August 7 to December 22, but for tonight, “Days to Go” is empty, and I am brimming with excitement too.

Stiletto Momma

Operation: Comfort and Care Packages

Throughout nature, mothers are known to protect their young. Birds build nests high up in trees to keep predators from their eggs. Kangaroos hold their babies close in their pouches. Bears will kill their enemies when their cubs are threatened. Mothers are driven by instinct–protect those who are in harm’s away and comfort them when they are vulnerable.

It is no wonder then that when news broke in early June of a truck bomb exploding inside Forward Operating Base Salerno near the city of Khost in Afghanistan, a group of very dedicated West Point moms sprang into action. First, they offered prayers of thanks that the attack had resulted in no military deaths. Then they rallied the troops, and what I like to call “Operation: Comfort and Care Packages”, was launched.

Baking

The Young One is my baking buddy. Even in our aprons we are stylin’!

Since January, I have been a member of West Point Moms Bake. We are a group of 182 mothers of West Point cadets and graduates who believe our mission is to supply our troops with cookies, brownies and all things homemade. Each member of the group is part of a 10-mom team. I am on the Sky Dragons team, named after the “Sky Dragons” of the XVIII Airborne Corps–the corps of the United States Army designed for rapid deployment anywhere in the world, and is the Army’s largest warfighting organization.

Every month, each team is assigned a soldier deployed overseas to whom we are encouraged to overwhelm with gratitude and appreciation. With each mom on a team sending to the same soldier at different times throughout the month, the lucky recipient receives several boxes of homebaked goodness to share with his or her battle buddies.

At the beginning of each month, I eagerly await the email that brings me the name and address of the next soldier who will soon know the wonders of my snickerdoodles. June’s email, however, was different. Not only did it contain the long-awaited name, but it also delivered the news of FOB Salerno. While there had been no loss of military life from the attack, reported as the work of Taliban militia, the consequences of the violence were still devastating to the US troops stationed there.

The truck bomb that had breached FOB Salerno’s gates exploded just outside the base’s dining facility, resulting in heavy damage to that structure as well as to the nearby PX where military personnel can purchase toiletries and other comfort items. Until the dining facility and PX can be rebuilt and re-supplied, the only food available to these young men and women will be MREs (Meals Ready to Eat), and “comfort items” will be just a distant memory.

In addition to this most recent attack, FOB Salerno has been nick named “Rocket City” because it has been the target of incoming rocket and mortar fire many times over the course of the war in Afghanistan. Those stationed here have seen more than their share of violence, and this most recent attack is sure to be a blow to moral compounded by the physical damage left behind and the toll from the hardships they will face in the coming days and weeks as they rebuild what was lost.

Brownies

Even though most of the items sent to FOB Salerno were packaged goods and toiletries, I did manage to squeeze in some homemade cookie bars and brownies!

My June care package recipient is a female soldier stationed at FOB Salerno, and unlike previous months, the moms sending packages to her would not just be the 10 on my Sky Dragons team. Nearly 80 other moms were assigned this same soldier, and our orders were to care for the Salerno soldiers as if they were our own. Upon arrival, our boxes would be distributed among all soldiers, and we were asked to send not only baked goods this time, but other sorely needed items–soap, shampoo, deodorant, canned tuna and chicken, ramen noodles, crackers, pens, paper.

Boxes

Mission complete! My two boxes are ready to send to FOB Salerno.

Word quickly spread across Facebook, and soon other West Point moms not included on the original list were volunteering to send a package to FOB Salerno as well as to their assigned soldier. Trips to Costco and Sam’s were planned, and many moms (myself included) announced they were preparing two or more boxes. Some lamented at not including more baked items in their boxes, but with time being critical to our mission, the solution was to send packaged items right away and supplement with boxes of cookies later in the month.

So, while bears kill for their children and birds hide their babies in far away tree tops, West Point moms stretch their hearts wide to encompass fellow Army moms’ children and shower them with love and support from home. We also thank them for what they do. The nature of their job is to endure hardships, so we do not have to. The least we can do is donate our time, our money and our kitchens to help make their sacrifices a little easier to bare.

The news coming out out of Afghanistan is often hard to hear, and we feel powerless as we listen to reports of more death and destruction. This time, however, when we heard about FOB Salerno, we knew we could make a difference.

Boxes of comfort are our specialty, and help is on its way.

Stiletto Momma

***UPDATE*** West Point Moms Bake packages began arriving at FOB Salerno June 18–a little more than two weeks after the truck bomb destroyed that base’s dining facility and PX. So far, 85 boxes have been delivered and distributed among the very grateful troops. Our contact there reports that the toiletries and snacks are proving to be a great morale booster.

 News of the boxes’ arrival, however, comes on the day that Army officials  acknowledged that the damage done to FOB Salerno was much worse than originally reported. The explosion of the truck carrying 1,500 pounds of explosives killed two Americans and seriously wounded three dozen troops. More than 100 soldiers sustained minor injuries. U.S. officials are currently assessing security at FOB Salerno. (Read more about the attack.)

Selfless Courage on Far Away Beaches

I’ve been seeing visions of bomb craters and grave markers today. Both rest atop high cliffs overlooking Utah Beach and Omaha Beach in Normandy, France–the site of bloody battles fought as Allied Forces invaded those beaches in an attempt to liberate Europe from the Germans 68 years ago today.

American Cemetery

The American Cemetery near Omaha Beach

For the most part, the anniversary of D-Day goes unnoticed. Unless it happens to be a milestone anniversary like the 50th or the 75th, the media barely mentions the passing of another year. This morning, for example, one of the top stories on NBC’s Today was the recent engagement of Miley Cyrus to Liam Hemsworth, not the remarkable sacrifices made by “the greatest generation.”

Today, however, even with the lack of media coverage and Facebook memes, I can’t seem to stop thinking about those beaches.

Perhaps it is because I have been there. In 2006, the Hubs and I traveled to the French Riviera and Paris on an all-expense paid trip compliments of a previous employer. After several days of touring palaces and museums, we were looking forward to a change of pace and signed up for a day-trip to Normandy. The Hubs is a veteran of the U.S. Army and has an interest in military battles, and I have always been fascinated by the history of WWII. So, we went along for the three-hour bus trip, expecting to see a cemetery and some sand.

What we saw instead was awe-inspiring. The American Cemetery that sits on a steep cliff above Omaha Beach is more than a memorial. It is a glorious shrine to fallen heros with row after row of meticulously maintained grave marker crosses. I could see no posted signs requesting silence, but the quiet was deafening because there are simply no words to express the emotions that overcame our group as we stepped onto that sacred ground.

Bomb Crater

The Hubs Poses with a Crater

Here lay thousands of soldiers who gave their lives for their country, some just mere minutes after setting foot on that foreign shore. As chimes played classic hymns of prayer, tears flowed freely while we walked among the final resting place of 9,387 brave souls, approximately 3,000 of whom gave up their lives on that first day of intense fighting. The names of another 1,557 Americans who lost their lives in Normandy, but could not be located or identified are etched on the walls of a solemn garden where many stopped to offer prayers of thanks.

Omaha Beach

Field of Craters

Further down the beach are the remains of war…grassy fields pock-marked with craters from Allied and German artillery fire…German casemates (fortified structures where weapons were stored) built so securely they barely show signs of age…bunkers left fully intact except for the empty space that at one time housed a German Panzer turret…acre after acre of preserved destruction meant to remind us of the brutality of war.

These memories alone could certainly cause my preoccupation today, but I believe the reason hits far closer to home.

Bunker

The Hubs inspects the remains of a German bunker.

Last summer, I witnessed my son taking the Oath of Service during Reception Day at the United States Military Academy at West Point. I heard him, along with more than a thousand fellow new cadets, proclaim, “I …do solemnly swear to support and defend the Constitution of the United States….So help me God.” With those words, a new-found patriotism was born, and today I, like many other West Point moms, get a lump in my throat at the singing of the National Anthem. I am teary-eyed at pictures of soldiers returning from deployment, and my heart swells at the site of the Stars and Stripes waving in the breeze.

Unknown Soldier

“Known But to God”

I walked among those crosses at the American Cemetery and calculated time and again the young age of the soldiers buried there. Many were my son’s age when they walked into battle–made soldiers when they were barely men. Some were drafted into service, but others, like my son volunteered during a time of war. That, in my opinion, is the most honorable act a person can perform.

I am immensely proud of the decisions my son has made for his future, but that doesn’t mean I don’t worry about what that future will look like..

I am sure the mothers of those soldiers who fought in WWII waved the flag one minute and cried for their children’s safety the next. They probably felt their heart skip a beat when they glimpsed a man in uniform, the same way mine does when I see digitized camo. They probably smiled with comfort at a favorite garment, just as I do when I realize that wearing my favorite West Point t-shirt makes me feel closer to my child.

I can only hope that, at some point, the mothers of those lost on D-Day and the days that followed were comforted by the knowledge that their child’s sacrifice was not in vain. They are remembered. It may not be with grand ceremony, but they are remembered, and I am moved by the selflessness of their courage.

Stiletto Momma