“Graduation” by Grethe Kelso

We were on base before six o’clock. We were so anxious to see Gregory for the first time in months. We had spent the entire evening before listening to the drill sergeants on Lackland AFB, nervously waiting for this morning. After parking, we walked across the base, and lined up along the side of the road with the rest of the families waiting for their Airmen. It took everything in our power not to run onto the road and run up to Gregory, the first time we saw him coming. Of course, we were not allowed to approach him until after the coin ceremony. What we were feeling in the moment is indescribable.

When we could finally run up to Gregory hug him, I think we were all on the verge of tears, if not already crying. We were so proud, and so overwhelmed with emotion. Gregory was finally an Airman. I think he had talked about joining the military since he was fourteen years old. A little boy’s dreams came true that day. I think that we all still get a little glimmer in our eyes when we talk about Gregory’s service. He was the first grandson, child, nephew, or cousin to go into the military, so our whole family felt proud. While my brother was in Basic, my whole family vowed to get into tip-top shape. So that day, we were excited to see the man Gregory had become, but we were also excited to show him how we had changed! All four of us were proud of what we had accomplished in the past few months.

I often wonder how Gregory remembers that moment. The moment they were released, the moment that we all ran to him. Does he remember being scared? Or excited? Was he worried about what we were going to think about him? Would we notice he lost weight, or that his hair was even shorter than it was before he went in? If that was even possible…

Who was he looking forward to seeing most: his crazy girlfriend, his dad, his little sister? I feel like I know the answer to that question; I just wish it were different. I wish he had been most excited to see his family. I was so proud when he came home with his enlistment packet; I told everyone. My mom was, of course, terrified, and did not think he was ready to leave home. But at BMT graduation, that did not matter anymore. Mom was such a proud mom. She obviously still had her reservations, but nothing could keep a smile off her face. I am sure he was not ready for all of the pictures we took that weekend. Mom and I kept snapping shots, and telling him he was such a stud, and that he looked so sharp. I am sure he loved that…

After his military experience, I wonder if he is still as proud as he was right out of Basic. We come from an extremely patriotic family, so I know he is still a “proud American,” I just do not know if wearing his uniform in his last year brought the same amount of pride and joy as it once did. I highly doubt it. That sounds terrible, but he was jerked around so much in his three and a half years. I would be surprised if he did still feel that overwhelming sense of pride.

From these writing workshops, I get the sense that everyone has their breaking point with the military. It certainly makes me think twice about joining the military after college. This is no longer as serious of a consideration as it once was, but I have realized that I wanted to join because of that “pride factor,” to be able to confidently say that what I was doing with my life was making a difference, and that I was putting my time in, serving our country. I thought about the Air Force before my brother did, only because he had been looking into the Marines for years. However, now that I have seen that the pride associated with the military is often fleeting, I am not sure anymore. Happiness is key in life, and watching my brother, cousin, and close family friends stumble out of the military, left lost and angry, has only pushed me away from the idea.

My name is Grethe Kelso. My brother was in the United States Air Force for four years before he was honorably discharged. Because I did not hear much about his military experience while he was in, I am only able to write about my experience as a military loved one. I have found that my writing has opened a dialogue between my brother and me, and has resolved some of the issues that arose when he got out.