This is my son, Aaron's, first Veteran's Day. In January he completed a four-year active duty contract with the U.S. Marine Corps. Aaron enlisted primarily because of his strong sense of patriotism. As his mother, I had many reservations. In the end, I was pleased that Aaron included me in his decision-making process, but he was an adult and had to make his own decision.
With great pride we attended his boot camp graduation at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego and were awed by the transformation in our quick-to-grin son who had developed his "bearing." He was physically in shape for boot camp before entering, so we didn't notice a remarkable change in his physical appearance, other than his erect stature. What we noticed was that he looked us in the eye, posessed an air of self-confidence and was conditioned to be aware of others in his environment. He'd always had good manners (we did raise him right!), but even those manners were more distinct.
Aaron's transformation is even more remarkable remembering his last couple of years of high school. He barely earned that diploma! Sometimes I wondered if he ever would. Aaron was in third grade when I began to wonder if he'd be a high school dropout. In addition to ADD, Aaron had learning disabilities that went undiagnosed for several years. He developed excellent coping skills, such as doing math problems in his head instead of on paper. Reading and writing didn't come easy for Aaron.
How does one go from being a kid with ADD to a U.S. Marine? Lots of hard work and self-discipline. We don't know much about what happened in boot camp (parents are told "what happens in boot camp, stays in boot camp"), but we know snippets of the self-discipline Aaron had to develop from the situations he was in. Some were humorous (they were led to believe they needed to sleep at attention the first night, so got little rest) and others seemed downright unfair (Aaron once had four Drill Instructors screaming in his face when he didn't say "yes, sir!" loud enough).
What Aaron learned in the Marine Corps will stay with him for his entire life. There's a brotherhood amongst Marines that I never really understood before. I wondered how the TSA officer at DIA knew it was Aaron's combat boots that set off the luggage screening machine. Even though Aaron was dressed in "civies " he tracked down the Marine; he even knew Aaron was headed back to MCT. While on active duty, Aaron learned he can do anything and to believe in his own judgment. He learned when to advocate for himself or his men (this was one of his 504 goals while in high school -- which he struggled with). He learned to read and understand weapons manuals and monitor details such as serial numbers.
I know that as his mother, there are things I'll never hear about that Aaron experienced during his four year commitment. What I do know is that the Marine Corps developed a man of great potential and inner strength.
To all the veterans who became men, or women, during their service, it is an honor to salute you today! My heartfelt appreciation goes out to you for the sacrifice you made for our freedom!