As my Navy recruiter waited in his car with the engine running at the top of our driveway, I stood with my parents on the front porch.
My late father — a retired decorated Army master sergeant — had taught me many of the military positions that I would spend the next couple of months mastering at boot camp, including “about face,” the proper way to salute and how to stand at attention with my feet turned out at a 45-degree angle. I was 18 and felt as prepared as possible to take on the U.S. Navy and see the world as I hugged my parents goodbye, got into the car and watched them wipe their tears as we rolled down the driveway.
I didn’t appreciate the magnitude of that morning — until I recently hugged my 20-year-old son, Jeremiah, and watched him leave for Navy boot camp.
I wasn’t just saying goodbye; I was seeing him off for one of the greatest undertakings and sacrifices of his lifetime — to serve his country.
I’ve realized that when my son took his oath of honor to become a U.S. sailor, he also swore me in to become a military mom. That responsibility comes with a great deal of fear for my son’s safety and the unknown, pain for the loss of all of the holidays and major milestones I will spend without him and overwhelming, enormous pride of his service and self-sacrifice.
And even though I have sailed the vast southern Pacific Ocean and steered the ship’s helm through rough seas when I was a sailor, I now find myself in uncharted waters as a new Navy mom.
But a group of military moms I discovered on Facebook has helped to steady my course.
After my son left for boot camp, and most recently for medical corpsman A school in Texas, I turned to these Navy moms for support. We know that seeing our soldiers off to each phase of their service — from boot camp, to A school and then to the fleet or shore duty — won’t get much easier. But we tackle each challenge as it comes and stay strong — or what we call “Navy strong”— for our loved ones.
And on days when our “Navy allergies,” as we call them, well up, we cry and offer each other comfort. I have doled out and received many virtual BNMHs (Big Navy Mom Hugs).
When our sailors face deployment, a difficult task or on significant days for our sailors, we pray and encourage each other to light our blue candles — a tradition that signifies a light to help guide a sailor’s way home.
I have learned from these fellow moms not to say goodbye each time I send my son off to a new phase in his military career, just “see ya later.”
We also stand watch for each other. If a certain headline causes unease, we reassure fellow moms whose sailors may be affected. Or if one mother is unable to celebrate her daughter’s birthday from afar, another Navy mother nearby will deliver a cake, or offer a seat at her table for Thanksgiving when a sailor cannot make it home.
And when our sailors face a real threat, we help heave up the anchor of anguish.
During the back-to-back collisions of USS Fitzgerald in June and of USS John S. McCain in August, we consoled other moms whose sailors were lost at sea. We lit our candles and prayed.
We grieved for the seven sailors whose bodies were recovered in the berthing compartment of the wounded Fitzgerald, and when the remains of all 10 missing USS McCain sailors were recovered. We lost 17 of our own brave sons.
Just the same, we also come together and revel in each other’s triumphs. When a mother posts “Boots in the House!” you can bet that most of us click the “love” icon to share in her joy of having her sailor home. Many also respond with, “Hooyah!” We hope it’s just a matter of time before we will get to announce our sailor is home too.
As we honor our veterans on Saturday, please thank them for their service to our country, which has afforded us our many freedoms.
And in honor of Military Family Appreciation month, let’s also remember the many family members who support our veterans — the children whose mothers and fathers serving in the military miss out in sharing their first steps or Christmas mornings, the husbands and wives who sacrifice time with their loved ones and the parents worrying behind the scenes for their sons and daughters to return home.
To all of my sea sisters who are on this journey with me, who have offered me their wisdom, compassion, understanding and support — thank you. BNMHs.
Carrie Rodriguez is the regional editor of Sound Publishing’s Bellevue, Mercer Island and Issaquah/Sammamish Reporter newspapers.