A Military Mom’s Conversation With Her Son on Veterans Day

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“It takes a lot longer to pass out than you think,” he said, far too casually for my comfort. Just a few hours before, his 4:00 AM text, “I made it back,” jolted me from sleep. But now, light streamed through the kitchen window, and I clutched a coffee and listened through the phone with a slowly-callousing heart. My son chronicled, in graphic detail, the previous twelve hours. It had begun with drown-proofing, a ten-minute sequence of events, in which he had been put in a twelve-foot pool. His hands were tied behind his back and his feet were bound together. “Don’t worry, Mom,” he added nonchalantly, “they bring paramedics.” The coffee curdled in my stomach. This news was not as savory to swallow.

One of the first lessons l learned when I became a military mom was never to silence my phone. News comes at all hours and time zones away from home. And though I can no longer afford to stay up all night waiting to hear he is okay, my sleep is fitful and light until my phone illuminates a safe return. I’m new to this role, and it is a genre of parenting so unlike the others within which I live and operate. This man, my oldest child, clenches at my heart more at twenty-two than he ever did as an infant. It takes intention to force him from my conscious thought. I must bury the details, or they consume my peace and produce an arsenal of anxiety. And still, I know the worst is yet to come.

A senior at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, my son began his military journey nearly five years ago. As a junior in high school, he underwent nearly a hundred hours of applications, testing, interviews, appointments, and a Congressional nomination to qualify for acceptance into a military college in which one in eleven are admitted. We’ve supported him via phone and mail, stretching our hearts a thousand miles and over long months of separation. And yet, that has been the easy part. As my son’s graduation inches closer, the reality of his decision to serve weighs heavily on my soul. Conversations like this morning’s feel less like a fictional game of Modern Warfare and more like an autobiography.

Parenting is a Fibonacci sequence of challenging, awkward, and emotional conversations. Each interaction with our children is built from the addition of all our previous encounters. And, it is because of mutual trust and love that I could ask him what I have begun to fear the most. After intently listening about his night spent rucking and running and bound at the bottom of a pool, I finally dared to ask it, “Are you afraid to die?” …

What startled me was not his response but the fleeting moment that hung between the question and the answer. What I imagined would be hesitation, caution, or even naivety disguised as pride proved to be none of those things. A man I barely recognized, calmly and confidently replied, “No.” I believed him. As he went on to explain his calling, I became overwhelmed with nameless emotions – cross-hybrids of pride and thankfulness, admiration and devotion. He described a sense of patriotism, infused rather than taught or inherited, that pulled him into service. The Supreme Commander sculpted him in compulsion and crafted him in broad strokes of grit and determination. Razor-sharp edges and brawny tenacity meant he was made to lead. He explained that his courage did not come from a lack of fear; he had faced plenty of that on the bottoms of pools, the peaks of mountains, and the centers of desperate moments. His courage was despite fear, when his resolve compelled him to move forward. He went on to recount his early days of basic training and how purposeful it all seemed now. His thirst for something more important was a gravity he did not wish to escape. He felt most comfortable leading, yet he learned the value of following. His investment in others around him was genuine and sincere. But in the end, it was a resounding, “no.” No, he did not fear death. He was serving because of people, people of immeasurable value, and he was so motivated and driven by those individuals that death was inconsequential… All of this poured from the mouth of my son, as my coffee cooled in my hand.

I’ve devoured our son’s stories of epic feats, of blood-pinning on bare chests… of mini-marathons before classes, two-mile swims between, and a thousand push-ups after… all in a single day. And yet, this morning’s conversation was the most difficult yet to digest. Perhaps a child’s emotions are magnified in his mother’s heart. And my pain is not of his pain but in the helplessness to alleviate it. But to alleviate it, he seeks not. He serves not out of duty or obligation; he is the man he desires to be. Who am I to fear it? In the end, it is him, not me who is protecting the other.

Thank you for your service, Cadet First Class Koby Hauser.
I love you,
Momma

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