Colonel Kail is my friend

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I was so glad I asked Eric about all his decorations and medals. I wasn’t sure if that was appropriate to do but he explained each one and I was duly impressed.

Today I want to celebrate a military man who greatly influences my oldest OS, the Hubs and me.

Eric Kail and his family moved to North Carolina so he could pursue his PhD in organizational psychology at North Carolina State University. I first met his wife Gigi at a roller skating rink watching our kids go around the mindless oval.

At the time, I had no idea how much we would grow to love this couple. They were welcome additions to church and our Sunday School class. The Hubs and I enjoyed getting to know them and considered them funny, real and honest folks. I appreciated Eric’s service to our country but I underestimated his credentials.*

And when Gigi mentioned during lunch at Panera Bread that her dad had been the “Supe” at West Point, I’m pretty sure that didn’t faze me one way or the other. “Ok, so he was a ‘big wig’ at West Point, isn’t this salad delicious?” We just liked the Kail’s plain and simple.

Fast forward a few years and upon successful completion of his studies at NC State, the Kail’s got stationed in Seoul, Korea for two years.

We were sad and honestly didn’t think we would see them again this side of heaven.

But God has an interesting way of bringing people together again and in the fall of 2007, our oldest OS suddenly declared his desire to go to West Point. Although they were in Korea and we were still in North Carolina, our lives began syncing back together. The words “West Point” that I had taken for granted now had great meaning. Why did they have to live so far away when we needed to talk and figure this thing out?

Eric began to call us from Korea. He gave us insight and prepared us for the road ahead. The night he told us the brutal truth about Beast and R-Day, I distinctly remember collapsing on the carpet in our office. Nathan might be able to do West Point but I knew I couldn’t! Eric didn’t mince words about how hard it would be to say goodbye to our son but I also trusted his honesty and the confidence he had in all of us.

Even when Army loses, if you’re with the Kail’s, it’s a good time!

The next thing you know Nate finishes his plebe year and the Kail’s get stationed at West Point! I never saw this coming! We stay with the Kail’s when we go to see our OS and our friendship is rekindled. Army football games, Ring Weekend, Nate has knee surgery in the fall of his firstie year and the Kail’s are to the rescue.

Nate comes to rely on Colonel Kail’s wisdom and advice and does an occasional load of laundry at their house. Their hospitality is unmatched and we always feel at home in their midst.

Most importantly so does Nate, it’s almost like they have a secret bond being Army men that we as civilian parents don’t and that’s perfectly fine.

I can’t tell you how many times my OS would say to me, “I really like Colonel Kail. I’m going to talk to him about something. He’s a good guy.”

Nate getting his butter bars

So when Nate was planning graduation from West Point, the choice was easy on whom he wanted to commission him as an officer. Colonel Kail of course.

But now there was a big problem…cancer.

In March, Eric was diagnosed with stage 4 transitional cell carcinoma.

Stage 4 simply means that the cancer had spread to other parts of his body from the original source.

Although nowhere near his vital organs, Eric started chemotherapy right away. Nate was crestfallen when I told him about Colonel Kail’s illness. I remember telling him the news while he was visiting his girlfriend in El Salvador, I felt Nate needed to know right away. My OS was incredulous and heartbroken, he took it very hard.

In April, the Hubs had a business trip and arranged to stay at the Kail’s and hang out with Nate simultaneously.

Fresh off of surgery, preparing for his chemo treatments, that’s when Nate asked his mentor if he would do him the honor of swearing him in as an officer in the Army.

Without hesitation Eric said yes though we have learned that he has turned others down in the past. We waited and hoped it would be.

Colonel Kail and Nate during the oath ceremony. Um, yes, I was a little choked up. I love seeing the Hubs’ hands on my back offering support. So emotional!

And it was.

On a sultry afternoon just before a torrential rainstorm blew into the Hudson River, right outside the Cadet Chapel, Nate lifted his right hand.

With the American flag in the background, our family, Gigi, Lu and her dad gathered around as Nate repeated the oath as instructed by the highly decorated Colonel Kail.

The person Nate most wanted to perform this ceremony was there.

Yes, I was crying.

Yes, as a result I had a horrible time trying to put Nate’s “butter bars” on his uniform.

Yes, I needed my glasses.

But God had arranged this day before the fullness of time. To see my OS being sworn in by his beloved mentor was a thing of beauty. When I think about how many  pieces had to fall in place for this moment to have arrived, it astonishes me. The Lord had planned every detail and even orchestrated an “off” week for chemo treatments thereby allowing Eric to  have the enough strength to do this. We serve a mighty God indeed.

I underestimated Eric’s credentials! Wow!

I’m not sure Eric has any idea what he means to my son and how much it meant to have him perform the oath ceremony.

That’s why I’m writing this today. He deserves to hear it. So let me declare to all reading this Eric Kail has richly blessed my son!

Let me further state Eric Kail has richly blessed my son not only as a man, but as a Soldier and a brother in Christ!

And if I may, since I have the floor, let me proclaim this to the end of time We consider the Kail’s to be a gift from our Heavenly Father and are humbled to call them lifelong friends! 

Here are a few of Eric’s credentials…not too shabby. And you can read more about Eric’s leadership reflections in the Washington Post by clicking here and here.

*In addition to being my friend, an awesome dad and husband to the smoking hot Gigi, Eric Kail is a Colonel in the United States Army. He has served for over 25 years as an Army Field Artillery Officer in both conventional and special operations units. He has several combat deployments, including Operations Desert Shield, Desert Storm, Enduring Freedom, and Iraqi Freedom. Eric also has a PhD in organizational psychology. His latest assignment was as the course director for military leadership at West Point.

Check out this post for a incredible story about Colonel Kail.

And update as of July 25, 2013: Our West Point grad, Nate wrote this beautiful tribute about Colonel Kail after Eric went to be with the Lord. Reading it will bless your heart.

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Angels Unaware

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p1040172When my OS began his exploration into attending West Point, so did I.

We were about to embark on an exciting journey and I had no clue what he was getting himself and the entire family into!

I was so clueless about West Point, the United States Military Academy, I had to google search west+point.

Where is West Point anyway?

That’s when I found it is far away. Far away as in New York. Far away as in a 10 hour drive, but about 15 hour of driving time if I’m in the car accounting for potty breaks and not including an overnight stay at a nice hotel. Yes, I am ever so slightly high maintenance.

It just so happened the Lord had placed in our lives a great couple, Gigi and Eric. Eric is a professor at West Point and we met here when he was in our state completing his doctorate degree and attending our church and Sunday School class. When the family left for a two year class assignment to Korea, we thought we would never see them ever again, this side of heaven.

But that was not the Lord’s will and soon, they will return to West Point. We will re-connect with them! When our son was accepted at West Point, Eric called us all the way from Korea and lovingly, honestly explained what R-Day was going to be like for us as parents.

In a word – HARD!

After speaking with him on the phone, I literally collapsed on my carpet, unsure of how I was going to handle parting with my treasured boy. And not only saying goodbye but doing it in under two minutes.

99068-photo250Enjoy this picture I took thanks to my Mac Photo Booth aptly conveying my sentiments last year.Very attractive, huh?

Since then we have pressed on. And we have been blessed. We have met amazing people who have extended themselves in ways I never expected. I see how the Lord’s hand has linked us up with caring families who have been there for us and our OS.

For example, Peggie, a West Point mom whom I never met when I called her because we have a mutual acquaintance. Peggie allowed me to cry on her proverbial shoulder. I barely got one sentence out of my mouth, before the Lacrimal Glands got activated. She was such an encouragement and she listened like a mama who’s been there, done that. And she still spoke in full sentences which gave me hope that I could actually live through this experience with some semblance of sanity.

aa0c5-p1070259Then there have been the Hoffman’s who take Nate out regularly when they visit their plebe at West Point. Patti gives our OS an obligatory hug from me and has loved my boy as if he were her own. This family knows no bounds of kindness. Such a beautiful lady who even did an eyebrow trim for my husband when we were all together at Plebe Parent Weekend! I love these people! How many of your girlfriends can you ask to trim your husband’s eyebrows??? Those friends are few and far between!

p1070333Merrily is a gem too. Although recently faced with the loss of her husband, she is a resilient mama of a very fine plebe. That lady is someone that from the minute she called me on the phone one day after communicating via her husband’s blog, I felt an instant connection to and we ended our first conversation saying, “I love you” and meaning it. 

 

And then there’s Kim. Kim works at West Point and she’s a grad. Very huah but in no way obnoxious. Kim understands what it’s like to be a cadet and she’s a mother which is a perfect combination. 

When Nate’s birthday rolled around on April 12th, Kim dropped off in our son’s room, a bouquet of balloons, a big birthday card and an ice cream party certificate. She has offered to take my OS out for pizza, invited him to an Easter dinner, truly extended herself in ways I could have never imagined. And we have only met once when she recognized me at A-Day. I had a broken foot and a scooter, so I was an easy target and she has been reading my blog for a while. I felt so fancy when she came up and introduced herself! Since then, we have kept in touch and when I have offered to reimburse Kim for her generosity, she quickly rebuffs my offer, saying she does these things gladly and free of charge. Oh, how I am blessed!

 
I am reminded of the Scripture found in Hebrews 13:2 “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.” 
 
I reflect on this journey thus far and sometimes can’t believe how fast my son’s plebe year has passed! I praise the Lord because we have survived, occasionally even thrived. We have all learned things about ourselves, our strength, the importance of faith and prayer and developing an extended sense of family. 

 
Y’all, I am meeting angels. Not the fluttering kind with halos and wings but still divine messengers of God who have lighted this path with compassion. I hope you have been meeting some along your way as well, wherever it may be…