Saturday, January 14, 2006

Saluting Nathan

Nathan is my sixth child. Today is his 23rd birthday. I’m very proud of him.

Nathan joined the Army last spring and it was the best thing that could have happened. Many people think that is a strange thing for a mother to say in the dangerous days we live in. Let me explain.

Nathan had been living a scary and dangerous life for several years. He’d been involved in all sorts of risky (and BAD) behavior with “unsavory” people. (And, once you start running with a certain crowd in this small town, there seems little chance of getting out of it.) He was living here and there, often not in touch with us for long periods of time. Sometimes when he WAS in touch with us, we wished he wasn’t. That’s because there was little we could do to turn him in the right direction and we didn’t want the younger kids to be exposed to his behavior. It was an extremely hard thing to watch for all of us, but probably most horrible for me, as his mother. I felt totally helpless. Don’t get me wrong, he wasn’t “bad” all the time, he had his “ups and downs”. Our problem was that we couldn’t trust that the “ups” would last. Sometimes all was well and he was happily here for family events. He even worked a lot on Rebekah’s restaurant, Beks. But we just never knew when it would all fall apart and he’d slide back into his old behavior patterns. And he always did.

So…last spring he seemed to “hit bottom” and realized that he’d have to make a drastic change and that he couldn’t just do it all on his own. (He’d tried that many times.) He decided to join the Army. It was the best thing he ever did for himself. My son is a man now, finally.

I wasn’t thrilled that he signed up for the Infantry (that is the part of the army that does most of the fighting). I’d hoped he’d be in electronics or some other field that would provide him training for the future. But he was determined to be in the infantry. It might have been one of the factors that saved him, as most of us were sure he’d never make it through boot camp and either be kicked out or end up in the brig (military jail). BUT he liked shooting and learning about weapons. He actually turned out to be quite good at it. Not to say that this is a good thing (that he was fascinated with weapons) but someone has to do it, I guess it may as well be someone who relates to it….even if it’s my son. And, in the Army, at least it’s in the right arena, not out on the streets. (AND, for now, at least, it’s all practice. We all hope he never has to see real combat.)

Shortly after he arrived at boot camp, through his letters and occasional calls, we began to see an unbelievable change in his attitude. We didn’t even recognize him. He began re-thinking his entire life in all aspects. He began realizing and (amazingly) admitting his mistakes. I guess some people just need the kind of structure that the military provides. Army boot camp even provided training in the practical aspects of life like personal finance and goal planning.

After 14 weeks, he graduated from Infantry boot camp on Aug. 5, last year, Then he came home for a couple weeks before heading to Ft. Hood, Texas where he is now stationed. He’s learning to be a Bradley driver. A Bradley is an armed tank type vehicle that moves fairly quickly and also carries up to about 10 other soldiers. He not only is learning to drive it, but to totally maintain and repair it. A Bradley is computerized; it’s not like just driving a truck. Through satellite, he can even access the internet from it.

Esther, Nathan, and Naomi, taken when he was home on leave before he left for Ft. Hood, Texas where he's now stationed.

I’ve had a little concern about Nathan that the change in him “won’t stick”, especially now that he’s got much more free time on his hands than he had in boot camp. I WANT to believe in him, but the past ups and downs makes it a little hard to be completely confident. However, so far everything is going well with him.

Now he lives in housing that is much like apartments. He shares a two bedroom unit with one other guy. He simply reports to work every day and has most weekends and evenings off. Well, I guess you have to add in the early morning jogging and PT before work too. But basically he manages his own time except for regular working hours.

I just talked to him yesterday for a long time (he loves to talk on the phone) and was encouraged to hear him talking about choices he is considering for his future. Just the fact that he is thinking “down the road” is different and good. He is realizing that when he gets out of the Army in a little over two years, he still doesn’t have training in anything that could get him a good job and he is trying to decide what to do about that. He realizes that our small town has nothing to offer him except trouble from his past and he doesn’t plan to come back here to live. That is the right decision. He’s wondering about re-enlisting and considering it. (There are promotions and bonuses involved and the choice will come up in April.) Oh, and he’ll be promoted to Private First Class, (E-3) next month. That’s not a big deal really, but any sort of promotion is always encouraging (and adds a little to the pay check too.)

You may be wondering if he’ll be sent over to Iraq or somewhere like that, which was his and our assumption when he signed up. They even told him in boot camp that he’d heading there. But, surprisingly to all of us (including him) it looks like he may not be going any time soon, and perhaps not at all. He’s in the 1st Calvary (mechanized) and they have been to Iraq recently and are probably not going back, so he might just be hanging around Texas indefinitely. Maybe not though, you never know with the military.

Anyhow, I just wanted to introduce you to Nathan, especially since he was on my mind. He’s doing well and continuing to mature and understand life a little more. And…today is his 23rd birthday. Happy Birthday, Nathan… I’m proud of you and I love you more than you’ll ever know.

Jay, Nathan and me, taken at Nathan's graduation, August 5, 2005.

This was taken at Nathan's boot camp graduation. Jay and I are sitting in the back of a Bradley. That is the vehicle that Nathan is learning to drive, repair, and maintain. Those of you who attended the Mehndi party will recognize that skirt I'm wearing...'s was a little more well behaved here.


In case you are interested, I'm posting a couple "before" photos taken at Rebekah's house in June, 2003. No, he wasn't a "cowboy", he just aquired the hat and liked it. Giving up that long blond hair wasn't easy for him, but he did it with relative grace a couple days before reporting for boot camp. I still have his pony tail hanging from the rear view mirror in my van; a constant reminder of how far he's come.

This was taken at the same time and includes (next to Nathan) Garry, Rebekah's husband, Dan, Rachel's husband, and of course, Praveen. I think this was the first time we met Praveen and even then, he fit right in with the other son-in-laws.


Sandhya said...

Happy Birthday Nathan! Here's hoping you have a fantastic year ahead. Ok, now, where's my 'Army sister' T-shirt? ;)


Anonymous said...

Yeah were is my shirt?? You might have some explaining to do Nathan!
Love you