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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Ring, ring!

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If the cliche wasn’t so true, I wouldn’t use it but where has the time gone? Nate is now ring shopping!

Two cuties in El Salvador

If your heart skipped a beat, and you’re like “Wha?????” settle down there! If you imagined our OS searching for a shiny bauble for a Salvadorena beauty, I’m sorry to disappoint you. We’re not there yet.

Nate is ring shopping for himself and deciding about the type of ring he wants as a 2012 graduate of the United States Military Academy.

* June 2008 R-Day, my boy walked by us in the parade and oh how I wanted to run and grab him take him away from all these people yelling! Nate had made his mind up, he was going to West Point and I couldn’t stand in the way.

During an impromptu visit home (which aside from Ike’s flu, made it the best MLK weekend I’ve ever had!) Nate showed us the brochure featuring his ring options.

What a huge ac- complishment for our OS to be on the other side of the 48 month experience known as West Point. I sat beside him on Sunday pondering that the eager, determined teenager who entered West Point on that most notable day is now a competent, strong leader and man.

I like this figurative place as a WP mom.

You see, I’m strategically positioned to be content about all that he has done while not giving too much worry to what he’s going to do AFTER graduation. I can celebrate the cool stuff like my OS getting a ring and block out the “other things” like when and where he will be deployed. Not. going. there.

Let’s just concentrate on jewelry, shall we?

What makes a West Point ring especially significant is the symbolism literally melted in the ring.

Following the death of a West Point grad, some families, upon the bequest of the departed grad or simply to pass on tradition, donate the ring back to West Point. It’s called the Ring Memorial Program.

The ring is then melted and the shavings are used to help create a new ring.

When West Point grads receives their ring, they have a part of the men and women of the Long Gray Line with them.

* This is the march back from Buckner where Beast was held – a momentous event!

The design of the 2012 crest features two swords symbolizing the graduates going from a cadet to an officer. I will stuff my purse with Kleenex as I see this ring on my boy’s finger. Partially because it will be no small feat to get a ring over his  gi-normous knuckle and also because I will be bursting with pride.

Next year, the Hubs and I will attend the Ring Weekend. Nate will be on the receiving end of Ring Poop which thankfully has nothing to do with #2!

I will buy an expensive new dress and possibly several new outfits for the event.

The Hubs and I are attending Financial Peace University so I guess I’ll need to start saving up right now because this girl is gonna bring it! 😉 I won’t be wearing anything like this.

WOW!

Personally I like matching shoes.

But perhaps something like this?

Hmmm…This might be a little over the top but then again, maybe not!

As the mama of three sons, it’s rare for me to talk bling in this household so I’m going to cherish this moment and not hurry to the next!

I love a parade!

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It has been a long-standing joke in my house that one day before I die, I want a parade for my birthday. So far it hasn’t happened and considering my birthday is in January and I don’t live in Hawaii, the chances are slim to none that this will ever happen. 

But since becoming a mama of a Soldier, specifically the mother of a son at the United States Military Academy, I have seen more parades than I ever imagined. And I like it. I like it a lot. (said again in my best Jim Carey from Dumb and Dumber voice.) Yes, this is the second time I’ve recently used this quote in a post. 


So if I can’t have a parade on my birthday, I’ll settle for the next best thing…seeing my son in a parade. That is cool. Really, really cool. 

During Plebe Parent Weekend (PPW), our OS was in a parade which featured only plebes. You would have never known that these were the same young men and women who arrived at R-Day with that deer in the headlights look, trying to maintain composure as they were whisked away to places and experiences unknown and nearly unbearable. For most plebes, including our OS, these young men and women were relatively new to the parade thing prior to R-Day. But they now appear to be seasoned parade professionals. According to my OS, much to his dismay, they have devoted countless hours spent marching and executing each aspect of the parade. I know everyone in the filled to capacity crowd appreciated their hard work for it made for a very impressive spectacle.

First there was the drill team. My mouth gaped open as I wat- ched the trenchant skill of these young men. I was held in thrall as they effortlessly tossed the rifles back and forth to each other. I was dumbfounded as they performed an entire routine, not forgetting a thing, flipping the rifles in mid-air, grabbing them at varied places on the rifle and without missing a beat. Just when I thought their program was done and I was getting ready to erupt in applause, they’d press on and do another five 

minutes. I can only imagine the hours they poured into this flawless execution. 

Once they finished, I began to watch for my own VIP. My son was a Platoon Leader for his company and Nate was excited because he had a saber for the parade. I peered through the crowd and was surprised to see that indeed our OS marched with a very manly saber by his side but other stuff as well. 

Nate strode out into the field with his company also wearing a very large hat with really big feathers and he was wearing a red sash. If you are not a West Point person, you might be thinking big whoop, a red sash. You might even conjure up thoughts of RuPaul, but friends, shame on you! You would be totally wrong. It’s not that kind of sash, y’all! 

Here he was during PPW, out on The Plain, and Nate was wearing the same red sash which previously evoked terror and misery to the new cadets trying to complete Beast in the summer.

The dreaded red sash was an emblem of dread and intimidation until I saw it draped around MY boy’s uniform. From afar, the red sash and I had a healing, bonding moment, I guess you could say.

I felt pride and love overwhelm me and I know I was not alone. It was palpable as each person in the crowd peered to see their beloved child. It didn’t matter if your kid was right up front easy to spot or somewhere hidden in the middle, seeing 1000 Soldiers march in unison, it felt like we had collectively birthed each one of them.  A universal feeling of delight and appreciation warmed the cool morning air. So although my dreams of having a birthday parade are far-fetched, I have no right to complain on that day when I meet Jesus face to face. He has given me, as usual something above and beyond my wildest dreams. 

I LOVE A PARADE!

Different Modes of Transportation

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Our family is experiencing new forms of transportation we never imagined. A year ago, we were a boring suburban bi-ped, mini-van/car/truck driving family. That has changed within a week. It is a contrast of worlds, with my son away at West Point and us here at home. Life often holds a lot of irony.  


Here are a few examples…
 

On Monday my oldest OS will be traveling by a Blackhawk helicopter to a new training site for Cadet Basic Training. A Blackhawk Helicopter travels up to 221 mph. This is part of the final leg of Beast. I know my boy is going to be excited about having this experience even if it makes his mama nervous, very nervous. 

On the other hand, I’m getting around differently. A non-electric wheelchair can travel about 3.7 mph. How do I know? I googled it. Since Saturday, thanks to a friend, I am traveling regularly by wheelchair when I am downstairs or out of my house. This might not mean much to you but until Saturday I’d been stuck at home. I hadn’t been outside since going to the doctor to learn I had a broken foot. On Saturday I traveled to Borders in a wheelchair! FREEDOM!  I was probably as excited to be among the public as Nate will be getting a panoramic view of West Point and its environs. 

Then on Tuesday I will hopefully receive my Rolleraid, which is the BEST Orthopedic Leg Support Scooter around. It will have a basket and a water bottle holder! Wahoo! Who knew that a week ago something like this would seriously make me happy? I intend on being as happy as these two folks pictured in their advertising. Wee! I hope to be whizzing around topping 5 mph in no time at all. 

 
Nathan is sleeping with a rifle by his side. It’s not good if he can’t find his rifle so he always keeps it close on the field. 

I’m sleeping with my crutches just an arm’s length away. It’s not good if I don’t have my crutches. That’s when I resort to hopping, crawling or scooting. 

My oldest OS has thrown a grenade.

My middle OS threw a football and will see the hand specialist on Monday. He might have torn two ligaments on his thumb. 

How bizarre!

Ten reasons why it’s better to be a dorky 6th grader than a plebe

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1. You are a higher form of life. There is nothing lower than a plebe (well, almost). Note chart.

2. You can enjoy unlimited chews. No one is counting your bites. You can even swirl food around in your mouth and it’s all good.Life Form Chart.v2

3. You can sass at your superiors (although still highly dis- couraged) and not have to do push-ups. You may suffer other unpleasant consequences but not push-ups.

P10300104. You can also pass gas and not have to tell everyone or make noxious fume hand signals in the air to everyone around you.

5. You have a first name and you have heard it said in the last 24 hours.

6. You can say “Hey!” “How’s it going?” “Hello, my friend!” or even make up your own salutation. These are just a sample of myriad greetings available to you as a dorky 6th grader!

7. Your bed can be slightly messy and you can sleep under the covers.

8. You do not have to memorize your mama’s dinner menu six days in advance.

9. You enjoy unlimited time for bodily functions! Woohoo!

10. You shower alone.

Four reasons it’s better to be a plebe than a dorky 6th grader

1. Cool uniforms with your name on them.

2. Better fireworks.

3. Honor, duty, country.

4. Huah. If you need a translation, you just don’t get it.

So which one is your personal favorite? Which one would be the most challenging for you???

Oh happy day – letters after R-Day

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P1040208On July 9, 2007 while just exiting a restroom in Lima, Peru, I got mugged. My pricey camera was pulled off my shoulders and back and that was probably one of the most startling events of my life.

Fast forward a year, I’m back home and this July 9 is joyous. Yeah, we have a stomach virus wreaking havoc on our family but it’s all good.

Our son wrote us!

In our mailbox, I discovered not one, not two, not three but FOUR letters from our boy!

There are not enough exclamation points to describe how I feel to read his words and glean his personality. Here are just a few and I’ll try not to be obnoxious!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!P1040207

I count it a privilege that our NC (military word for New Cadet) took the precious time to write.

Some parents have yet to hear from their child and I feel for them deeply. I do not take it for granted we have these paper treasures from our soldier and will guard them close to my heart forever.

As we gathered around the family room to read his letters, I thought to myself that this is what it used to be like before email, AIM and facebook.

Writing letters is a forgotten art and in some way, I have enjoyed putting pen to paper. I’m a writer so it comes fairly naturally but my two remaining OS certainly aren’t but what sweet messages have poured from their fingers. Aaron sends funny drawings, Ike sends Scripture.

Aaron writes about the day’s happenings.

Ike shares that he has thrown up.

My DH dashed another letter out to Nathan as soon as he read Nate’s messages. They are so beautiful, I have no choice but to weep.

Without violating his privacy, I think some of you would enjoy knowing a few details but let me tell you the latest on the toe.

Although still purple, his big toe feels much better since he got it drained. Getting a toe drained doesn’t sound like fun but I’m relieved to know he’s ok. I wrote him that he had so many prayers that not only should that toe be healed in Jesus’ name but quite possibly he might have grown a third big toe as a spare!

p1040211Please keep praying not only for our family but for the other cadet families out there eagerly awaiting news from their NC.

It’s tough when no news comes your way.

In a few days, we anticipate phone calls and I can’t wait to hear his voice.  Major props to my homeslice Beth Anne who documented the first few moments when the letters arrived, love you, BA!

Getting letters from your son is better than getting mugged in South America, that’s a fact, Jack! HUAH big time!

Romans 12:15 “Rejoice with those who rejoice, mourn with those who mourn.”

R-Day, 60 seconds

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“You have 60 seconds to say your farewells,” a member of the cadre announced as we all stood and prepared for our goodbyes.

A petite framed cadet whom I really wanted to hate was just doing her job. I don’t envy her of having the task of separating parent and family from child.

It was like every sentence she was saying felt like a Peanuts cartoon where Snoopy just hears, “blah, blah, blah, blah.”

Of course all of us knew it was coming, the mood was solemn as we all filed in and took our seats. I wasn’t the only weepy mom in the bunch so I felt a kindred spirit among us.

Oh I held him so tight. Be strong, be strong, I tried to remind myself.

Oh I held him so tight. Be strong, be strong, I tried to remind myself.

There was such a feeling of love and pride, but we all entered into some private, intimate place in our hearts and hugged our babies for the final time for a long while like we were the only ones in the place. Nate grabbed his meager belongings and confidently strode to the front of the auditorium and never looked back.

That was a good thing because if I had seen his face one more time, I would have taken it as a sign to rush forward to get him. I know he is divinely placed where the Lord wants him to be and this is perhaps the most unselfish thing I have ever done as a mother. We prayed and prayed for the Lord to put him where he was supposed to go. I cannot second guess my Heavenly Father. Saying goodbye and letting my beloved child set forth into a new life, I am filled with tears and pride, both never ending.

I remember child birth being very painful but this is really rough. I was in labor for four hours, and it hurt like crud and this process is much longer. West Point is such an austere and noble place, I am humbled to have a son who is in the class of 2012 and have the hat, t-shirt and matching handbag to prove it. I shall be wearing black, gold and gray for a really long time. There is a dignity and a respect I don’t recall seeing at other college campuses we visited. This is the right place for my son and I am thankful to have met a lot of nice guys Nathan will soon be calling friends. Take a look and click here at this link to see what his first day was like. OY!

We are all entering a new phase in our lives. After saying our farewells, there were two floors of vendors and organizations to greet us. Nearly ever booth had a box of Kleenex. It was reassuring to see that in the midst of all this decorum and granite, they had chiseled out a lot of compassion and concern.

We arrive home tomorrow and I do laundry which will include some of Nathan’s dirty clothes. It will be the saddest load of laundry I have ever done in my life thus far. I found the toe nail clippers he used before we dropped him off at West Point. They were in the hotel bathroom and yep, I cried.

The Hubs and I weren't the only ones struggling.

The Hubs and I weren’t the only ones struggling.

Motherhood is not for the faint of heart. I am the mama of a soldier. I am the PROUD mama of a soldier. Go Army, Beat Navy, Huah!

Psalm 63:7- 8

For you have been my help, and in the shadow of Your wings I sing for joy.
My soul clings to You; Your right hand upholds me.