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Stocking: Basic training to USAFA cadet, the relief of seeing my son succeed


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Braxton 1

This week, I went about my mom duties with an anxious mind. My oldest son was having a challenging week. It was completely planned and we both knew it was coming. There was nothing to do but get through it. Thankfully, time marches on and we both knew that by Saturday night, it would be over and he could breathe again.

Nine months ago, my son swore an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States of America. His decision to accept an appointment to the United States Air Force Academy (USAFA) was not an easy decision to make. He gave up academic scholarships to other universities and chose a life where he would be told what to wear, when to eat, and how to walk. He left for basic training three weeks after high school graduation, and began his university studies seven weeks later. When your favorite college sports teams (Boise State or BYU) play Air Force, they are playing teams fielded by cadets who have made the same choice that my son made, who walk the same halls my son walks.

Braxton was not prepared for life at USAFA. Braxton had to up his game academically as the academics at USAFA are much more rigorous than high school. As a freshman at USAFA (called a fourth-class cadet), not only has he had to adjust academically, but he has had to adjust to the military lifestyle. Until he is officially recognized as an upper class cadet, Braxton has been limited to one staircase, walking with his right shoulder on the wall, running the strips, carrying his backpack in his left hand (right hand must be free to salute), and wearing his uniform at all times. I didn’t realize what a drag it was to wear a uniform 24/7 until he started stripping the minute he walked in the door when he came home for Thanksgiving.

Braxton 3

This week, USAFA held Recognition, a three-day event culminating in recognition ceremonies for the Class of 2019 as upper class cadets. When Braxton went back after Christmas, we knew Recognition was coming and we knew it would be the hardest three days of his life at the Academy. The cadet wing had extra trainings to get physically prepared for the challenges that would face the fourth-class cadets. The Academy started a countdown 40 days before just in case the cadets might forget it was coming.

As soon as classes were complete on Thursday, the 40 squadrons making up the cadet wing began their Recognition activities. The fourth-class cadets had to run challenging leadership courses and assault courses; participate in physical training sessions and military knowledge tests; complete teamwork exercises, culminating in a 5-mile “Run to the Rock” carrying a 250-pound slab of concrete called The Charge. One mom called Recognition 48 hours of cross fit.

The suspension built until Thursday afternoon when I knew Recognition would start. At that point, I managed to quit thinking about Braxton and release him to the universe. I couldn’t do anything for him except pray. I prayed often during those three days. When Saturday came, I anxiously waited to hear if he had been successful and was now a recognized cadet. Finally, a photo:

Braxton 2

His Prop and Wings on his flight cap. He had been successful.

I was prepared for Braxton to be successful; he had been training hard to be successful. However, I was not prepared for the flood of relief that came when I saw that picture. I did not realize how anxious I had been. I felt bad for the people in Wal-Mart on that Saturday night watching me cry as I stared at my phone. I know I am not the first mom to experience this anxiety when a child is far from home and on their own. Many moms send their kids off to far-away places to do hard and amazing things with people they don’t know and then we just wait. Wait and pray.

As moms, we don’t know all our kids encounter, probably for good reason. We don’t know the challenges they face day-to-day. However, now I know the relief that comes when we get word that our sons and daughters are alive, are safe, are successful. Bruised, sore, exhausted, maybe; but alive, safe, and successful.